by Ola Oloidi
For decades, particularly between the 1950s and 1970s, many Africans, or African scholars, were so embittered about how, generally, Europe and America negatively conceived Africa, especially socio-culturally, that they began to view many European and American literatures on, or other contributions to, any African experience, with distrust and suspicion. In fact, they found it difficult to forget that the history of colonialism in Africa was, very evidently, a history of cultural repugnance. This was the situation in Nigeria till very late into the post-colonial period.
However, it was eventually realized by many Africans that not only the Africans were unhappy with certain European uninformed socio-political and cultural attitude to Africa; that some Europeans and Americans, at one point in time, also rebelled against some actions of their own people, as seen, for example, in the USA, Britain, Brazil and South Africa; that they had not only cast reproachful reflections on certain Euro-American experiences, but had also, indeed, fought verbally, artistically, literally or even physically on the side of Africans for various politically ideological reasons.1 This is further confirmed in the words of Martin Luther King Junior:
The marvelous new militancy, which has engulfed the negro community, must not lead us to a distrust of all white people. For many of our white brothers, as evidenced by their presence here today, have come to realize their destiny is tied up with our destiny…2
It was also seen that some European actions or writings on Africa had started to be very expiatory or ablutionary; trying to reshape many of those African traditions that they had made figureless. Though few of these new reparative Western attitude could be a little romantic, the general move in this direction, and the sincere or genuine contributions of some western or Euro-American authors, or individuals, seem to make one see the need to appreciate and acknowledge the efforts of these socio-politically and culturally informed people. In the field of African traditional and modern art, Kenneth Crossthwaite Murray has become one of the culturally philosophic and sympathetic non-Africans, whose luscious and undaunted contributions to African affairs or heritage have helped give more respect, understanding to, and appreciation for, African culture.
It is very disheartening, however, that, inspite of the indelible imprint of Kenneth Murray on the Nigerian art culture, and scene, no notable documentation has been seen to show that Nigeria is not forgetting his graceful contributions. It is in this light that this paper finds it very necessary to focus, though graphically, on the man whose activities were a challenge to the culturally demeaning and undelectable aspects of colonialism and whose contributions were directed at restoring the dignity, grandeur and sublimity that were the African culture. To properly understand and appreciate the educational, artistic and cultural efforts of Murray, therefore, it will be necessary to examine his teaching and antiquities experiences in Nigeria. However, who is Murray?
Kenneth C. Murray
Kenneth C. Murray, born in 1902 in England, was the grandson of Sir James Murray, one of the notable compilers of Oxford English Disctionary.3 Having had a rather transient educational experience at the Balliol College in Oxford, he changed to another institution in Birmingham where he decided to pursue and specialize in art. This was in the early 1920s. In 1927, Murray, still preoccupied with how to successfully feature in the highly competitive artistic experiences of the period, got a letter from the Deputy Director of Education in Nigeria, Eric Swanston, inviting him to Nigeria to be the second art teacher in the history of Nigeria. He came to Nigeria the same year. Aina Onabolu, a pioneer art teacher and the first modern African artist, had earlier, in 1926, applied to the Education Department in Lagos for an English artist who would join him in spreading the new art, Western art, which he had pioneered informally about 32 years earlier and formally 4 years before this period. Aina Onabolu was always proud to be responsible for Murray’s coming to Nigeria. According to W. O. Nwegbe, a retired Senior Lecturer in English in the, that time, Department of English, University of Nigeria, Nsukka, who was taught art by Aina Onabolu in Lagos at both Primary and Secondary levels; or in the late 1940s and from 1950 to 1952:
Chief Aina Onabolu, or Baba as we used to call him, taught us art in the secondary school as if all of us would make it our career. Art was his soul and his love. He had taught art for over three decades. All our teachers, mostly English, respected and admired him, particularly for his usually elitist Oxford fashion…. He was always talking about Murray and clearly exhibited that pride that he brought him to Nigeria, I think, in the late 1920s. At a stage, we all began to laugh when he told us that when he made a request for an English art teacher, he was expecting a man or a “fair” contemporary. When he was invited to the Education Ministry (Department) to see him two days after his arrival, according to Baba Aina Onabolu, he was “embarrassed”, seeing a “boy” who, in age, could easily be his son. Chief Aina Onabolu made sure that Murray came to our art class….. where the man confirmed to us the art pioneership of Onabolu…. Very briefly, he encouraged us to be serious in our art lessons and also to, eventually, be artists one day, like Onabolu. About two weeks after Murray’s visit, Onabolu gave us art materials donated by Murray, probably as an encouragement. These materials were pencils, painting brushes, water colours, poster colours, drawing papers and erasers…. We were all ecstatically happy. Though I did not take up art as a profession, I made sure that one of my children, my son, read art at UNN (University of Nigeria, Nsukka)4
