With Fasuyi at 82… NGA flags off National documentation of artists
Perhaps, oeuvre, retrospective and documentary are the appropriate words to describe the wall display of paintings at the exhibition organised to celebrate the 82nd birthday anniversary of one of Nigeria’s second generation modernists, Timothy Adebanjo Fasuyi. But the occasion of his birthday, celebrated at the artist’s Ikeja residence, revealed how the Federal Government’s National Gallery of Art (NGA) planned to embark on publications of select individual artists, using Fasuyi’s as a take off point.
The good news of flagging off the book project for Nigerian artists is coming nearly 10 years after NGA first announced the concept. Recall that in 2008, NGA, under the leadership of then Director-General, Joe Musa, told art professionals in Lagos that government had plans to get art historians document Nigerian artists. At Fasuyi’s 82nd birthday, the current D-G, Abdullahi Muku, assured that the book project would soon start.
“NGA has captured Fasuyi (Tafas) in over 200 pages,” Muku disclosed. But the presentation of the book, the D-G said, would be done before the end of the year. Muku used the occasion to remind art professionals that NGA was duty-bound to document artists, noting, “We have quite a lot of artists on the waiting list to document, as part of the NGA’s many projects for artists.”
Fasuyi and notable modernists such as Yusuf Grillo, Solomon Wangboje and Dr. Bruce Onobrakpeya, among others, were foundation members of the over 50-year old Society of Nigerian Artists (SNA). Some of these founders were also Fasuyi’s colleagues at the then Nigerian College of Arts. Science and Technology (now Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria). For keen followers of Nigerian art, from the academic axis, Fasuyi and his colleagues remain titanic figures, having been the pioneers who were admitted into the college in 1954 to study art. Fasuyi was later twice fortunate when he completed a postgraduate Diploma in Education, moderated by London University.
Though an artist, Fasuyi had a long career in the education sector, where he was also an administrator. For example, it has been established that he spent the last six years of his career at the Federal Ministry of Education to improve Federal Government Colleges nationwide. As an educationist, Fasuyi ensured that art endured as every Federal Government School had, at least, one art teacher.
For five years, Fasuyi, also known as Tafas, and a native of Isona, Osun State, served as Federal Art Adviser. He retired from the Ministry of Education on his 50th birthday. He has since then been a full time studio artist till date.
And at 82, the modernist shares the proficiency of being a studio artist, post-civil service career. From figural to landscape and abstraction, Fasuyi’s paintings radiate the energy of an artist who was privileged to be part of history, especially in the context of evolving Nigerian modernity, over the five decades of his practice.
In simplified figure painting style that lures the uninitiated into the perception that creating an art piece is not as difficult, Fasuyi, in this body of work, brings his mid-career styles into the contemporary period of his later years, suggesting that the art and the artist cannot afford to remain only in the past glory. Interestingly, some of the works on display, as Fasuyi leads guests through the exhibits, are as recent as 2015 and 2016.
Shortly before leading his guests through the exhibits, the octogenarian told his audience, made up of artists, patrons, scholars and other art enthusiasts, how the occasion had been on his mind for two years. Fasuyi recalled that when he was 80, plans were made for a big celebration, but it could not hold then bacause the chairman of the event and a very close friend of his, died shortly before the date.
In his younger active period, Fasuyi was a modestly exhibited artist. But the 82nd celebration, he enthused, brought him back into the exhibition circuit , 30 years after his last show. “The last time I had this kind of exhibition was 1984, in Paris, France,” he recalled.
Now in 2017 and 33 years after, the location was Adeniyi Jones, Ikeja, a part of Lagos not associated with art. Many decades ago, Fasuyi made efforts to turn the space into arts and culture centre, but he had challenges. Celebrating Fasuyi without putting his contribution into the education sector in proper perspective could prove an incomplete event.
Fasuyi is revered as a foremost educationist in the 1970s and 1980s, as a senior staff in the Federal Ministry of Education. And to articulate the celebrant’s career and life, the event was scheduled to be chaired by a personality that would enrich the celebration: another educationist, Prof. Adamu Baikie. But Otunba Oyin Adedeji, who stood in for Baikie, shared his art education experience.
Coincidentally, one of Fasuyi’s colleagues, Onobrakpeya, according to the speaker, taught him (Adedeji) Fine Art at Ondo in the 1950s. On the lesson to learn from the celebrant, he argued that “what we are seeing today gives us the opportunity to know that age is no barrier; the more he paints, the younger he gets, just like Bruce Onobrakpeya.”
On behalf of Baikie, Onobrakpeya gave the event’s opening remark: “I was the only student in the department who did not know why he was there,” the master printmaker quoted the absent chairman of the occasion. Fasuyi, he recalled, was among those who always had art in them and “is arguably a celebrated icon, a quintessential artist… congratulation Tafas!”
As an influential personality in the education sector, Onobrakpeya gave the celebrant the credit of setting him out on the academic path. The master printmaker disclosed that he met Fasuyi at Kings College, Lagos. Fasuyi, he explained, helped him become a teacher at another school where he served for over two decades. “He drove me in his Benz to St. Gregory College, Obalende, where I was a teacher for over 20 years.”
The celebrant was not just a popular name in the education sector, he also became a star in studio practice, Onobrakpeya noted. “Fasuyi created audience with art profession and led the way that gave artists respect in the society”
Naturally, the event was a day of tributes for Tafas: President, Society of Nigerian Artists (SNA), Oliver Enwonwu noted, “it’s a historical day for artists in general and was elated that even “in old age, he continues to paint.”
A former president of SNA and renowned art education administrator, Kolade Oshinowo stated that Fasuyi was larger than life at the Ministry of Education. “Fasuyi was instrumental to the establishment of many colleges, but he is not a noise-maker about his achievement.”
Art historian, Prof. Tunde Akinwunmi, also benefitted from the large heart of Fasuyi, recalling how, “In 1969, Fasayi assisted me into ABU, but also got me scholarship for three years.”
Art actually runs in the family. Fasuyi comes from a family lineage of what was considered famous in the production and ornamentation of art and craft for the town’s king. In fact, his grandfather, the Asolo of Isona was the head of a group of artists based in Isona, Ilesa.
Excerpt from Fasuyi’s bio: His first employment as an art teacher was at St. John’s Teacher’s College, Owo in Ondo State, where he taught for 14 months before his appointment as art education officer at the prestigious Kings College, Lagos. A pioneer member of the Society of Nigerian Artists, he served as first secretary, with Grillo as president. He represented the Federal Ministry of Education at interview panels for new entrants into the Federal Service Commission to Canada and the United States, visiting 10 cities in both countries to recruit new officers. He also established the National Children’s Art Exhibition as part of the National Festival of Art and Culture, which rotated among the state capitals. He was the first Nigerian member of International Association of Artists (IAA), based in Paris, and was later elected vice president. To his credit, he ensured the Society of Nigerian Artist’s affiliation to the IAA.
Fasuyi is also credited with the establishment of the National Council for Art and Culture, with state branches by merging the Northern Art Group, under Maitama Sule, with the Southern Art and Human Society, under Kola Balogun.