For so long, the ideology and work of key students of the late 1950s and early 1960s at the Nigerian College of Art, Science and Technology (now Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria), and later those of the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, from the early 1970s, have formed the bases of much of the critical studies and historical narratives of contemporary art in Nigeria1. While much scholarly writings have focused on the art and artists of Zaria and Nsukka, there appears to be as yet little critical appraisal of developments in other key art training centres such as the Yaba College of Technology, Yaba (formerly Yaba Technical Institute) and the Federal Polytechnic, Auchi (formerly Auchi Polytechnic, Auchi).

The Yaba and Auchi art departments have been popularly referred to as ‘schools’ owing to perceived stylistic traits that have tended to define their work over the years2. This paper relies on historical accounts of the emergence and growth of the two art departments, along with key artists and teachers associated with them, to critically investigate and analyse issues relating to the notion of distinctive group styles that have given them the labels, “Yaba School” and “Auchi School”. It seeks visual evidence regarding the question of the presence or absence of stylistic constants (beyond subject matter) by which works produced by artists associated with the Yaba and Auchi art departments can be said to have evolved into “schools”. In doing this, the following questions are addressed: How does one account for the socio-cultural, environmental and other factors that inspired and/or nurtured the perceived group styles that have characterised the Yaba and Auchi art departments? Who are the exponents or key players over specific time periods? Is it possible to discern continuity or change in the styles propagated by the artists? What are the current developments in their art programmes and what factors could have led to them? Finally, how have current transformations in both art departments contributed to the growth, diversity and richness of contemporary art in Nigeria? A critical analysis of emerging issues provides ample basis for the conclusions of this paper.

The Making of the Yaba and Auchi Art Schools


Figure-1 Seated Figure work in concrete at Yaba College of Technology attributed to Paul Mount early 1950s

One of the oldest art schools in Nigeria, the Fine Arts Department at the Yaba College of Technology (then Yaba Technical College) was established in 1952 and offered certificate courses in art. During its early years, the school’s focus was on skill acquisition and experimentation with media and techniques. Headed by the American artist and teacher Mr. Paul Mount, its early products included Ben Osawe, Felix Idubor, Erhabor Emokpae, Irein Wangboje, Isiaka Osunde, Yusuf Grillo, Agbo Folarin, Osagie Osifo, Festus Idehen and Tayo Ojomo3. Although no distinct group style emerged at Yaba during the early period, there were experiments in abstract and stylised sculptures4 that demonstrated a synthesis of indigenous African forms and Western sensibilities similar to what was happening (at the same time in the early 1950s) with modern Nigerian pottery under Michael Cardew at the Abuja Pottery Centre. This is evident in Seated Figure (Fig.1), a work in concrete at the Yaba College of Technology, Lagos attributed to Paul Mount and executed in the early 1950s. Such works by Mount in the early 1950s in Yaba and the modern pots created by Ladi Kwali and other potters under Michael Cardew in Abuja (now Suleja), beginning in the mid-1950s, mark important transformations that predate the so-called ‘rebellion’ or ‘revolution’ of the later 1950s at the Nigerian College of Science, Art and Technology, Zaria (now Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria).

Yusuf Grillo, a very influential figure at Yaba, took over headship of the department in 1961 (after further studies in Zaria) and remained there until his retirement in 1987. He taught his students to draw and paint in strict naturalistic manner (in line with the Western academy-style curriculum in place at Yaba), allowing them some measure of freedom only during the last year of their training. “Move from the known to the unknown”5 became the slogan that entrenched objective or naturalistic drawings, paintings and sculptures at Yaba.

Although many artists (including Y.G. Lawal, P.A. Salu, O. Oshiga, V. Osemwegie, F. Jenkins and D. Osasona) taught at Yaba, Isiaka Osunde and Kolade Osinowo, aside from Grillo, remain among the most influential; Osunde from 1964 to 1984 and Osinowo from 1974 to 2008. Osunde taught drawing and sculpture, meticulously championing naturalism and verisimilitude, although much of his own work (like Grillo’s) departed sharply from such modes. For instance, his wood sculptures of the 1970s, such as It is Enough (1972), have been noted for their “more severe abstraction” especially in his use of elements of “convexity”, “concavity” and “angularity ” 6 . Later works demonstrate a refinement of these elements, as found especially in Festival (1976), one of Osunde’s most visible commissioned works located at the Murtala Muhammed International Airport, Ikeja, Lagos (Fig.2).