However, in those days, according to Murray, to have the opportunity to serve in one of the British colonies seemed to be more prestigious or cherished than working in any of the nearby European countries.5 The rather perfidious or collusive painting of Africa, peacefully frightening in parts, was so alluringly romanticized and made almost totally neolithic in civilization, that many Europeans, particularly those bored with their growing mechanized Western environment, were willing to have an experience in Africa.6 The little that Murray knew about Nigeria, or other African nations, was nothing more than a politically orchestrated mythicization of Lord Lugard’s exploits which, however, continued to give potency to British colonization. His knowledge of Africa generally was that of highly “chaotic and cultureless land where the white man was always at the mercy of wild animals, mosquitoes and earth-covered savages”.7
Murray arrived Lagos in 1927, as earlier stated, and about a week after his arrival, Onabolu, on invitation by a letter from Eric Swanston, met Murray in the Education Department, Lagos. Murray later realized how badly deceptive and twisted his imported impressions of Africa were. He began to see how delicate and dangerous racial and cultural differentiation could be. Murray’s main duty was to introduce art to the new colleges which were being built in the provinces. He was also to advise the colonial Education Department on the implications of Western influence on the traditional art culture of Nigeria. Meanwhile, the two government colleges in Ibadan, in the Western Province and Umuahia in the East were not yet ready. Murray had to join Onabolu in teaching art at the king’s College, Lagos. Before examining his teaching career, however, it is good to graphically touch on his early experiences. The King’s College, Lagos, was special to him, not necessarily for art teaching but, very essentially, because the college accommodated students from various parts of Nigeria. These students, also from different cultural background, were very instrumental to Murray’s early experiences in Nigeria. Through them, he first discovered that some cultural practices were still very alive. He brought these students closer to himself and even, within a short time, developed interest in the Nigerian languages, particularly Yoruba.8
Murray readily recognized, and was unhappy with, the damage which the Europeans, and also many African Christian fanatics, had done to the Nigerian rich cultural heritage. He was conscious that many Nigerian elite or those with Western education, particularly in the major towns, had, through colonization, lost respect for many of their preservatory cultural practices. Of very great concern to him was the apparent obliteration of Nigerian traditional art and craft, which were being systematically ignored for what were accepted as more savory modern experiences. Murray could not just understand why, in many towns, culturally valuable art objects, with greatly aesthetic character and appeal, were being abandoned and left to rot away to the pleasure of the missionaries.9 Kenneth Murray became sad about his people’s egocentric violation of African cultural freedom. He rebuked his own country for demolishing the traditions of another country. Murray reprimanded those Europeans who were developing a materialistically acquisitive interest in the Nigerian traditional art. He, however, loved his country for giving him the opportunity not only to be a lover but also a defender and protector of African traditional heritage in Nigeria.10
However, within a short time of Murray’s arrival in Nigeria, and almost immediately he began his teaching duty in Lagos, he was convinced that teaching, which was the basis for his invitation, would be secondary to his more natural and growing newly developed interest in the Nigerian traditional artifacts. Though Murray was not the first and the only European around to sympathise with some Nigerian art traditions, he was definitely the only one who very dutifully translated his feelings into physical and viable actions. Before discussing these actions, it is very essential to examine his teaching career in Nigeria.
Without doubt, Onabolu’s main objective was to introduce his new art to areas beyond Lagos. This was achieved with Murray’s introduction of art teaching to both the Western and Eastern provinces. As earlier noted, Western art, as introduced to Nigeria, therefore to Africa, by Onabolu, had existed for about thirty years. This new creative experience restricted to Lagos and its immediate area. However, after teaching in Lagos for about two or three years, Murray became an itinerant art teacher. It was apparent to him that no particular school or area would have the monopoly of his teaching. Thus, with the maximum cooperation of the Education Department, he saw the provinces, particularly the whole of the Southern Nigeria, as a rich soil from which the new seeds of Western art “must be made to grow but with regard for peoples’ environment and other traditional ways of life”.11 Very shortly and inevitably, Kenneth Murray became not only an art teacher but also an education officer and art examiner. This was the situation from the 1930s.
