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Professor Peju Olayiwola In Conversation With Prince Yemisi Shyllon

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Dele Jegede In Conversation With Prince Yemisi Shyllon

By Toyin Falola
Since its inception, The Toyin Falola Interviews has been a not-for-profit endeavour through which we have sparked conversations and debates on several issues of national and international concern, having people from all walks of life as revered interviewees on the platform – from renowned academics to former heads of state to vibrant activists. One of the most important aspects of what we do is to be as eclectic as possible in our selection while also ensuring that the interviews meet existing societal needs in the area of focus for which the interview is known.

In the last quarter of 2022, we had political analysts and academics on the program to spark a series of thought-evoking questions in what was a heated-up pre-election year in the country. For the first quarter of 2023, within which Nigeria is also expected to have held its federal-level elections for both the executive and legislative arms, our focus at The Toyin Falola Interviews will be on Nigerian cultural icons. This is largely due to our decision to stay away from partisan politics. We have had a wholesome, non-partisan dissection of the Nigerian political space and expectations. Within the next two months, which would ultimately lead to the climax of the Nigerian 2023 federal-level elections, we have decided to shift our attention to some Nigerians who have brought national and international honour to the country through arts, culture, and entertainment. Following this action plan, Prince (Dr) Yemisi Adedoyin Shyllon, Africa’s foremost private art collector, was our guest on Sunday, January 15, 2023, on the first edition of this year’s The Toyin Falola Interviews.

READ ALSO: Prince Dr. Yemisi Shyllon: A Preserver, Promoter, And Pathfinder

In the first part of the four-segment interview, Professor Peju Olayiwola asked the foundational questions that opened the audience to insights into the earliest years of Prince Shyllon’s foray into the world of art and cultural preservation. One of the most notable things said during the interview was in Professor Olayiwola’s opening remarks, where she acknowledged the direct impacts of Yemisi Shyllon’s vast collection on the preservation of African arts within the African continent. For context, artists of various media operate in an industry where only a few people appreciate their output. Due to a lack of standard educational institutions in the varying forms of arts, the high cost of formal education, and an almost absent production-to-sale and reward system, a large percentage of Nigerian and African artists focus on targeting international recognition and acquisition.

Often, young and aspiring artists put in the work with the deep-seated goal of getting a Master of Fine Arts degree at an American university, a pathway that can lead them to global fame, a higher valuation for their works, recognition and awards, and befitting financial returns for their intellectual and creative output. While it is good for the artist, their family, loved ones, and close associates, this phenomenon has rippling effects on the overall production rate, appreciation, identity, and existence of Nigerian and African arts. As a result, Prince Yemisi Shyllon’s commitment to acquiring and preserving art from contemporary Nigerian artists, especially in their earliest years of output and production, serves several purposes. One, it acts as a collection of mementos by which these artists can be reconnected to their roots, even if they eventually migrate to Western or Eastern nations. Another advantage of acquiring these artworks early in the career of Nigerian contemporary artists by a famed collector like Yemisi Shyllon is that it provides the artists with the necessary propelling exposure they need to launch a successful career.

In a world where the significance of an African art collection by an African living in Africa—Nigeria, in this case—is highly valued, Prince Yemisi Shyllon is the quintessence of colossal African representation. His success in the collection of African arts, especially Nigerian, serves as a testament to the ability of Africans to collect art and organise the preservation and promotion of their own art and cultures without external influence or resources or the migration of these artworks to external museums on other continents. This toughens the debate surrounding the relocation of African arts and precious jewels to European countries during the colonial period, reparations, and the return of artworks and jewels that remain within the countries they were relocated to.

READ  ALSO: Yemisi Shyllon Museum Of Art: The Beauties That Represent Our Enigmatic Continent

Was the relocation, regardless of how depraved the means of relocation, justified in this case by the claims that it is the sole reason those artworks remain to date? There are claims that if they had not been relocated by the colonialists during the era, many of those works would have been lost due to a lack of organised and nationally managed preservation ecosystems. However, the existence of collectors like Yemisi Shyllon throws the clogs in claims like that. If people like Shyllon have successfully collected and preserved African arts, what is to say that the arts that were non-consensually relocated to European countries would not have been managed and preserved also?