Figure-2 Isiaka Osunde Festival 1976 Wood

Figure-2 Isiaka Osunde Festival 1976 Wood

Figure-3 Kolade Osinowo Evening Market 2008 Acrylic on Canvas 60x41 inches -Photo Credit- Carapace Publishers Abuja

Figure-3 Kolade Osinowo Evening Market 2008 Acrylic on Canvas 60×41 inches -Photo Credit- Carapace Publishers Abuja

Both in the lecture room and by the examples of his own works, Kolade Osinowo led generations of Yaba students through the path of objective drawing and painting, focusing especially on genre themes or subject matter, notably local rituals and festivals, market scenes, busy traffic, slum areas and other landscape scenes (See Fig. 3). Many generations of Yaba graduates have identified with genre themes and are noted for rendering them in fine draughtsmanship usually in muted earth colours (especially in the 1980s)7. Among professionally active artists associated with the Yaba tradition include Abiodun Olaku, Lara Ige-Jacks, Edosa Oguigo, Tolu Filani, Lanre Ayoade, Bunmi Ilemobade, Cliff Oguigo and Ato Arinze.

The entry of a younger generation of teachers into the faculty at Yaba in the mid-1980s and afterwards led to a gradual opening of the Yaba tradition of genre subject matter and objective representation. Among them are two graduates of the Federal Polytechnic, Auchi – Mike Omoighe (painting) and Olu Amoda (drawing and sculpture). Amoda’s welded industrial steel brought a more exploratory attitude to Yaba sculpture and intellectualised the genre by returning it to such sites of public discourse as the gallery and workshop exchanges (Fig.4).

Figure-4 Olu Amoda, Sunflower, 2011, Nails and Steel Belt, 193x176cm -Photo Credit- Art House Contemporary, Lagos

Figure-4 Olu Amoda, Sunflower, 2011, Nails and Steel Belt, 193x176cm -Photo Credit- Art House Contemporary, Lagos

Before Amoda, pioneer sculptors such as Osunde tended to concentrate on the execution of commissioned works. Omoighe’s liberal attitude and historical approach to teaching painting (especially his use of images of the works of Western artists, particularly t h o s e o f p o st – wa r G e r m a n

Expressionists) have produced artists, such as Osahenye Kainebi and Rom Isichei, with a lot more technical and pictorial freedom. Recently, many teachers at Yaba have broken with the tradition of objective faithfulness. Their 2006 faculty exhibition (Forms and Colours II), for example, clearly demonstrates this transformation as evident in the works of Adeola Balogun, Dayo Akanbi, Emah Idiong, Odunayo Orimolade and, even, Aina Bernard.

Turning at this juncture to the School of Art and Design at the Federal Polytechnic, Auchi, which was established in 1974, one may begin by undertaking a roll call of the pioneer teachers associated with the school. These include D.O. Osasuwa, P.M. Kashdan, E.N.D. Erobo, H.A. Owode, A. Moye, A. Adeaghe, C.S. Emodah and Ademola Adejumo. However, Adejumo (who taught painting and art history there from 1978 to 1986) remains a notable figure in the history of its academic and stylistic development.

Figure-5 Ruben Ugbine, Pregnant Woman, 2012, Engobe Painted Stoneware- Circa 36cm ht

Figure-5 Ruben Ugbine, Pregnant Woman, 2012, Engobe Painted Stoneware- Circa 36cm ht

Adejumo is famed for championing the technical exploration of the emotional, tactile and expressive qualities of colour at Auchi8. He thus inspired a collective admiration, and appropriation, of styles associated with the European Fauvist and Impressionist master painters, especially during what one might call Auchi’s ‘classical period’ between the mid-1980s and the early 1990s9. Artists influenced by Adejumo include painters who were retained to teach at Auchi, notably Edwin Debebs (1980-82; 1988-1990), Sam Ovraiti (1985-93), Emmanuel Ekpeni (1982-2002), Ben Osaghae (1990-95) and Emma Ikoro (1982 to date).

Sculptors and ceramists also played crucial roles in the development of the Auchi programme. Sculptures produced at Auchi, especially in the 1980s, show a similar concern for dramatic finish and bold, fluid textures championed by painters. The works of E. Erimona, an influential sculpture teacher, represent the quintessential Auchi tradition of objective rendition and dramatic textures. This was carried on by other notable Auchi sculptors such as Reuben Ugbine and F.I. Idugie. Ugbine was later to achieve a certain singularity of objective rendition of genre subjects in ceramic sculpture – a direction he pursued vigorously, raising it to the level of a major souvenir art, especially in the Lagos art market (Fig.5). The success of Ugbine’s ceramic sculptures owes in part to his innovative use of colour patinations (reminiscent of the Auchi sense of colour) on his stoneware body. He does the same in related works in wood. Similarly, Chris Echeta’s arrival at Auchi from Nsukka

