P a n – A t l a n t i c University’s Yemisi Shyllon Museum of Arts (YSMA) on the Lekki peninsula, east of Lagos, is edging closer to the much-anticipated day it will open its doors to the public.
The YSMA is the first purpose-built, privately-funded public art museum in Nigeria. This latest addition to the nation’s museumscape has been in the making for five years, ever since PanAtlantic University accepted Prince Yemisi Adedoyin Shyllon’s generous proposal in 2014 for the creation of a university museum hosting works from his private collection. With an audience-centred approach aiming at a transformative educational experience, it will measure its success by level of impact rather than number of visitors.
Two stunning opening exhibitions are designed to continue the movement seen in recent decades to cement the place of Nigeria as a global player in the art world. The ground floor will be dedicated to ‘Making Matter’, highlighting materiality and technology in Nigerian art, while visitors making their way to the top floor will be greeted by ‘Mirroring Man’, which explores how society and politics have influenced the country’s artistic production. Both exhibitions were curated by Iheanyi Onwuegbucha and feature works donated to the museum by Prince Shyllon himself, as well as works from the university collection and those given or loaned by a range of Nigerian collectors and artists. On display are artworks from established Nigerian artists including Ben Enwonwu, Uche Okeke, Aina Onabolu, El Anatsui, Erhabor Emokpae, Yusuf Grillo, Lamidi Fakeye, Bruce Onabrakpeya, Ben Osawe, Isiaka Osunde, Okpu Eze, Abayomi Barber, Gani Odutokun, Kolade Oshinowo as well as works by younger artists, such as Kainebi Osahenye, Ben Osaghae, Peju Layiwola, Tony Nsofor, Peju Alatise, Victor Ehikhamenor, Lanre Tejuoso, Eva Obodo, Ozioma Onuzulike, Uchay Chima, Ayobola Kekere-Ekun, Kelani Abass and many others.
So who is the benefactor who has offered 1,000 works from his private collection as well as a substantial amount of money towards the museum’s construction and longterm sustainability? The Omoba (prince) hails from Abeokuta, in Ogun State, and is an engineer, lawyer, chartered stockbroker, fellow of several chartered professional bodies, writer and administrator. He a lot to bring Nigerian art and artists to global attention. The prince started collecting art during his undergraduate days in Lagos. In 2007, he was instrumental in establishing the OYASAF art foundation, a nonprofit organisation which sponsors several art-related activities, including exhibitions, workshops and bursaries for promising practitioners, as well as publishing an online journal of African art.
Responsibility for designing and directing the museum lies with Dr Castellote, architect and art historian. For him, the architecture follows the principles that inspired the design of all the other buildings of the Pan-Atlantic University: fitness for purpose, flexibility, sustainability and character. The flexible space allows the museum to change its display configuration according to changing curatorial demands while the excellent thermal insulation of the external walls and efficient air circulation throughout the exhibition space require minimum air conditioning. Moreover, under Dr Castellote’s direction, the designers paid great attention to security, environmental control, efficient lighting, display quality and ease of circulation. In addition, the shape of the museum – a clean cube of 30 x 30 x 11 metres – and the richly textured finish of the stained concrete walls give it an iconic character that makes it stand out on the campus lawns.
Dr Castellote has stated that, as a university museum, the YSMA is primarily intended to serve as an educational resource, not only for students and faculty of the PanAtlantic University but also for the wider community. To this end, community educational programs are under development for students of public schools, as well as training programs for art teachers. All these activities will be made possible through corporate partnerships, donations and collaborations with artists. The museum is expected to open fully in 2020.