A prime example of how our formative years affect our choices and decisions in the future is the circumstances surrounding Prince Shyllon’s childhood and how those experiences formed the basis of a decision he made later in life. In the pre-interview piece, I noted that Prince Shyllon was one of the few during his time who attended the three foremost universities in Southwestern Nigeria: the University of Ibadan, the University of Lagos, and the Obafemi Awolowo University. About a decade after his first undergraduate degree in Engineering from the University of Ibadan, Prince Shyllon bagged a degree in Law from the University of Lagos. Many would marvel at how he chose to delve into an academic field that had little to do with his first degree; however, what those people would not have known, which was revealed in the interview, was that Prince Shyllon was groomed and raised by his maternal grandmother, who was the daughter of Nigeria’s first indigenous lawyer, Sapara Williams. Growing up around such a person and listening to the tales of the exploits and impacts of his great-grandfather within the Nigerian space cemented Prince Shyllon’s love and reverence for law as a profession, spurring him to pursue a degree in it.

Grandparents play several roles and responsibilities in the average African home, as the foundational societies that make up Africa are communal, with constant communication between members of a nuclear family and their extended family on both the paternal and maternal fronts — from grandparents to cousins to uncles and aunts. In such a setting, grand-parents serve as griots and the connection of the present to the past, playing their role in the children’s enculturation through the sharing of stories and legends and myths to help shape the world views and personal views of their grandchildren and give them a foundational knowledge of their ancestry. Thus, Prince Shyllon spending a significant part of his childhood, up to his secondary school days, with his grandmother in Yaba did not only serve as an influence on his decision to study law, but it was also foundational to his affinity for an interest in the varying forms of art and artistic expression, from literature to the fine arts.

Professor Peju Olayiwola In Conversation With Prince Yemisi Shyllon

Prince Yemisi Shyllon

Additionally, growing up with his grandmother meant that he would have been highly indulged in folktales, stories, legends and myths, proverbs, aphorisms, and idioms, which he might not have readily had access to if he had grown up living with his parents. As important and contributory as the informal education and enculturation process he had in his grandmother’s house was to his life trajectory, much has to be said about Prince Shyllon’s formal education and how it contributed to his growth and development. He has often alluded to the University of Ibadan as the genesis of his foray into art collection, and he mentioned in the interview that his time at the University of Ibadan made all the difference in his life. It was at this institution of learning, with its strategic scenery that includes vast natural plants and a zoological garden, that Prince Shyllon developed a deep interest in and love for plants, animals and nature, a love that metamorphosed into an interest in the expression of natural and world beauty through art. And so he started his forty-year journey of collecting art, which has also formed the basis of his legacy.

As the University of Ibadan was instrumental to Prince Shyllon’s love for art and nature, so did the University of Ife catalysed his love for culture. Ife, the ancestral origin of the Yoruba people and cultural heritage for everyone with an iota of affinity to the Yoruba race, served as an awakening of his consciousness to a new dimension of art—the cultural affiliations and implications of art. While studying at Ife, he began to uncover how art relates to culture and serves as a people’s expression, promotion, and preservation of their cultural heritage. This awakening influenced the direction that Prince Shyllon’s collection took, heralding the Afro-conscious and Afro-themed art-collecting Shyllon.

Professor Peju Olayiwola did an excellent job with her opening questions that focused on Prince Shyllon’s earliest years, which have helped us with a historical conceptualisation of the work and legacy of the passionate art collector and the factors that would have influenced the shape his work has taken. Yet again, this edition of the Toyin Falola Interviews, like previous editions, served the greater good by opening the portal to foundational questions that will help us understand the life, work, contributions, and phases of the life of Africa’s leading private art collector.