Figure-6 Chris Echeta, Stranglehold, 1982, Ceramic

Figure-6 Chris Echeta, Stranglehold, 1982, Ceramic

to join Clement Emodah in 1980 brought a significant transformation in Federal Polytechnic Auchi’s ceramic art programme in line with the creative ferment of that period10. Echeta’s ceramic art, especially of the period 1981-85, shows a concern for dramatic form, texture and glaze patination that successfully capture the creative synergy of that Auchi period. Echeta’s Stranglehold (1982 [Fig.6]), Early Harmattan Morning (1982) and The Politician (1982) in the collection of the Nigerian National Gallery in Lagos, as well as other works, such as Suit (1984) and Deaf and Dumb (1984) capture this most succinctly. These works draw their uniqueness from Echeta’s sculptural attitude to ceramics, especially his successful experiment with both slab figures and abstract globular forms. Interestingly, a style deriving from this was embraced in Auchi even after Echeta’s departure in 1985. This is evident in the works of many of his students, especially Saibu Alasa and Ikechukwu Ibude, both of whom were absorbed to teach ceramics there. Alasa’s glazed stoneware installation Which Way Forward? represents a very important marker of Echeta’s influence at Auchi.

Beside Olu Amoda and Reuben Ugbine, perhaps, not many Auchi graduates of sculpture, ceramics and textiles are as professionally active and visible as its painters. Some former painting teachers at Auchi (Sam Ovraiti, Duke Asidere and Ben Osaghae who died recently) had relocated to Lagos to lead successful careers as full-time studio artists. They all have worked and exhibited alongside a long list of active Auchi graduates, including Olu Ajayi, Osazuwa Osagie, Toni Okujeni, Zinno Orara, Ini Brown, Jonathan Mavua Lessor, Victor Obasuyi, Pita Ohiwerei and Alex Nwokolo.

In 1998, Matthew Odili (a Lagos-based art enthusiast and curator) motivated some of the best-known Auchi painters to form a group of exhibiting artists (called “Colour Masters from Auchi School”) that would show annually. Odili was at the centre of organising the shows. Though the group

Figure-7 Yusuf Grillo, Snake Charmer, 1961, Oil on Board, 122x56cm -Photo credit Art House Contemporary, Lagos

Figure-7 Yusuf Grillo, Snake Charmer, 1961, Oil on Board, 122x56cm -Photo credit Art House Contemporary, Lagos

was known as “Colour Masters”, beginning from its inaugural show of 1998, and beyond, a number of its members (such as Zinno Orara, Osagie Aimufia and Ben Osaghae) had cultivated other interests outside of ‘colour’11.

Imagining and Re-Imagining the Yaba and Auchi “Schools”: Matters Arising

In September 2006, the Nigerian National Gallery of Art convened its 2nd National Symposium on Nigerian Art at the Obafemi Awolowo University Ile-Ife to deliberate on “Styles, Schools and Movements in Contemporary Nigerian Art”. Three of the sub-themes bordered on “Evolution of Movements and Schools in Nigeria”, “Emergence of Movements and Schools in Nigeria” and “The Role of Art Schools and Movements in National Development”. The apparently repetitive themes underscored the significance of research and scholarship on the subject, and this might be related to the popular notion within the Nigerian art circuit that several art Schools or Movements, including Yaba, Auchi, Zaria, Nsukka and Ife, evolved or emerged since the 1970s. This reflects what Abel Mac Diakparomre describes as “a strained effort towards individual or group identity (that) occasioned the … cliché ‘this or that art school’”12.

Indeed, the ‘Yaba School’ and ‘Auchi School’ are among labels that have also been used by many writers, especially within Nigeria, to simply designate the geographical locations of the art departments in question, pointing to an arbitrary use of the term ‘School’. Others use the labels to reference or discuss the group styles that characterise the works of contemporary artists (painters in particular) who studied in, or are affiliated to, the art departments under reference. With regards to the latter, a few observations are possible.

Beginning from Yaba, it would seem that the individual style of Kolade Oshinowo attracted greater followership than Yusuf Grillo’s. The reason for this is not very clear. However both artist-teachers strictly followed the academic curriculum at Yaba, which emphasises technical skill over the conceptual and which measures artistic competence by the objective representation of reality. In his own works, Oshinowo was (and, to a large extent, remains) faithful to the tradition of pictorial objectivity and naturalism that was for long maintained as the teaching standard at Yaba.

