Despite the devastating impact of the COVID-19 pandemic last year, the Nigerian arts and culture sector recorded a great milestone with the opening of the Yemisi Shyllon Museum of Art(YMSA), located at Pan-Atlantic University, in the financial city, Lagos.
The YSMA, which can be identified by its unique rotund architectural shape, owes its realization to Prince Yemisi Shyllon, the largest art collector in Nigeria, with over 7,000 art pieces. The Nigerian prince donated a significant amount of his art collection, dating from pre-colonial periods to contemporary collections.

Additionally, YSMA displays exclusive paintings from Kunle Adegborioye, Bruce Onobrakpeya, Olawunmi Banjo, deity sculptures like Babalawo (House Post), Ogun verandah post, amongst others. There are also rare photographs from traditional festivals, and other historical ornaments that are plausible to Nigeria’s diverse ethnic identities.

The YSMA  has a virtual tour platform for art lovers and audiences around the world with the intention to promote African culture, art and an evolving continent . “Our primary objective as an educational museum is to have a positive impact in our community through the arts’’ Michael Oseghale, YSMA’s Museum Manager explained.

In an exclusive interview with Ventures Africa, Michael Oseghale, YSMA’s Museum Manager,  discusses the museum’s plans for 2021, the economic advantages of investments in the art sector and some challenges associated with operating a museum during the pandemic.

Ventures Africa(VA): The launch of a new museum during a pandemic recession must have come with some unforeseen issues, kindly share with us some of the challenges encountered during the debut of the museum?

Michael Oseghale(MO): A very obvious one was the complete halt to museum visits. Here we were faced with the problem of creating avenues for our audiences to engage our collection. Developing a virtual tour of our exhibitions has greatly helped in this regard. The virtual tour is available on our website. Our primary objective as an educational museum is to have a positive impact in our community through the arts. The pandemic forced us to think of news ways of being relevant and useful to the audiences we serve despite the fact of not being able to reach them physically. In a way, the pandemic has helped us realize that we can reach a much larger audience than we thought initially.

VA: Nigeria is rich in culture, which makes the art industry diverse. How is Shyllon sharing the diversity in Nigerian art work to its guests? 

MO: We do this primarily through our educational programmes, activities and exhibitions, where artworks from our diverse collection are displayed both physically and virtually. We also publish information sheets on artworks from our collection which are available for download on our website.

VA: With the growing rate of globalization and technology, culture and art are being exchanged through different mediums, how is Shyllon going to capitalize on these prospects? 

MO: Developing a virtual tour of our exhibitions is an important first step in this direction, but we want to go beyond that. We are working on the production of digitally native content. We have successfully given guided tours to virtual visitors via video conferencing with great feedback. We are constantly working to improve the audience experience on our website and social media platforms.

VA: The debate on the return of African Art is fast becoming a global issue, do you think Nigerian museums have a part to play in achieving this goal? 

MO: Nigerian museums have a variety of origins, missions and resources, The role of a national or regional public museum is very different from that of a university museum. Museums have a responsibility in providing the necessary conditions for proper storage, conservation and display of repatriated artworks. It would be great to have these artworks returned to their rightful owners.

VA: Although the Art market in the country is expanding, Investment in Art is not mostly considered as important for economic growth, how can this mindset be changed?

MO:  Art plays an important role in building a nation’s cultural capital, which is the totality of a nation’s stock of cultural expression, including arts and heritage. It provides a foundation for the development of other industries such as tourism, advertising, film, publishing and fashion, to mention a few. As such, it requires investments to avoid devaluation over time, as is normal with other forms of capital. Organizations such as Iron Capital Limited and Custodian and Allied Insurance PLC have partnered with the YSMA on some of our activities, having a clear understanding of this value proposition. We look forward to more of such partnerships.

VA: How can we encourage Art collectors to transfer or donate Art to institutions as opposed to losing them to unforeseen circumstances like theft, which is a consistent problem with African art? 

MO: We have done this already by being judicious custodians of the collection and facility entrusted to us by Prince Yemisi Shyllon, to whom we owe our existence. This could serve as a clear template for both collectors and receiving institutions. Though most collections start as private, personal endeavors, it is reasonable to expect that fulfilling a public mission.

VA: The Shyllon Museum has a unique proposition of educating people about history while displaying art in one portfolio. How do you balance the two different demands? 

MO: At the core of our educational mission is the use of object-based learning methodologies: educating our audiences through art about diverse subjects, from politics to history, critical thinking and of course art. With art as the starting point, we can discuss topics that impact our audiences in more areas than art appreciation.

VA: People of African descent around the world are tracing their identity, origin and culture, does this trend hold any commercial value in the Art industry?

MO: Art is a major component of culture. Retracing their origins may lead people of African descent to an (increased) appreciation of African art, which in precolonial times were of significant social and religious value. This may lead to increased support for African Artists and Arts institutions.

VA: What are some of the challenges that largely threaten the museums and similar establishments in the country?

MO: Two key challenging areas are operational and financial sustainability. There is a strong need to develop competencies in key areas of museum operations such as conservation, art education and documentation, as these are crucial to an impactful audience experience. There is also a need to develop more private and public sector partnerships. This will enable institutions such as the YSMA to be more ambitious in our mission of service to society.

VA: In 2021 what are some of the initiatives and events that we can expect from Shyllon museums?

MO: As part of our plans for 2021, we have designed a programme for secondary school students in Lagos that will use art as an avenue to educate them on pre colonial societies in Nigeria. This will kick-off as soon as it becomes possible to physically engage secondary school students. We also look to launch our partner page on the Google Arts and Culture Platform.

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