However, while teaching at the King’s College, Lagos, Murray realized that art students expected him to continue the teaching styles, traditions or ideology of Onabolu; that is, the Academy style. For example, they already had special love for drawing or painting objects like boxes, chairs and tables, among others which afforded them the chance to display their interest in Onabolu’s much cherished and much taught perspective. Murray disliked this approach, for he wanted art that would not be a radical departure from the traditional art experience of Nigeria. That is, Kenneth Murray “wanted his students to evolve without undue Western influence their own unique style which would reflect the rich traditional body and wall paintings as well as the dynamic carving traditions of Nigeria”.12 Thus, his philosophy of art for Nigeria rapidly unfolded, and a clash of artistic ideology between Onabolu and himself was inevitable.
For example, while Onabolu stressed, of course understandably, the need for total achievement in the Western, Academy, aesthetic canon, Murray, as already stated, emphasized the exact opposite; the return to tradition. While Onabolu called for formalism, Murray wanted functionalism; Onabolu had photographic realism as his stylistic mode, Kenneth Murray believed in intuitive abstraction or culture-backed interpretation; and when Onabolu advocated the supremacy of eyes in visual expressions, Murray saw the mind as the only genuinely vindicable means of producing traditionally relevant art forms. In short, while Onabolu’s main artistic objective was the attainment of a universally accepted Academy standard, Murray, who saw this as a dangerous cultural coercion, believed in culturization.
The culturistic ideology of Murray is very evident in his 1940 essay on wall painting.13 Here, he outlines the methods to be followed. For example, while painting, all subjects must be placed under one theme, and these subjects must be African or Nigerian. Perhaps Murray’s culturistic philosophy is best understood and most analytical in this extract from his “Notes on Art Teaching in Nigeria”:
…See the train of a white man as a giant millipede crossing the road, his aeroplane as a mighty eagle flying high in the sky, without flapping its wings. See his helmet as the crown or cap of your chief and his general mode of dressing as that of the typical Yoruba or your village man… Instead of you to make your local subjects Western, try as much as possible to make your western subjects local…14
By the beginning of the 1930s and particularly in 1932, Murray’s teaching itinerancy had become most apparent. The Education Department saw the necessity to introduce art teaching to the Southeastern area of Ilorin, now the capital of Kwara State. For this reason, he was invited by the Superintendent of Education in Nigeria, J.D. Clark, to take up this duty. At the same time, Murray was getting ready for a more important assignment of starting art in the two new colleges in Ibadan and Umuahia, which were eventually opened in 1933.
However, Murray started his teaching with vigour, and he had special fascination for Omu-Aran town, mainly for its richness in traditional crafts and carving. From Omu-Aran, Murray also visited some other towns, trying to introduce art teaching to school children. Some of these towns were Ilofa and Osi in the East of Omu-Aran, Ofa and Iludun in the West.15 Murray wasted no time in making his pupils imbibe his culturistic philosophy of art. He introduced them to the use of local, rather than European, art materials. He made the use of local colours very mandatory and, in fact, taught them how to prepare these colours which he himself had learnt from the Yoruba traditional craft designers. Murray learnt much of these colours in Omu-Aran, especially from one Ajoke, a mother of twins, and a popular traditional textile designer who took him out, with the aid of a chaperon and an interpreter, to physically identify many of these traditional sources of colour, among other things.16 No wonder, Murray heavily documented these and other cultural experiences which he later compiled for the instructional use of his students.17 This restless art teacher did not restrict himself to his official duty alone. He helped the traditional craft designers to improve on their trade, while he also introduced new but relevant crafts to them.
