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Review of NGA act underway as Harmonisation panel emerges

By Gregory Austin Nwakunor, Deputy Editor
05 September 2021   |   4:02 am
Last December, at a forum organised in Abuja, which aimed at charting a new course for the National Gallery of Art (NGA), stakeholders in the creative industry tasked the National Assembly...

Committee members: From Right: National Gallery of Art (NGA), Dr. Simon Ikpakronyi, Archibong Bassey, Society of Nigerian Artists (SNA), Dotun Alabi (SNA), Oliver Enwonwu (SNA), Ngozi John-Uyah (NGA) and James Irabor (SNA)

Last December, at a forum organised in Abuja, which aimed at charting a new course for the National Gallery of Art (NGA), stakeholders in the creative industry tasked the National Assembly to give priority attention to the speedy passage of the new bill that seeks to amend its establishment act.

They argued that once the bill is amended and signed into law, it would make the NGA a revenue generating agency. The NGA was established as a parastatal (Federal Government agency) by an enabling act (Decree No. 86) of August 1993, which was later, amended in 2004.

The decree, which established the gallery, gave it responsibility for the collection, preservation and presentation of modern Nigerian visual art.

The proposed bill aims to “repeal and re-enact the NGA Act, Cap. N41 Laws of the Federation of Nigeria and other related matters.” The bill was first mooted in 2008. Hon. Tunde Akogun of the Federal House of Representatives sponsored it.

The contentious issues then was: “Every public building and structure of the Federal Republic of Nigeria shall be embellished with contemporary visual work of art.”

The bill noted that such artworks “shall depict the purpose for which the building or structure was built or reasonably relevant thereof. And to democratise the process of defining contents of art for public buildings, the proposed law recommends that: ‘Embellishment Committee be established under this Act’.”

Also, included in the bill, among others, is the definition of resale rights for an art piece across primary and secondary markets.

Some other contentious issues include, the commercial value accrued to artist when their works move from one collector to another in resale context and that an artist must hold the office of Director General of the NGA, artists’ representation on various board and committee of NGA and exportations of contemporary artworks.

The bill also says: “The Director General shall be a person with not less than 15 years experience in professional art practice or culture administration.”

It recommends that “every contractor engaged to build public building or structure shall pay five per cent of the gross contract sum to the embellishment Fund established under this Act.”

The proposed document states further: “Any public building or structure on commencement not complying with the foregoing sections commits an offence, which on conviction shall attract one year imprisonment or a fine of 10 per cent of the gross contract sum or both. Non-compliance shall not be complete unless there is: Evidence of embellishment from the National Gallery of Art Act, endorsed by the Chairman of the Embellishment Committee.”

Its first reading/public hearing was on November 16, 2010. The bill scaled the first and second reading at the House of Representatives before it got scuttled at the public hearing due to disagreement between NGA and Society of Nigerian Artists (SNA).

On Friday, August 20, in Lagos, the management of NGA began a retooling process for the bill. The gallery, on that day, inaugurated a harmonisation committee to chart a new path to amending the act.

This second attempt, which is in partnership with SNA, according to the Director General of NGA, Mr Ebeten William Ivara, is to harmonise the different positions of NGA and SNA before moving to the critical stage at the National Assembly.

Speaking at the inauguration of the Joint Working Committee on the harmonisation of NGA’s Establishment Act for Repeal and Re-enactment, Ivara noted that the consensus was that NGA must be armed with the right tools to face the challenges of the 21st century.

“This means reviewing the act establishing it…NGA has to transit from a service oriented agency to that of revenue generation,” he said.

According to Ivara, once the bill is passed into law, the benefits will include engaging visual artists in urban and rural areas productively almost all the year round to produce at works for the purpose of art embellishment alone as well as residual income for artists from royalties.

Other benefits are explosion in studio practice, increase in visual art practice, entrepreneurship and mentoring, release of the much needed fund to reposition visual art as a viable discipline for young people to embrace, visual art will contribute to Nigeria’s GDP, and the building of gallery edifice in Abuja and other geo-political zones.

Ivara believes amending the act will improve the agency’s contribution to general well being of artists in the country as well as generate revenue for the government.

He pointed out that issues to be harmonised by the committee as terms of reference, which are not far from the 2010 terms, except slight change, especially the embellishment levy, which has come down to 2 per cent from the earlier 5 per cent projected, include:

The inclusion, or otherwise, of a representative of SNA in the committee on embellishment, inclusion or otherwise of SNA, as representative, in the committee of Artists Royalty, retention or review of art embellishment levy of 2 per cent cost of construction of public buildings or bridges, extension or otherwise of embellishment levy of 2 per cent to private buildings with construction cost of N10 billion and above, desirability or otherwise of the National Gallery of Art Endowment Fund given the wide-reaching effect of the embellishment levy and other recommendations as may be beneficial to the visual art sub-sector.

At the event, which attracted stakeholders such as Kolade Oshinowo, Dr. Kunle Fulani, Dr. Bolaji Ogunwo, Prof Bruce Onobrakpeya represented by Mr. Mudiare Onobrakpeya, Dr. Simon Ikpakronyi, Mr. Dotun Alabi, Mr. Kolawole Olojo Kosoko and Mr. James Irabor, founder of TAFAS Art Gallery, Chief Timothy Adebanjo Fasuyi, urged Federal Government to increase the funding for art to enable NGA to purchase artworks.

He also called on Federal Government to enact an act establishing a national artists body to regulate and control the practice. Also, the outgoing President of SNA, Mr. Oliver Enwonwu, said that a new NGA establishment act would, without doubt, make NGA a revenue generating organisation, encourage public and private sector partnership in funding the visual art sector, enhance the relationship between NGA and SNA, support artists through the sponsorship of exhibitions, publications, residencies and workshops.

“Importantly, the bill is only one of such welcome projects that will resuscitate the partnership between the SNA and NGA. Others include the annual independence exhibition to celebrate the best of Nigerian art and our rich cultural heritage,” Enwonwu said.

Former President of SNA, Oshinowo, while commending the management of NGA for the initiative, decried the poor state of art in national collection, which he described as very bad.

He also expressed worries over the seeming doldrums and fatigue that have taken over the visual art sector in recent time, noting that once upon a time, NGA was very vibrant hosting major events such as African Regional Summit and Exhibition on Visual Arts (ARESUVA), Art Expo and others.

Before Fasuyi and Oshinowo’s outcry on the poor state of national collection, which has become an embarrassment, there had been calls from stakeholders for a ‘home’ for modern Nigerian visual art.

Ivara, last December, while stressing the need for NGA to have a gallery edifice, described the lack of such facility as a huge setback to the growth of Nigerian art and artists.

To him, the poor conditions of some artworks in the stores wouldn’t have arisen if the organisation had its edifice designed to host as many shows as possible.

Ivara noted that had been the story of NGA these past years, which explained why a lot of things done, are not noticed. Also speaking at the 12th National Gallery of Art (NGA) Annual Distinguished Lecture, in Abuja, Professor Jerry Buhari reiterated the need for a gallery building as a major step to improving the industry.

Buhari disclosed the consequences of not having a national edifice. He also called on the government to urgently fast track the building, at least one national edifice for contemporary art in Abuja, with a profile that could accommodate the volume and diversity of artworks created in Nigeria’s vibrant art scene.

“It is important to rescue them from disappearance or relocation to other cultural arenas or even outright destruction. The profile and cultural significance of these works speak to the authentic Nigerian dream,” Buhari said.

“Artists and art collectors would need to take serious consideration of where and how their works are stored and preserved. This is important; as it would have direct implications on the value placed on them and the role they play not only the development of our fragile democracy but also in the development of human civilisation as a whole.”

Members of the committee include Dr. Simon Ikpakronyi, Director, Curatorial Services; Ngozi John-Uyah, Director, Documentation and Monitoring and James Irabor, Technical Assistant to the DG; President, Society of Nigerian Artists (SNA), Oliver Enwonwu; Vice President West- elect Dotun Alabi and General Secretary and Vice President East- elect Archibong Bassey.

Over the years, the bill has passed through three DGs of NGA and one acting, that’s Dr. Simon Ikpakronyi, who incidentally, is a member of the harmonisation committee and has been with the government agency since its creation.

He said, “without a national edifice it would be difficult to build a coherent art collection that could serve as a tool for nation-building. A physical edifice holding artworks that represent the artistic practice of a country, both the building and the works can easily and effectively be deployed to build unity, integration and a national dream. The edifice could become a symbolic image that a country can be used to protect our shared cultural heritage.”