We must document pacesetters and pathfinders like Prince Shyllon to have a guidebook for the new generations that might be motivated to take on the task and legacy of art collection in Nigeria and Africa. The opening questions at the last interview and the corresponding answers from Prince Yemisi Shyllon, which have been further highlighted and examined in this piece, will serve as the earliest writing to aid researchers and academics who should consider the needed documentation of Prince Shyllon’s work and exploits.
(This is Part One of the interview report with Prince Yemisi Shyllon conducted on January 15, 2023. For the transcripts:
YouTube

Facebook https://fb.watch/i458cu7phB/)

 

Falola is a Nigerian historian and professor of African Studies. He is currently the Jacob and Frances Sanger Mossiker Chair in the Humanities at the University of Texas at Austin.

 

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Interview

Dele Jegede In Conversation With Prince Yemisi Shyllon

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Dele Jegede In Conversation With Prince Yemisi Shyllon

By Toyin Falola
In this last piece of the three-part series emanating from the Toyin Falola Interviews with Prince Yemisi Shyllon, we will examine salient issues brought forward during the conversation between Professor Dele Jegede and the guest. It is a befitting coincidence that the dissection of this section of the interview session will begin with a discussion point that is synonymous with what served as the concluding aspect of the second piece in the series. In the last piece, I outlined a reawakening action plan from the concept of art and society, which could readily revive Nigeria from the destructive slumber it is in. However, for such a plan to work, there is the need for collaboration between the people and the government; the role of the government in the effectuation of that plan is as pivotal as that of the citizens. Then, the puzzle that serves as the opening of Professor Jegede’s session: art and the government, specifically, the Nigerian government.

Dele Jegede In Conversation With Prince Yemisi Shyllon

Prince Yemisi

In Nigeria, culture, art, creative art, and tourism are subsumed under the Federal Ministry of Information and Culture, headed at the moment by Alhaji Lai Mohammed. In 2019, marking four years after the emergence of Muhammadu Buhari as Nigeria’s president, Lai Mohammed revealed plans to, as he said, “transform Nigeria’s art, culture and tourism industry into Nigeria’s new oil within the next four years.” This year 2023 marks the last year for that plan, and suffice it to say 95% of the outlined projects have yet to be embarked upon or achieved — from the promised annual National Summit for Culture and Tourism to the Endowment Fund for the Arts, the promised National Tourism Day, Regional Summit on Culture and Tourism, among other lofty plans that the Minister made. It is no gainsaying that the Ministry’s focus in the past eight years of the Buhari administration has been largely one-sided — more on information than culture.

This is problematic for the Nigerian state, seeing as culture looms larger than information; it is supposed to shape how information is passed and received, and since there have been little to no attempts to solidify the existence of unified cultural values in the country, the resultant effect could be a misinterpretation of received information. Professor Jegede raised a thought-evoking point in his opening question: for the Nigerian government — through its Ministry of Information and Culture — art, culture, and tourism are nothing but optics; there is no real groundwork to revive, sustain, or promote these things. They are rather terminologies being deployed to show that the aspect of the ministry exists, words without corresponding substantial deeds.

READ ALSO: Victor Ekpuk In Conversation With Prince Yemisi Shyllon

Without mincing words, Prince Shyllon tapped into the foundations of this worrying problem in Nigeria, that culture is largely considered a synonym for traditional religion, and religion is but one of the several aspects of culture. As said before, culture is an aggregation of all aspects of a people’s life — it is alive; it breathes, grows, evolves, and gets added to. For instance, systemic corruption has quickly found its way into Nigerian culture. Culture extends beyond religion; it is, therefore, a false approach for Nigerians to consider culture as the sole religion. This false equivalence causes a dissociating attitude among the people, many of whom are either Christians or Muslims who do not want to have any affiliations with the traditional religions due to their adopted faith. However, the claim that culture is the same thing as religion could not be further from the truth; and it only serves to hamper the growth, preservation, and promotion of cultures in Nigeria, as the peoples of varying ethnic groups are expected to fully embrace their cultures and cultural practices are not doing so. The average person in Lagos or Port Harcourt is far removed from the realities of cultural festivals in their regions.