For his part, Yusuf Grillo, who taught at Yaba for more than a quarter of a century, (1961-87), remains an influential figure in the school’s history and development, but in an intriguing way. This is because although he followed the curriculum in place at Yaba to teach naturalistic rendition of subject matter, his own works departed from that tradition. Grillo is better known for his individual style of ‘mathematical’ paintings characterised by highly structured compositions of usually elongated, sometimes facetted figures and pictorial

Figure-8 Felix Osieme, Market Scen, 1990, Oil on Canvas, 61x90cm

Figure-8 Felix Osieme, Market Scen, 1990, Oil on Canvas, 61x90cm

spaces (Fig.7). Ugochukwu Nzewi has called Grillo’s style “geometrical stylisation”13. A critical appraisal of Grillo’s influence on his students, however, shows that his personal style of painting did not command a mass following at ‘Yaba’14. However, as Mike Omoighe has shown, Emmanuel Bojerenu, Sina Yusuf and Felix Osieme are among the few artists who at some point demonstrated an admiration for Grillo’s style15. Felix Osieme’s Meeting Point (1998) and Market Scene (1990 [fig.8]), for instance, testifies to his fascination for Grillo’s geometric lines and organic curves, which is evident in the graceful faceting of his human (predominantly female) figures. This formal style is also evident in paintings depicting women with headgear by other artists who were never students of Grillo, especially Alex Nwokolo and Jude Wilkie. Nwokolo’s Womanhood (2001) and Wilkie’s Gele Series (2001) are exemplary16. The same can be said of the works of Mike Omoighe. His Oge – Survival Romance (Fig.9) and many of his other works of the late 1990s and beyond show poetic, geometric line, space and colour that are evidently Grilloesque. However, Omoighe has developed a unique style, especially in his

Figure-9 Mike Omoighe, Oge - Survival Romance, 1998, Oil on Canvas, dimensions unknown

Figure-9 Mike Omoighe, Oge – Survival Romance, 1998, Oil on Canvas, dimensions unknown

structuring of hard-edged lines into stilt-like formations that usually end in negative spaces, resulting in active zones of visual suspensions and delight. Like Grillo, Omoighe insinuates what Ola Oloidi describes as “the elegant, geometrical forms of Yoruba carvings”17. The painter has resolved his forms into what often looks like architectural structures or edifices suspended on long stilts that terminate usually in empty pictorial spaces. Tribute to Women – Kudirat Abiola (1998) and Majidun River (1998) are among series of works in this style.

A number of Omoighe’s students have developed along individual paths. Prominent among them is the highly experimental painter Osahenye Kainebi. Although the influence of German expressionist painters is evident in his works, Kainebi has continued to push the boundaries of his practice, as evident in such works as Adoration (2004) and Many Years of Erasure (2006 [Fig.10]). Lara Ige-Jacks, another important student of Omoighe, tends to blend the figurative art of both Yaba and Auchi with the Fauvist and Post-Impressionist palette of Auchi. It is in the work of some other Yaba-trained artists, such as Abiodun Olaku, Edosa Oguigo, and Ato Arinze that we can count those who can be pinned down to a stylistic affinity that echoes the

Figure-10 Osaghenye Kainebi, Many Years of Erasure, 2006, Oil, Enamel, Oil Paint Stick on Canvas, 173x173cm

Figure-10 Osaghenye Kainebi, Many Years of Erasure, 2006, Oil, Enamel, Oil Paint Stick on Canvas, 173x173cm

realistic/naturalistic tendencies in the rendition of genre subjects typical of ‘Yaba’. A disciple of Kolade Oshinowo, Abiodun Olaku had by the 1990s, according to Kunle Filani, “perfected his knowledge of linear and aerial perspectives”18 especially in his dark canvases of that period dealing with dusk and dawn subject matter. During this period also, Olaku’s “craftsmanship in photographic [sic] naturalism became excellent”19. Although Sahelian Enterprise (1999) and Untitled (1999 [Fig.11]) exemplify Olaku’s voice as a skillful easel painter with a good technical grasp of dramatic lighting, Sorrows of Amalgamation (1995) points to his occasional concern for serious social commentary and marked the gradual thematic transformation that crept into the works of a number of Yaba trained artists since the late 1980s.

Rukeme Noserime has noted 1980-1990s as a “Revolutionary Period” of the Yaba art department20. This has continued to be consolidated till date, in fact almost setting aside the conventional curriculum, especially in painting and sculpture, which emphasized, according to Noserime, “the sciences of drawing and anatomy…, figurative renditions (and) adherence to proper principles of pictorial composition”21. The entrance of a new generation of teachers with greater experimental temper and creative freedom into the Yaba art department from the mid-1980s until recently is one factor that has led to this transformation. Other factors might include the location of the school in Lagos, the nation’s cultural capital. Many graduates of other art

Figure-11 Abiodun Olaku, Untitled, 1999, Oil on Board, 22

Figure-11 Abiodun Olaku, Untitled, 1999, Oil on Board, 22

schools in Nigeria pour constantly into Lagos for full time professional studio practice, turning the metropolis into a melting pot of diverse styles and ideas. Exhibitions and art competitions are held constantly in Lagos, a number of which demonstrate the wide nature of contemporary art. Significant examples of such exhibitions are the New Energies exhibition22 curated by El Anatsui in 2001 and installation art hosted in recent years by Bisi Silva’s Centre for Contemporary Art in Yaba. several  exhibitions  of  new  media  and Several experimental workshops, including those in conceptual and installation art have been held in Lagos, especially at the Goethe-Institut and at the Yaba art department as well23. Furthermore, there have been periodic group shows sponsored by such corporate institutions as Accenture Nigeria and Shell, those organised periodically independent curators such as the architect and art critic, Jess Castellote, and by a number of important galleries, all of which provided platforms for artistic exchanges within the Lagos metropolis. In 2005, Olu Amoda and others launched Danfo24, a group of exhibiting artists (consisting of teachers at the Yaba art department doing innovative work) whose motto is “Courage to Create”. For many years, they have continued to show works that seek to transgress the boundaries of any group style.

Over the past two decades, many teachers from Yaba have joined other artists practising elsewhere to interact at the annual Agbarha-Otor workshop initiated by Bruce Onobrakpeya and run since 1998. The Agharha-Otor workshop has remained a veritable platform for creative exchanges within the Nigerian art scene. A similar impact was obviously made by such other theoretical and visual exchanges brought about by the lectures organised during 2000/2001 by Bisi Silva under the auspices of the Institute for Visual Art and Culture (IVAC). The IVAC lecture series brought scholars and art curators, such as Eddie Chambers and Kathy Deepwell, to interact with the Nigerian art public on aspects of contemporary art in and outside of Africa. IVAC was later to metamorphose into the Centre for Contemporary Art (CCA), located in Yaba, Lagos, and established a new series of public art lectures in late 2008 called “Art-iculate”, which for many years brought international artists, curators, art auctioneers, and art administrators to speak and show slide images on a wide range of issues. Beyond such lectures as those organised by the IVAC and CCA, the availability of Information and Communication Technology (ICT) has increasingly opened the frontiers of information and influences hitherto unavailable to artists working locally. These factors, and more, have brought a new creative consciousness and widened the scope of art ideas not only to many teachers and graduates of the Yaba School but also to other art departments in Nigeria. Thus many artists interested in the strategic Lagos art market and its patronising institutions are more assertive by emphasizing definitive, distinct individual styles in order to be heard better, or heard at all, in the ‘crowd’.

Many of Auchi graduates belong to those artists whose entry into Lagos to establish themselves as full time studio artists reshaped their collective attitude to colour and pictorial composition in their search for individual artistic voices. This may explain why works produced by a number of them as students, teachers or fresh graduates of Auchi were essentially focused on the technical possibilities of colour and light, within the doctrine of impressionism championed by Adejumo, but shifted to other creative concerns thereafter. A few examples will suffice.

Works by Ben Osaghae, Zinno Orara and Jonathan Mavua Lessor are among those that demonstrate a change of studio attitude when they relocated to Lagos for full time studio practice. Ben Osaghae shifted from his impressionistic and somewhat Fauvist orchestration of dominantly bright colours (usually in single-figure paintings) to a certain architectonic composition in which flat colours function as backdrops for bold strokes of thick lines used as fillers for select areas made up of networks of dark lyrical contour lines. Osaghae demonstrates his obvious gift of draughtsmanship in ways that carry a viewer through the creative process. In this style, fully developed over the past decade, Osaghae’s studio interest has shifted from impressionistic use of colour to the expressionist resolution of pure lines and enormous spaces in pursuit of satirical subject matters. The last Mushin bus (Fig.12), for example, reveals Osaghae’s sense of visual poetry, in the sense that he elegantly represents only the important elements of the images constituting his subject. Here thus is a radical departure from his works of the early 1990s, such as Green Revolution (1992).