Meanwhile, in 1933, it was necessary for Murray to admit students who would pioneer art in the Ibadan College. After proper and rigorous screening, he was able to accept five students: A.P. Umana, D.L.K. Nnachi, Benjamin Enwonwu, C.C. Ibeto and Uthman Ibrahim.18 Art instructions moved on steadily until 1934, when Murray recognized the apparent deficiency of the Eastern Provinces in the new art teaching experience of Nigeria. This time, while not losing touch with the West, Murray decided to move all his students from Ibadan to the new Uzoakoli College in Umuahia. Serious art teaching began immediately and by 1938, he had succeeded in producing some of the pioneering indigenous art teachers in Nigeria. Murray was very proud of this achievement so much that he wrote the Education Department in Lagos to inform the Director of Education how his students could achieve the highest heights, if given the proper encouragement which however would not enslave them creatively to Europe. 19
However, Murray, “the Chief Art Wizard”, as popularly called in the Eastern Province, and the “Oyinbo Alaworan” (the White Artist), as known in the West, decided to make the works of his students known to the outside world, particularly to his own people.20 In 1937, the selected works of his five students were exhibited in London at the Zwemmer Gallery, London. The objective of the exhibition, among others, was “to gain the approval of people in England interested in art and education, so that Nigerians might be convinced that art was good and worthy of their support, and that principles of the teaching methods were sound”.21 This exhibition received heavy coverage or review from many English daily newspapers such as the Daily Telegraph, the Observer, the Daily Mail, the Times and the Jewish Chronicle.22 The West African Review had this to say:
…Their power comes from the virtues of African life, and not from their ability to do things like the Europeans. It is the Africans’ close connection with nature, their simple, straight-forward lives, their ability to do things with their hands, and the healthy existence of the traditional arts and crafts, such as music, dancing, pottery, weaving and basketry which supplies the power of beauty that is seen in their works.23
To Murray, the exhibition was not only a dignification of his efforts but was also an opportunity to propagate the devalued creativity of an African. He used the occasion to further advocate his art teaching philosophy and the problem of art teaching in Nigeria. Art teaching in Nigeria or in Africa, according to him, was more than just a desire for technical excellence. Murray challenged the use of western aesthetic canon for measuring the formalistic characters of African traditional art; the practice which had already wrongly acknowledged the popular conclusion that Africa was a land of intuitive and raw artistic creativities. He warned the Western press against the danger of possible critical misconception or misinformation and implored them to see the need for a sympathetic understanding and appreciation of African traditions. This way, he advised, they would be able to see the emotional and intellectual content of African art. However, Murray still continued to make himself the epitome of cultural revival in Nigeria. To him, art teaching in, or the introduction of art to, the Nigerian schools was very important, because it was through this that traditional art forms could be fortified for preservation, continuity and modernity.24 For this reason, he wanted art teaching to be compulsory rather than volitional in schools.
For many years, Murray also quarrelled with those Nigerians who, like the white missionaries, had seen the Nigerian traditional art as uncivilized and could not appreciate the relevance of art teaching in the Nigerian schools. According to him, apart from the beauty of the traditional art forms which had already incased the fundamental aesthetics of European art traditions, Nigerians would regret if art was neglected, particularly in the primary schools, because it was indispensable to national development.25 Murray was not only particular about the importance of art teaching in schools, he was also worried about the disappointing state of art patronage. He greatly exhorted the flowering tradition of patronage in the pre-colonial Nigeria and wished that modern Nigerian society could be so culturally and educationally sensitized that the new art would be given a renascent patronage interest.
Murray was aware of the implication in the foreign monopoly of modern Nigerian art. In his letter to Chief J.D. Akeredolu, Murray asserted that “there can be no end to the colonization of Nigerian culture as long as very good works of these young artists continue to find their ways to Europe”.26 To him, these works are Nigerian works, therefore they should be for Nigerians until that time in the promising future when “hopefully museums and galleries will be built and fully enriched, and some works can be allowed to bid farewell to the Nigerian culture”.27 In order to have a realistic system of patronage in Nigeria, Murray advocated, in his various writings, that art should be integrated into the Nigerian community, particularly through church and school architectural structures.28 He was not pleased, travelling from one place to another, spreading and supervising art alone. He was pre-occupied with writing. Writing on art was, to him, very necessary to make the Nigerians return to their culture and interpret it in a way germane to their modern values. These articles were written to help artists, art students and pupils in their artistic expressions and aspirations. More importantly, particularly in the 1940s, Murray intensified his writings in order to be an influence on the Nigerian art teachers, particularly those who had not been trained under him.
Without doubt, Murray was greatly satisfied teaching art. He saw it as a duty to advise and encourage those with artistic talent, either formally or informally. He attracted large followers from different Nigerian ethnic groupings, through his teaching career that was strenuous but which he cherished. Murray himself was not known to have seriously professionalized art in Nigeria; he was not known for the tradition of art exhibition. His interest was never in this, but, rather, he saw his teaching as of primal importance. It is very important to point out that the valuable contributions of Murray to modern Nigerian art education seem to be less significant, if one considers his activities in the preservation of the Nigerian works of antiquities; to which he devoted and sacrificed his life. It is necessary to discuss these experiences as regards the traditional artifacts of Nigeria.
Preserver of Art and Antiquities
As earlier stated, immediately Murray arrived Nigeria and was assigned his teaching job, he loved it but soon discovered that his major interest centred on the study of Nigerian traditional art; that is, works of art that still featured in people’s cultural practices and the age-old ones, antiquities, that had been produced over a century or centuries back. Knowing the earlier discussed position of the Nigerians and the Europeans of the period, as regards traditional art works, Murray found his involvement in this art very essential and urgent. Without wasting time, he started to examine these works to know not only their functions but also the philosophy that guided, controlled and sustained them. He first studied Lagos areas with the help of his students, as already pointed out, and discovered that richer creative activities existed deep in the provinces. One of his major researches, as earlier discussed, first took place in 1932 at Omu-Aran and other Ilorin areas. Very notable of the several documentations of the works in these areas were the activities of the traditional potters. Murray was also aware that the sense of shame which the educated ones in Lagos had in their traditional art was equally glaring, though with less intensity, in the Ilorin areas. According to Murray, these people were just no more interested in associating with the objects or the rituals that needed them.29
He also realized that Islam was even more fanatical than Christianity in their open rejection of traditional art forms, Ilorin being a Muslim city. The urge to fight this anti-cultural attitude became stronger in, and more convincing to, Murray. In Ibadan and area, his attitude to the preservation of Nigerian creative cultures was also charged with equal vigour. He continued to use his free teaching periods for field works.30 Several areas were visited and revisited, particularly in the Western and Eastern provinces, and people continued to give him all the needed support, but not without wondering why such a European, a White man, in a high position, for that matter, was wasting his time and energy talking about and looking for, at times, termite tortured, art images even in detested refuse areas.31
All along, in the early 1930s, Murray was aware of, and sensitive to, the idea that while many Europeans in Nigeria, under the cover of Christianity, were vehemently rejecting traditional art works, many Europeans in Europe and a few of their agents in Nigeria, were madly in love with these works. Many European and American art collectors also began to come to Nigeria with the sole aim of acquiring these works of antiquities. Murray was not happy with this development which he saw as a direct opposition, and in fact a challenge, to his objective in Nigeria. According to Justus Akeredolu, Murray had the opportunity to take away all the important Nigerian traditional art, or antiquities, he needed to Europe, to his own African Antiquities “estate”, but because he was very faithful to himself and the Nigerian culture, which he did not pretend to regard as his, he worked with all his veins to see that these works were not only protected from the selfish collectors but also well secured in locations which, in some cases, were known only to him and a few of his
Nigerian aids.32 He did not have many European friends, while at the same time, he was more comfortable socio-culturally with Nigerians. This was so because he did not want a situation where his European friends would penetrate him in their anti-cultural objectives.33
The idea of a museum for Nigeria therefore became stronger in Kenneth Murray, not forgetting that he had started collecting works of great cultural and artistic merit from all the places he visited or where he worked. According to Ugoji, he could afford to trek deeply into dangerous bushes, at times without food, just to locate particular works about which he had received some information. Even when his escorts were tired, Murray would not, having been strengthened by the object of his search.34 Before the end of 1930s, he had had a large collection of traditional pottery as well as rich studies of the techniques and materials of this traditional occupation. In the Eastern areas of the colony, Murray was able to collect several art pieces and also recorded the people’s rich traditions of painting and woodcarving. Ugoji was particularly useful to Murray in his collection of a large number of wood carvings. Ugoji, who met Murray in 1938 and who later became his informant, informal art student and a pioneer artist, took him to various locations with rich traditional art practices around Owerri, in the present Imo State. He also served as Murray’s interpreter. Murray, according to him, was particularly fascinated by the maiden spirit masks of the Igbo, mainly for their captivating and lustrous colours as well as sharp or distinct forms.35
In his collection, Murray did not restrict himself to pottery and sculpture pieces alone, he also started acquiring books, jewelleries, textiles and any type of creative traditional form produced by the people. On many occasions, he had to buy these precious works with his money, knowing very well that the works could disappear or further deteriorate if he had to wait for official acquisition. Perhaps Murray was the first European to quarrel with the deculturizing and anti-social language for the Nigerian traditional art experiences. This was made clear in Ugoji’s letter to Murray in 1938:
Before leaving for Uyo as planned, I want you to quickly come over to Mbawsi, Nsulu-Ngwo Division and see the various idols which the illiterates here have abandoned because of the fear of the missionaries. These are not the same as the ones you rejected that day because they are (were) still used by the worshippers.36
Murray responded immediately and answered Ugoji’s call. According to Ugoji “before he thanked me for my letter immediately he came … and this time we were surrounded by the village people as usual, he told me never to refer to my people’s art as idol. Not only that, he also did not want me to call these people illiterates.”37 It was known that he also later disagreed with Father Kevin Carroll’s unconscious use of “some wrong words”.38
Murray was always armed with lead pencils and note books. He also had a small diary which he used less often than the notebooks. Usually, he wrote as he listened, putting the other end of the lead pencil into the tips of his lips when he needed a clearer language interpretation.39 At a stage, Ugoji and some other escorts would be exhausted by the petrifying touch of the sun, but Murray would still like to move on, trying to get to the next village on his itinerary. The first time Ugoji saw Murray get angry was when the ear of one of the statuettes that Murray had already collected fell off accidentally because of a harsh handling by an escort. “You would think one had cut off the ear of a precious baby boy”, Ugoji narrated.40 “He felt really bad about this, but later joked over it”.41 This, however, again led him into a research into those local substances or materials that could be used to join or glue broken pieces of, particularly, wood. He was able to get some good results.
Meanwhile, Murray began to intensify his advocacy for a museum in Nigeria. Particularly in the 1940s, he published some positively indoctrinating articles to this effect. He talked about how even people without the richness of art which Nigeria possessed already had art museums.42 He revealed the advantages of a museum and, in fact, made it clear that every urban area of Nigeria should have at least one museum. Also, to achieve this goal, Murray began to advocate for the creation of an Antiquity Department. His appointment in 1943, as the first Surveyor of Antiquities, apart from being a fulfillment of a dream, gave him a more powerful authority over Nigerian art treasures. This appointment was also a materialization of his call for the creation of the Nigerian Antiquities Service which also began operation immediately he took office.
The fight for the creation of this unit, it should be noted, was very tedious for Murray, and when it started operation, it was clear that he alone began fulfilling an almost impossible task of searching for, photographing and cataloguing all the works he considered treasures of Nigeria.43 Not only that, Murray later made sure that an “Antiquities Ordinance”, prohibiting all “unauthorized export of the country’s artistic treasures”, was passed by the Nigerian government.44 It was a very difficult task for Murray to have this law passed. When it was passed, it was a great relief and, of course, a special achievement for him in his war against the destruction of traditional art traditions and against certain unreliable foreign art collectors within and outside Nigeria. The Antiquity Ordinance was so effective that it crippled the fraudulent of many foreign art collectors. Many of these collectors from America, according to Frank Willett, in one of his Art History lectures at the Northwestern University, Evanston, Illinois in 1975, were extremely unhappy with Murray because of the ordinance. However, Murray was not disturbed.
There was no doubt that Murray was very uncompromising in his determination to preserve the heritage of a country which he had emotionally made his own. One episode in Murray’s later career as the Director of Antiquities makes this very evident. According to Frank Willett, one of Murray’s friends, Arthur Hunt Cook, genuinely bought and obtained an official receipt for a carving which he wanted to give as a wedding present to another friend, Bill Bascom. It was not possible for him to take this out of the country because, according to Cook “… the watchful Nigerian Customs detained the parcel, and confiscated it on Kenneth’s advice: he (Kenneth) showed no fear or favour to friends in his determination not to let any object of artistic or anthropological merit leave the country”.45 Kenneth Murray always looked at the Christian missionaries in Nigeria with suspicion, because of their negative attitude to the traditional images of Nigeria. This attitude, however, changed or, rather, was relaxed in 1947 when he met Father Kevin Carroll and, though not without some initial suspicion, discovered that a missionary could as well have a genuine interest in the much abused traditional art of Nigeria.
In 1949, Murray organized an exhibition of “Masks and Headresses of Nigeria” which took place between June 21 and July 23 at the Swemmer Gallery in London. Again, like the earlier exhibition of his students, it was a triumph to Murray, mainly because he had been able to make many Europeans, who would have earlier seen these works as jokes, appreciate the beauty, and understand the conceptual powers, of the images. The exhibition was also the first that placed the treasures of Nigeria on international focus.46 Murray did not relax in his struggle to have a befitting museum for Nigeria. He was determined to continue putting pressure on the colonial government until he realized his dream.
Murray was unhappy with some sabotaging activities of many Christian Missions, particularly in Lagos. The more pressure he put on the colonial government in Lagos, the greater the clandestine and even open opposition from these missionaries who saw art museums as not only
irrelevant to that period but also disturbing to the spread of Christianity in Nigeria. It was discovered that Murray was able to triumph over this through the colonial office in London. His dreams eventually came through in 1952 when, at last, the Jos Museum was opened. This was followed in 1954 by the Ife Museum. The Nigerian Museum (National Museum) was officially opened in Lagos in 1957. Murray’s sense of duty to the country he greatly loved is more confirmed if it is known that his own collection, the pieces he bought with his money, became the main collection of the Nigerian Museum. Other museums were later opened in Benin and Owo, among others. Murray thus gave Nigeria the first monument. He became the first genuine collector of Nigerian traditional art and the first, according to Willett, to “recognize the individuality of African artists, to identify their styles and to record their names”.47 Kenneth Murray, according to Willett, retired in 1957 shortly after the opening of the Lagos Museum and was succeeded by Bernard Fagg as the Director of Antiquities.