Dele Jegede In Conversation With Prince Yemisi Shyllon

This disassociation from a culture based on the false equivalence of culture to religion also makes many desist from actively recognizing and adopting cultural values that would have served as a portal to mitigating societal vices. The concepts of contentment, virtue, communalism, charity, goodness, and kindness, among others, are embedded in the cultural values of ethnic groups across the country — from the Yoruba to the Igbo to the Hausa to the Tiv. However, these values are being lost to the absence of cultural cohesion among the people, a calamity that can be directly linked to the intentional decision of the people to desist from cultural affiliations and participation.

This fundamental problem also affects the government’s approach to culture since the government is inherently made up of Nigerians, who most likely share the views and biases of the other Nigerians, largely considering art as religion. Furthermore, this problem extends its effects into how the people react to the government’s treatment of and lack of attention to the art and culture arm of the said ministry. If the people are not motivated enough to actively demand a revamp of the culture, art, and tourism industries and if there are no advocacies for this revamp, the government can as well turn a seemingly blind eye to the work that needs to be done.

In Nigeria, two elements of culture — art and music — have been part of the biggest image makers for the country in the international space, even amidst the name-spoiling effects of corruption, internet fraud, and illegal migration that have largely affected the country’s image negatively. Nigerian music — especially Afrobeat — has received widespread acclaim and recognition in the international space. Nigerian artists — literary, visual, creative, and performing — are also doing exploits in poetry, prose, and artwork, bringing fame and glory to the country. If properly invested into and if adequately leveraged, these forms of art in Nigeria can serve as an avenue to boost the country’s economy, international exposure and recognition, and also create a worldwide ecosystem that rewards the country for its culture and art.

Dele Jegede In Conversation With Prince Yemisi Shyllon

Monument

It will take a reorientation of the Nigerian people on what culture is, its varying aspects, and the potential that cultural elements hold when properly leveraged for the country to arrive at a profitable system. It goes beyond merely representing a plan to make art the country’s new oil. That only echoes what Professor Jegede said about art and culture being nothing but a means of publicity and propaganda in the country. A reorientation like this is what the Yoruba Cultural Center in Dallas does, investing time, money, and resources into teaching several elements of the Yoruba culture to Yoruba people in the diaspora, many of whom would not have had any access to their cultural roots and identity without an institution like this.

There is a developing argument, though without data at the moment, that the average consistent attendee of the Yoruba Cultural Center in Dallas would, in the end, may have a deeper knowledge of Yoruba proverbs, maxims, art, dance, and festivals — in sum, culture — than an average Yoruba person living in Nigeria. As this new argument goes, the only advantage a Yoruba person living in Nigeria could have over the average person learning from the Center in Texas is the fluency of pronunciation and language use, which is largely due to the frequency of usage of the language in Nigeria, as compared to the United States — a Yoruba person in Nigeria would have more access to Yoruba people, which would aid communication and language fluency.

However, considering that there has been a serious deviation from cultural roots and an erosion of the younger generation’s knowledge of customs, proverbs, idioms and maxims, traditional dances and other core elements of the Yoruba culture, the average Nigerian Yoruba, it is now being feared, would not match up to the knowledge of the learner in the diaspora. This phenomenon is not exclusive to learners at the Yoruba Cultural Center in Dallas alone. Foreign learners of the language and culture of Yoruba at the University of Ibadan Yoruba Language Center will also best many indigenous Yoruba people in using idioms and knowledge of the culture.

Dele Jegede In Conversation With Prince Yemisi Shyllon

Lagos Garden

This is because the indigenous people are largely deviating from learning about their culture and the deep levels of the language beyond the surface, everyday usage on the streets of Lagos or in palm-wine stalls in Ondo. Limiting a people’s culture to their religion and language is dangerous, yet this is one of Nigeria’s biggest problems. So much so that people believe they have enough knowledge of their culture when they can speak their ethnic group’s language. There is a need for an intervention from the government on this. However, the problem goes beyond the government and requires the people’s readiness. A case in point is a long-time government intervention for cultural integration — the National Youth Service Corps. