Sur le continent africain, avec certains pays comme le Bénin, le Maroc, l’Angola, le Sénégal, la Côte d’Ivoire et l’Afrique du Sud notamment, le Nigeria soutient sa scène artistique; la promotion des artistes est souvent le fait de collectionneurs chevronnés qui créent leur fondation, afin que la création africaine contemporaine, plurielle et protéiforme, trouve une résonance…
Je vous présente aujourd’hui, l’un d’entre-eux, dont la renommée dépasse les frontières de son pays ! Omoba Yemisi Adedoyin Shyllon, est un personnage à part entière, passionné d’art et collectionneur depuis 1975. Il aime à rappeler que les maisons de vente, sont aujourd’hui incontournables pour la promotion et la diffusion d’artistes émergents. Il possède, notamment, une collection d’art ancien et de sculptures, unique sur le continent.
C’est une rencontre importante à Harvard où il était allé présenter sa collection d’arts premiers, qui le decide à devenir un collectionneur d’Art Contemporain Africain après avoir été un passionné d’art africain traditionnel de son pays.
Il collectionne des artistes nigérians principalement ainsi que certains des plus renommés de la scène africaine contemporaine et accueille ses visiteurs dans sa maison transformée en musée, présentant des pièces uniques d’art traditionnel africain au milieu d’artistes contemporains africains, témoignant de la diversité des artistes de son pays et au-delà…
55,000 photographic shots of Nigeria’s cultural festivals and over 7,000 artworks.
Art collector extraordinaire, Omoba Yemisi Shyllon takes Udemma Chukwuma, through his huge collection of artworks famed to be the largest private collection in the country (aka OYASAF).
Standing like guards from the gate of Omoba Yemisi Shyllon’s house to his inner chambers, courtyard, right to the roof of his house is a massive collection of sculptures. His passion for art, he said, made him build the house, as he was beginning to run out of space for the works.
“This house was built for art,” he said matter-of-factly.
Omoba Shyllon’s home, located in Maryland, Lagos, houses priceless Nigerian treasures as well as works from African artists. By virtue of his exceptional collection, his home has become a destination for tourists, as visitor immediately fancied himself in an art museum. But the approach to his immaculate home offers no clue at what lay behind the walls.
Shyllon said he started collecting artworks right from his university days. He bought his first artwork in 1975. He disclosed that that was how he acquired artworks of the 1930s.
In the course of collecting artworks, Shyllon revealed that he was obsessed with sculptures, especially the wooden ones. He later found himself collecting traditional African art. “That was when I discovered that I wanted to be a collector. I went into collecting paintings heavily and later all the genres of art,” he said.
It takes a whole day to explore the works in Omoba Shyllon’s house. Every bedroom, toilet, bathroom, as well as his living rooms and kitchen has a sizable collection of artworks on the walls. The works range from traditional, modern and contemporary art. A visitor is likely to be fascinated by a large room build for his Benin collection; with its walls decorated with large canvases of paintings. There is also a room filled with Igbo art collection, which consists predominantly of masquerades and masks.
The gardens are decorated with bronze sculptures, metal works and animals. Often times, he lends his works to museums for exhibitions. At the Freedom Park on Broad Street, Lagos, are some of his collections, on display.
As a precaution, Omoba Shyllon says one could take as many photographs as one pleases outside the house, but not inside. The main living room is replete with paintings of beautiful colours. Happily, the host takes visitors around the house on the occasion of this, regaling them with the various stories behind each piece and why he acquired it. His passion for the works is also evident from the way he talked about them and cracked jokes.
With the number of works dedicated to Bruce Onobrakpeya’s collection in a particular room, you could easily tell that Shyllon is a keen lover of the octogenarian’s works.
Even his kitchen is a statement of art, as clay pots laid on his cooking gas. To him, “Every society has its own identity. Civilisation has come to modify but it should not replace our culture. This is my own culture, this is how my forefathers cooked their food.” he said, pointing at the pots.
The chartered engineer, marketer, stock-broker and legal practitioner, who is now retired said he promised himself a few years ago that he was going to promote the Nigerian art and culture on retirement. For him, it is one way of keeping himself busy as well as enjoying life.
“I looked around me, saw so much artwork and decided to set up a foundation called Omoba Yemisi Adedoyin Shyllon Art Foundation (OYASAF), in 2008. I decided to devote the rest of my life to promoting Nigerian art and culture.”
“I set up this foundation because I noticed a lacuna in this environment. Nigeria is not promoting her cultural life and heritage. And since I live with art, I decided to open a foundation, so that people can come to my place and enjoy what I am enjoying, and to have a peep into the heritage and history of Nigeria.”
Shyllon indeed is surrounded by artworks. He literally eats art, drinks art and breaths artworks.
In his collection are 55,000 photographic shots of Nigeria’s cultural festivals and over 7,000 artworks. The artworks are of numerous collections, mostly of African continent, (though not limited to Africa) gathered for the purpose of contributing to the preservation of African history and culture. He said “I don’t buy photographs; I create photographs to document Nigeria’s fast disappearing culture at large.”
The oldest artwork in the foundation’s collection is a Nok terracotta. The oldest modern Nigerian art in the foundation is a 1932 charcoal drawing titled Awaiting Trial by Aina Onabolu. He said OYASAF is widely acknowledged as the largest private art collection in Nigeria and emphasised that, “We don’t sell artworks here. I have collected the works over the years for people to come and enjoy with me and my family. The foundation is set up to share the joy, beauty of Nigerian art and culture with the world, through well-sponsored arts and culture workshops.
Has the collectors taste changed over the years? We asked. “No, I am still a collector. But I have stopped collecting traditional art. My trip to America changed me. When I went to Harvard University in the United States to talk about my collection, I met Prof Sunna Blair, she said ‘Yemisi, this traditional African art you want to talk about here…you are wasting your time.’ She urged me to go into contemporary African art. When I came back to Nigeria, I stopped buying traditional African art but I still keep my traditional African art, which are the glory of my collection. My taste changes, depending on the dynamism of the environment and culture.”
One thing Shyllon doesn’t however talk about is the price of the works, as he is of the opinion that art is priceless. “When people ask me the price of a piece, I don’t answer them because they are beginning to monetise my value, which I don’t like.”
“OYASAF,” he said, “is a family sponsored foundation, dedicated to promoting Nigerian art and culture. We have the largest private art collection in Nigeria.”
Lecture series, workshops, research programmes and art competitions are part of the activities which are organised by the foundation. Among the plans on OYASAF’s list is to build a privately-founded museum in Nigeria, which is currently ongoing at the Pan African University at Lekki, Lagos. “We have artworks spread over the history of Nigerian art, which will be in this museum.”