Murray built a house for himself near the Lagos Lagoon at Tarkwa Bay, close to the Museum. In 1963, he was called from retirement to head, once more, the Department of Antiquities. He again continued his restless devotion to the Nigerian antiquities. In 1965, he sent Philips Stevens Jr. to Esie to “catalogue and photograph” all the stone sculptures of Esie.48 Philips started work there in February 1965, and the assignment was well completed. Murray and Stevens had the plan to publish the results of these works, but unfortunately, Murray died without helping to carry out this plan. It is consoling, however, that Phillips eventually published a well organized and indepth documentation of these pieces. It is even more consoling to see that Phillips dedicated the book, The Stone Images of Esie, to the memory of Kenneth C. Murray.49 Murray was able to publish just a bit of his researches on, or documentations of, Nigerian traditional sculpture, crafts, painting or mural decoration, among others. Willett believes that if he had published all or even most of the materials he had on the traditional art and culture of Nigeria, he would have probably been the most notable name today in the field of African traditional art. He had the intellectual ability, the energy, the resources and the influence to produce limitless literatures on the Nigerian traditional art, but publications were not his major concern, in Willett’s view.
Frank Willett has also given a more important reason for this attitude of Murray: “He feared, not without justification, that detailed publication of his field data would provide a handbook for the looters of Nigerian art. Consequently, his published work seriously under-represents his contribution, which finds expression indirectly in the writings of others”.50 Murray who spent most of his life in Nigeria, gave the best of himself, or even his total self, to Nigeria and, alas, died for Nigeria. He was travelling to Benin in a bus carrying art images which he wanted to exhibit in a new Benin Museum when he met his death at the age of 69 in 1972. His driver, according to records, was trying to overtake another vehicle when the terrible accident occured.51 Appropriately, the Nigerian government took charge of his funeral.
His lying-in-state was at the Nigerian Museum which he had helped to found. There, many masquerades performed their rituals. There were traditional drummers, and hundreds of Nigerians and Ghanaians followed his remains to Saint Saviour’s Church in Lagos. As was expected, the Fanti Fisherrnen in Lagos, his most intimate friends towards the end of his life, played a major part in his funeral. They lined the path to the church. In addition, Murray’s coffin was carried by many of these fishermen to the church which was filled with various Nigerians of different classes.52 They had come to say their last goodbye to a man, a friend and lover of African culture. He was buried on May 4, 1972 at the Ikoyi cemetry, not far from his cherished lagoon.53
This ended the life of one who was known to the government as Preserver and Protector of Culture; to his students as a Chief Art Wizard; to his fishermen friends as Kofi and Defender of
Right;54 to some Yoruba as Baba Oniwahala (a commendation, meaning “the old man who never rests”)55 and to his home country, England, as one who, as could be assumed, had given too much of himself to another country. The latter has a measure of credibility, if it is realized that after Murray’s retirement, the British government awarded him a less merited honour “Officer of the British Empire (O.B.E.)”, instead of the “Commander of the British Empire” which is usually given to and almost automatic for those who have retired from the government service with notable achievements.56 The British government knew that Murray appropriately merited the “Commander of the British Empire”, but the lesser honour given to him can be seen as lack of appreciation, by Britian, for his unequalled contributions to Nigerian culture.57 While this can be seen as unfortunate, it is also proper to point out that Nigeria, inspite of some little or insignificant effort made to appreciate Murray’s contributions, has not given Kenneth Murray the kind of appreciable honour that can make him live forever in the memories of all lovers of hard work, achievement, art and culture or antiquities as well as cultural pride and human dignity.
It is not late to show this overdue appreciation; for without doubt, Murray was culturally a true “Nigerian” and spiritually an African. More than any European, African or Nigerian of his period, he defended and protected Nigerian art, the old and the new, and the Nigerian cultures. The Nigerian government, or the Ministry of Culture and Tourism, particularly, should, without delay, create such events cultural, academic, artistic, architectural or monumental, among others, that will be a well echoed historical recognition of Kenneth Crossthwaite Murray’s insuppressible contributions to Nigeria; for he died for Nigeria and died for African culture.58
Notes and References
- In fact, some white South Africans fanatically supported Nelson Mandela during his struggle against apartheid.
- The Guardian (Nigeria) January 18, 1986, p. 7.
- Charles L.N. Anyakora, “The Pioneers: The lives and Works of Two Nigerian Transitional Contemporary Artists”, An unpublished B.A. Thesis, University of Nigeria, Nsukka, 1975, p. 38.
- W. O. Nwegbe, retired Senior Lecturer in English, University of Nigeria, Nsukka; interviewed by Ola Oloidi in Nsukka, July 10-11, 1986.