Figure-12 Ben Osaghae, The Last Mushin Bus, 2004, Oil on Canvas, 210x140cm

Figure-12 Ben Osaghae, The Last Mushin Bus, 2004, Oil on Canvas, 210x140cm

Zinno Orara’s stylistic transformation is equally compelling. From such works as Off Target (1993) and Famished Dream (1993) to Child and Child (2001) we find a departure from restive brush strokes of vibrant colours to soft, calm tones that appear to aim at smooth finish. Works of the late 1990s and the 2000s are also characterised by the stillness of the human figures, the kind of sculptural presence that is evident in the works of Kolade Oshinowo and Obi Ekwenchi. In a catalogue statement for the 1998 “Colour Masters” exhibition, Orara had confessed that ‘some years back, I enjoyed a lot of brush work, textures, bright/vibrant colours, etc. Now it is no more so. Maturity and choice of subjects/themes have become more and more demanding and relevant. I am certainly more concerned now about getting my message across in my own very special way’25.

Indeed a critical study of most works by the “Colour Masters” exhibition of 2005 also shows a shift of stylistic interest by a number of other artists. Examples are Osagie Aimufia’s Dry bones shall live again, Lekan Onabanjo’s Igara Experience, Angela Isiuwe’s Pillars, Jonathan Lessor’s Market and Alex Nwokolo’s Market Place.

Although Lessor still uses vibrant colours to emphasise human, architectural and other forms that dominate his recent paintings of everyday life in Lagos, he does so in ways that depart from his technical handling of colour in the late 1980s. Lessor and Nwokolo are examples of artists who appear to have been forced by the Lagos art market trends to sacrifice technical explorations into colour qua colour for a certain kind of formal flirtation with subject matters that have received commercial endorsement by galleries and collectors. They also belong to the category of artists as

Tola Wewe and others who, Toyin Akinosho warns, may “lock themselves” into the cage of “decorative craft… if care is not taken”26. Although Sam Ovraiti retains the freshness of his colours, one can also discern the influence of other artists on his works. One of the leading water colour artists of his generation, Ovraiti’s Vignettes (2002), produced at the Agbarha-Otor workshop, show the influence of the conical forms of Nelson Edewor’s wood sculptures. As evident in some of his other works, such as Colourful People (2002), Ovraiti has also shown interest in the multi-faceted or panoramic pictorial compositions of Onyema Offoedu-Okeke, a self-made painter, and those of a number of ona artists.

Unlike many of his contemporaries, Peter Ohiwerei has consistently explored colour in the impressionist mode, often dealing with a technical journey into the dynamics of light and colour on form. The painter calls his experiments “Brushilidus and Scratchilidus”27. His Memories of Venice (2001) and Festival of Colours (2001) are among several paintings that are true to the earlier Auchi pictorial style.

Clearly, the bright palette of Auchi artists has been deeply admired by artists of other schools, rendering an identification of the works of Auchi graduates by colour attitude very problematic. For instance, the works of Yaba-trained Rom Isichie, such as Model Seated (2002), Who am I (2003) and The Witness are as bold and colourful as any ‘classical’ Auchi work. The picture that emerges so far shows that in recent years there has ceased to be enough visual evidence to support a classification of works by graduates of art schools in Nigeria on the basis of technique, style or subject matter. This is further problematised by the conceptual work of some of these artists, including Rom Isichie and Wole Lagunju.

Isichie’s works made with bottle corks such as Union of Two (2003) and in corrugated zinc sheets and thread such as Charity (2003) show a tentative interest in conceptual art. Isichie’s constant travels overseas may account for his gradual transcendence of the limiting dictates of notions of ‘school’ identity.

One recalls Gani Odutokun’s submissions on the question of “whether or not it is necessary for an art school to champion an aesthetic or stylistic direction”28. He avers that “whatever answer we decide to give, the reality is that art serves different functions and one ideological platform might be too limited to accommodate a Babel of thought, aspirations and needs”29. This holds true for Yaba and Auchi schools in the past few years, as it also does for such other schools as Nsukka, for as Dele Jegede has noted “the times are changing: the best way to perpetuate the gains of the ideal is to recognise the centrality of identity and work towards empowering our artists – particularly the young and impressionable – and that multiple identities are indeed a virtue”30.


It can be clearly deduced from the foregoing that Yaba cultivated a stylistic identity based on outstanding draughtsmanship and naturalistic rendition of genre pictures, which held forth very strongly from the 1960s until mid-1990s. Auchi emphasised bright palette and “impressionistic manipulation of colour and light”31, a group style that flourished from the 1980s through the 1990s.

