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Of artists’ conspiracy, ghost-plagiarists


Irrespective of the context in which unauthorised ‘copying’ of art concept is defined, the mystery that shields identity of the forgers suggest that the plagiarists are some kind of spirits or ghost artists.

Clearly, these forgers are artists too – who dwell among their colleagues – but hardly get identified. Between artists who are victims of plagiarism and the gallery outlets, where such copied art pieces are exposed, there seems to be behind-the-scene ‘understanding’, after the storm that is made known to the public.

As much as the role of digital medium is no doubt culpable in aiding plagiarists’ skill, the internet, in recent years, has also been assisting in amplifying unathorised copy of artists’ works. In contemporary art appreciation and appropriation, digital medium has double edge roles in expanding an artist’s followership base and exposing the same artist to the hostile world of plagiarists.

Copying other people’s work, in Nigerian art landscape, is not exactly new. Quite a number of modernists such as Yusuf Grillo, Kolade Oshinowo, Muraina Oyelami, among others, have been victims of plagiarism in the 1990s through the last decade, when look-alike of their works were found at some galleries, or intercepted at the point of sale in other private and informal transactions. But in recent years, the digital outlets, such as Facebook and Instagram have been exposing a new generation of plagiarists.

Among the recent victims of such rape on creativity is Diseye Tantua, who recently used the social media to expose an unknown plagiarist. “I walked into an exhibition and found this shocking; a painting I made in 2011,” the Port Harcourt-based artist posted on his Facebook page with two identical paintings attached.  Again, like most similar cases, the identity of the artist, who copied Tantua’s work, would most likely remain a mystery forever.

Last year, sculptor, Bunmi Babatunde, alleged that his successful Possibilities series has been copied by an unknown artist. Recall that the original Possibilities sculpture series were among top sales at auctions in Lagos and London a few years ago. In fact, one of the sculptures gave Babatunde his world auction record at Bonhams sales in 2014. The work sold for sold for (£31,250).

And when the plagiarised copies of Possibilities were traced to a gallery based in Lagos Island (names withheld), the initial steam of legal action against the gallery d later evaporated.

Apparently, the plagiarists are ghost artists, who hide under the cover of art galleries. And for obvious reasons of not ‘offending’ the galleries, perhaps, most artists victims of copied works, according to investigations, either ‘negotiate” with the gallery for “settlement” or “forgive” if the plagiarist artist is a known friend or colleague.

At what point then does copying another artist’s work become a crime? “Copying other people’s works is part of the behind-the-scenes of art market,” a senior artist, who craved anonymity disclosed. This disclosure and similar revelations of the hidden deals confirm the unknown factors of the art market.

With the current trend of claiming of copied art flooding social media, it remains a mystery that little or nothing is known about the identity of the alleged plagiarists.

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