- Murray’s short talk to a group of visitors to the Nigerian Museum (National Museum) shortly after it was opened in 1957; reference interview with J.D. Akeredolu, May 10, 1980. Akeredolu was a Curator in the Museum before retirement.
- Unpublished Seminar/Lecture, “Nigerian Art”, by Akinola Lasekan, University of Nigeria, dated February 1966; courtesy J. D. Akeredolu.
- Interviews with Ugoji, Udo Ema and J. D. Akeredolu between 1979 and 1980, in Owerri, Uyo and Owo, respectively. Ugorji and Ema were pioneer art teachers, while Akeredolu was a pioneer artist and a curator at the Nigerian Museum, Lagos.
- Lasekan, 1966.
- Ola Oloidi, Draft of Ph.D. thesis, “Modern Nigerian Art: The Implantation, Growth, Development andAnalysis from 1900 to 1960, University of Nigeria, Nsukka, 1980.
- Nigeria Magazine, No. 18, 1939, p. 13.
- Ugoji’s private document; Murray’s unpublished “Notes on Art Teaching in Nigeria: Important Suggestions”, Feb. 3, 1940. Also see Ola Oloidi, “Growth and Development of Formal Art Education in Nigeria, 1900-1960”, Transafrican Journal of History, Nairobi, Vol. 16, pp. 108-126.
- A lot of Murray’s unpublished writings; particularly on traditional art forms, were in the National Museum in Lagos, 1978.
- Uche Okeke, “The Story of the Contemporary Art of Nigeria’s Eastern States” in Ikorok: Bulletin of the Institute of African Studies, University of Nigeria, Nsukka, Vol. 1, No. 2, 1971, p. 37.
- Uche Okeke, “Modern Nigerian Art”, an unpublished manuscript, University of Nigeria, Nsukka, 1978, pp. 16-18.
- Uche Okeke, 1978.
- Nigeria Magazine, No. 18, 1939, p.120.
- Nigerian Field, VII, No. 1, Jan. 1938, p. 13.
- ibid. pp. 13-15.
- ibid. p. 15.
- K. C. Murray “Notes on Art Teaching in Nigeria”, 1940.
- Akinola Lasekan’s unpublished notes, University of Nigeria, Nsukka, 1965 (private document).
- Letter, dated May 2, 1946, was written some months after Akeredolu and lasekan had returned to Nigeria from London.
- Nigerian Field, VII, No. 1, 1938, p. 13.
- Interview with Ugoji, 1979.
- Interview with Akeredolu, February 1980.
- Interview with Ugoji, 1979.
- Letter dated November 4, 1938.
- Interview with Ugoji
- Interview with Akeredolu.
- Interview with Ugoji.
- Nigeria Magazine, No. 20, 1940, pp. 271-274.
- African Arts, 6, No. 4, 1973, p. 91.
- ibid p. 5.
- African Arts, Vol. 6, No 2, 1973, p. 77.
- Uche Okeke, 1978.
- African Arts, 6, No. 2, 1973, p. 65.
- Phillips Stevens Jr., The Stone Images of Esie, Nigeria (Ibadan: Ibadan University Press, 1978), p. IX.
- African Arts, 6, No. 2, 1973, p. 65.
- African Arts, 6, No. 4, 1973.
- The documentation of African Arts shows that the activities of Murray in Nigeria were also felt beyond his art experiences. For example, towards the later part of his life, Murray who had always been the lover of the seas, spent most of his time in the lagoon. This love of the waters, therefore, was responsible for his first contact with the largely local fishermen at the Victoria Beach in Lagos. He later became friendly and very intimate with these fishermen, according to African Arts.Murray, according to Willett, used to join them in their boats while fishing. Eventually, he joined their association and became their spokesman, particularly on matters which threatened their rights. He defended them when the government wanted to eject them from their temporary locations on the beach. He made sure that their rights were not abused by those big commercial fish sellers, particularly those in Lagos. He also pressurized the Nigerian government to give these fishermen a befitting permanent location. No wonder, Murray was looked upon by them as “protector, and companion” (African Arts, Vol. 6, No. 4, 1973, p. 90). His death was a great tragedy to them.
- African Arts, 6, No. 4, 1973, p.92.
- ibid p.77.
- African Arts, 6, No. 2, 1973, p.65.
- I must make it clear here that few unreferenced information in this article, particularly on Murray and Antiquities, are from my notes and Lecture Notes, as a Ph.D. student, on African Art, taught by Professor Frank Willett, between 1975 and 1976, at the Northwestern University, Evanston, Illinois, U.S.A. Frank Willett, a Professor of African Art, was also the Archaeologist to the Federal Government of Nigeria before and shortly after independence.