However, recent developments on the Nigerian art scene show a rapid blurring of the so-called “school” boundaries due to increasing individual professional consciousness and exposure, as well as intense creative contacts and exchanges among artists in the form of exhibitions and workshops. Another important factor of cross-stylistic tendencies includes local market forces and the emerging international art market fostered by the Lagos auction houses. There is also the increasing rate of globalisation brought about by the internet, especially the social media. These

developments have tended to further complicate such arbitrary use of stylistic labels to pigeon-hole or classify the work of contemporary Nigerian artists. Ester Adeyemi underscores this point when she observed that “the range of expression of these artists is so diverse and personal that it resists classification by style or school”. Currently, such labels as Yaba School and Auchi School, or even Ife School and Nsukka School, are simply acting out a Yoruba saying that “the stream may dry but the watercourse retains its name”.


Notes and References

  1. See, for example, Uche Okeke, Art in Development: A Nigerian Perspective. Nimo, Nigeria: Documentation Center, Asele Institute, 1982; Simon Ottenberg (ed.) The Nsukka Artists and Contemporary Art. Washington DC: Smithsonian National Museum of African Art, 2002; Sidney Littlefield Contemporary African Art. New York: Thames and Hudson, 2000; Chika Okeke-Agulu, Nigerian Art in the Independence Decade, 1957-1967. PhD dissertation, Department of Art History, Emory University, Atlanta, 2004; Chika Okeke-Agulu, “The Challenge of the Modern: An Introduction”, African Arts 9(1) 2006, 14-5; Chika Okeke-Agulu, “The Art Society and the Making of Postcolonial Modernism in Nigeria”, South Atlantic Quarterly 109(3), 2010: 505-27 and Okwui Enwezor and Chika Okeke-Agulu, Contemporary African Art Since 1980. Bologna: Damiani, 2009.
  2. See, for example, Mike Omoighe, “The Quintessential Yaba Art School”, Visual Vanguard: A Journal of Contemporary Art 1, no. 1 (1997): 4; Kunle Filani, “Form and Content as a Basis for the Classification of Contemporary Nigerian Art”, Uso: Nigerian Journal of Art 3, nos. 1 and 2 (Jan. 1997): 35 and Edwin Debebs, “The Auchi Colour Revolution” in An Exhibition of Paintings by Colour Masters from Auchi School, exh. cat. (Lagos: Didi Museum, 1998), 10.
  3. See Omoighe, “The Quintessential Yaba Art School” and Filani, “Form and Content as a Basis…”.
  4. Mike Omoighe, teacher at the Yaba College of Technology since the mid-1980s, showed the author two sculptures in concrete, one of which is credited to Paul Mount, which support this observation.
  5. During the author’s field research for this essay, a number of teachers at Yaba recited this slogan as reflecting the tradition in place there. Although its origin could not be ascertained, Mike Omoighe reiterated that the slogan is popularly used “by all the lecturers in Yaba Tech.”
  6. Gani Odutokun, “Isiaka, Osunde” The Eye: A Journal of Contemporary Art 1, no. 1 (December 1992):
  7. See Edwin Debebs, “The Auchi Colour Revolution” in An Exhibition of Paintings by Colour Masters from Auchi School, exh. cat. (Lagos: Didi Museum, 1998), 10
  8. See Sam Ovraiti, “The Roll Call from Sam Ovraiti’s Diary” in An Exhibition of Paintings by Colour Masters from Auchi School (Lagos: Didi Museum, 1998), 5-6.
  9. Ovraiti, “The Roll Call from Sam Ovraiti’s Diary”
  10. Chris Echeta and C. Emodah held a significant joint show of ceramics, entitled Creative Ceramics, at the National Gallery, Lagos in 1982.
  11. See, for example, catalogues of the exhibitions “Colour Masters from Auchi School” (1998) and “Colour Masters” (2005). Included in the inaugural show of 1998, held at the Didi Museum in Lagos, were, according to Dr. Adejumo, the “cream of the Auchi Colourist School” – Edwin Debebs, Sam Ovraiti, Osazuwa Osagie, Olu Ajayi, Emma Ikoro, Emma Ekpeni, Toni Okujeni, Peter Ohiwerei, Alex Nwokolo, Zinno Orara and Victor Obasuyi.
