“We can rebrand African culture and tradition” …Arts collector, Solomon Ogbonna

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The CEO of Aguene Arts Foundation, Chief Solomon Ogbonna is a professional arts collector and a reckoned cultural ambassador. He’s proud of virtually 10,000 arts works in his private gallery at Lekki, Ajah, Lagos. In this interview with RAHMAN IS’MAIL, Solomon passionately discussed the significance of culture and tradition in nation building. Excerpt…

How would you rate the performance of Nigeria as a nation in the area of culture and tradition?
I don’t think Nigeria is up to the task. The attention given to the preservation of our cultural heritage and the artworks that portrayed meaningful history is considered too poor and uncalled for.
It’s a shame that most of the states in Nigeria, despite the rich cultural heritages and artifacts in them, cannot boast of any standard museum that can showcase their ancient or modern arts or compete favourably with other museums in other parts of the world. Rather, our sons and daughters travel to the western world and are proud that they saw one, two or more artworks of their tribes that are on display in various museums abroad while these artworks are raking in money for these western countries in the process.

What is the significance of art works aside from beautification?
It is a known fact that Nigerian artworks do not serve as decorative purposes alone. Apart from being priceless, they also convey important messages to the people, especially bronze, copper and wood works, which have been rated in the world as the best and most valuable African art. Our leaders should know that setting up a standard museum that will attract tourists all over the world is not about a certificate or how educated one is or even as an act of appointing a friend or relation who has no interest, love or knowledge for art and tradition as a Commissioner or Minister. First of all, it is a team work. It has to do with civilization and exposure of the artiste, including the illiterates, traditional rulers and custodians of those important ancient Nigerian artworks, (which some of them governed the people in the olden days and of course we also know that most of these important ancient Nigerians were done by these illiterates who could not date or sign their works) then the Collector of ancient and modern art whose love for art is unparalleled. This can also serve as a means of including and employing illiterates into the government’s administration because of the raw information they have for our art, culture and tradition. For instance and without any contest, the colonialists regarded ‘Igbo-Ukwu’ as the most recognized town in the whole eastern states in Nigeria simply because of the bronze artwork discovered in their soil, which has been rated as the oldest bronze artwork in Nigeria.
Igbo-Ukwu bronze artwork was first discovered in the residence of Isaiah Anozie in Igbo-Ukwu by a retired coal miner, hired by Isaiah Anozie to dig a cistern for him in 1939. More were later discovered at different locations or spots in the same compound belonging to Richard and Jonah Anozie who are of the same parents with Isaiah. However, in 1959, a famous archaeologist from Cambridge, Professor Tharwson Shaw was invited to study the subjects and the sites. This same Ugbo-Ukwu used to have one of the best museums in the country but unfortunately today, the museum and its artworks are things of history. We, the art preservers, strongly believe that a man like Dr. Uche Ogah, a genius and a great lover of Art will turn things around when given a chance to serve as a leader for other state leaders to emulate. It is also pertinent to know that no one can govern his people without having a clear knowledge of their art, culture and tradition.
What is the difference between a museum and a gallery?
The difference is this. A museum is used to keep or preserve art works while a gallery is used to market art works in form of auction.

What is the economic advantage of art works to the nation?
It has advantages to the nation; an economy could not be overemphasized, it exports our culture, history and promotes the tourism industry. It tells the world about us. It helps to correct the wrong stories of our erstwhile colonial masters who never saw anything good about Africa. They once said that, “Africans have tails” what a joke!.

What is the highest risk you’ve taken in life?
Travelling in an aircraft, it gives me horrors when I imagine what will happen to my corpse should there be an accident along the journey.

Is art collection a worthwhile investment?
It is worthwhile investment overseas. In Nigeria, African art is not well promoted. African art works are treasures of great value unlike European art works that are merely paints, canvas brushes and signatures. African arts are historical messengers of great times before the birth of Jesus Christ.

Aside from accumulating artworks, what other business you’re into?
I’m a professional estate developer; I build houses and sell them and I also sell landed property. I’ve houses and landed properties to be sold within Lekki, Ajah and their environs. I’m not an agent, I buy or build those houses then I will sell them. Aside estate developing business, I am also into automobile business; I do buy second hand cars in abroad and resell them here. Those are the two businesses that pay my bills. And soon; we are planning to venture into hotel business.