Chief Frank Okonta, the chairman of Art gallery owners Association of Nigeria (AGAN) needs little introduction. He is the founder of Nkem art gallery in Lagos, used to be a sports administrator in his days in the civil service before he retired. A member of the vision 2010 where he represented the art industry very well.
Recently Chief Okonta who turned 73 last August was made an honourary Adviser to the Minister of Tourism, Culture and National Orientation due to his contribution to art. As Nigeria prepares for her 52 independent anniversary, Art on Sunday was at his gallery where he has done a lot of renovation with new works displayed all over the place and the trained broadcaster turned art addict made useful suggestions about art in Nigeria.
First on how art has faired in the last years, Okonta who believes that it has not been a bad story stated that, ‘’with the limited amount of money that is available, we have not done too bad , we need to be encouraged by the government ,in the past ten years, art has come alive, there has been lots of exhibitions, workshops, NGA has been very active, SNA has come up, AGAN and so many other associations has all come out.
It is moving but not as fast as other developed countries, but it is on the move, we are coming up. I am happy with the progress that has come up. Associations like AGAN has been having exhibitions in the past five years with beautiful catalogues that are circulated all over the world.” He said.
The great lover of art, who believes that art is life says that despite the progress, the only thing lacking is government support, as the government has not really done what it is supposed to do. “we need government to really pump in a lot of money into arts to have a befitting national gallery at least one in Lagos and another one in Abuja so that we can showcase our works for people to see.”
Okonta believes that it is possible especially , now that the country is blessed with a good honourable minister that knows and understands the importance of art in charge of the sector . As some one who knows him, the country will benefit from his wealth of experiences if he stays there for another five years. “To me he is good and even the best minister of Tourism, Culture and National Orientation we ever had.”
Okonta who has seen it all in arts says that the industry need a lot of publicity so as to create awareness, about the artists and their works, showcase their works to the world because Nigeria has produced a lot of credible artists that can match artist all over the world.
On the way forward, Okonta is of the view that there is need for the NGA to make art materials available to artists, sell it to them at an affordable rate so that artists will be painting. He also suggest for the establishment of an endowment fund for art so as to enable the artist get funds for their projects.
He also solicited that government should make a policy that every office in the various ministries should have an art work inside it and people should also be encouraged to also have a piece of artwork in their offices. “One thing I want to see more is to see art works in all government ministries and private offices and homes. Nothing makes me happy than when I go to people’s offices or homes and see art works hang on the walls.” He added.
Another area that will make the art grow is by taking the art works to all events and to the embassies. For example in the last Olympics they sent some art works, such is commendable. “When I was in sports, there was no competition I attended that I did not go with art works. When I was also in the external affairs too, we use to take art works to all the embassies, so that people from all over the world will see it, so I suggest that the people in it now should continue in that way so that Nigeria art works should be displayed in all our embassies.”
Speaking on how to address some of the issues raised, Okonta said that the minister know a lot about arts and he is doing a lot to promote art but he is not been supported by the government. He canvassed for the establishment of an art village in Nigeria. ‘’A big industry like art need an art village, a typical village that will depict the 36 states of Nigeria with clothing, artworks, crafts, beads etc so that tourist that come to the place will see something to buy and go home with.”
The greatest challenge facing the art sector , he noted is lack of funds to carry out the activities in the sector. Government have been trying but they need to do more and more so private bodies and corporate organisations can also come in and assist the art sector, it should not be government alone, companies like oil companies, communications companies, banks etc can come and donate a befitting gallery to Nigeria, if they do that it is not bad after all they make a lot of money from the country. “Nigeria need a place where people can come and see our works. It is a shame that Nigeria at 52 do not have a befitting national gallery.”
Okonta also frowns at the attitude of some Nigerians who prefer foreign art works when they travel out instead of buying the ones by their fellow countrymen. To such people, Okonta says they are just suffering from inferiority complex.
He then urged such people to start patronising Nigerian artists, “I have been to many places and any where I go I visit their galleries, Nigeria art works are among the best so they should start buying works by Nigerians.” He noted.
Nigeria is not new to art, the ancient art of Igbokwu, Nok and Benin made name for Nigeria, they can be found in museums all over the world. Every where you go people talk about them, Nigeria contemporary works are coming up, so he would like every body to give it the necessary support so it can be like that of the old ones or even surpass it.
On a final note, Okonta confessed that there is a lot of improvement but there is need to do more. “I will like us to have art works in our roads , parks and public spaces, Lagos state government are trying , they create parks and beautify the place with art works , other states should follow suit. Nigeria has a lot of money but they do not want to spend it on arts.”