  12. Abel Mac Diakparomre, “Comment on ‘Art School’ Fad in Contemporary Nigerian Art Scene” in A Discursive Bazaar: Writing on African Art, Culture, and Literature, C. Krydz Ikwuemesi and Ayo Adewunmi (Enugu: The Pan-African Circle of Artists, 2001), 113.
  13. E-Interview with Ugochukwu Nzewi, 2006.
  14. E-Interview with Ugochukwu Nzewi, 2006.
  15. Mike Omoighe, “The Quintessential Yaba Art School: Old in a New Light at 50” Visual Vanguard: A Journal of Contemporary Art 1, no. 1 (1997): 2.
  16. See Velvety Dreams Cat. (Lagos: Mydrim Gallery, 2001).
  17. Ola Oloidi, “Contemporary Art in Nigeria: A Selected Art Historical College” in 1920-2000: A History of Contemporary Art in Nigeria, exh. cat. (Lagos: SACL Consulting, 2000), 7.
  18. Kunle Filani, “Behind Visual Glamour: Olaku’s Introspective Metaphor” in Life in Life: Exhibition of Work by Abiodun Olaku, exh. cat. (Lagos: Mydrim Gallery, 2000), 10.
  19. Filani, “Behind Visual Glamour: Olaku’s Introspective Metaphor”
  20. See Rukeme Noserime, “Evolution of the Yaba Art School” in From the Cradle cat. (Lagos: Goethe-Institut), 2. Noserime notes that at the Yaba art department, “the early 1990s witnessed the disintegration of the climaxes of visual rigidity [a phenomena stimulated and consolidated by Kolade Oshinowo]”, p.3.
  21. Noserime, “Evolution of the Yaba Art School”
  22. The New Energies exhibition held simultaneously in two galleries in Ikoyi, Lagos – Mydrim Gallery and Nimbus African Art Centre. It showed the works of young artists from Nsukka doing seminal work and raised an unprecedented critical debate within the tiny circle of Nigerian art critics and commentators. See Kunle Filani, “Installation… Beyond all the Wired Claims”, The Guardian (Lagos), June 1, 2001, pp.32-34; Krydz Ikwuemesi, “Africa and the Search for New Energies”, The Guardian (Lagos), July 7, 2001, p.33; Okechukwu Uwaezuoke, “Much Ado About Installation Art”, The Comet (Lagos), August 7, 2001, p.33; Chika Okeke, “Installation and the Fear of the ‘New’”, The Guardian (Lagos), September 1, 2001, pp.34-35,38; John Amifor, “New Energies: Beyond Conventional Styles”, The Guardian (Lagos), September 1, 2001, p.38; John Amifor, “New Energies: Beyond Conventional Styles 2”, The Guardian (Lagos), September 8, 2001, p.34; and Ozioma Onuzulike, New Energies… An Exhibition that Never Ends” (Interview with Toyin Adepoju) The Guardian (Lagos), September 15, 2001, p.31.
  23. A recent example is the Goethe-Institut organized experimental painting workshop in July 2006 at Yaba. Germany-based Nigerian artist Chidi Kwubiri led the workshop. Two outstanding products of that encounter are Peter Uka and Idowu Emmanuel.
  24.  See The Way We Are: The Danfo Project Cat. (Lagos: Terra Kulture, 2005).
  25. See “Artist Statement”, in An Exhibition of Paintings by Colour Masters from Auchi School, cat., (Lagos: Didi Museum, 1998), 27.
  26. Toyin Akinosho, “Modern Ife Artists: Valid Contributors or Placid Onlookers” in Best of Ife@ 10: An Open Seminar, ed. Mufu Onifade, (Lagos: Best of Ife, Ajibulu-Moniye Gallery and Ara Studio, 2003), 26.
  27. See artist’s biography in An Exhibition of Paintings by Colour Masters from Auchi School, cat., (Lagos: Didi Museum, 1998), 24.
  28. Gani Odutokun, “Best of Ife ’93”, The Eye: A Journal of Contemporary Art 2, 1 (June, 1993): 30.
  29. Odutokun, “Best of Ife ’93”
  30. Dele Jegede, “Globalizing Ulism: Trick or Treat” in The Nsukka Artists and Nigerian Contemporary Art, Simon Ottenberg, (Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian National Museum of African Art, 2002), 191.
  31. Ademola Adejumo, “The Origin and Development of the Auchi Colourist School” in An Exhibition of Paintings by Colour Masters from Auchi School, exh. cat., (Lagos: Didi Museum, 1998), 3.
  32. See, for example, Akin Onipede, “Nigerian Art Schools: A Merging of Traits and Vanishing of Stylistic Differences” in Contemporary Issues in Nigerian Art: Its History and Education, eds. P.S.O. Aremu, et (Ile-Ife: Department of Fine Arts, Obafemi Awolowo University, 2005), 306-310.
  33. See Ester Adeyemi, Contemporary Art in Nigeria and Ghana 1995-2005 (Basel: Friedrich Reinhardt Verlag), 15.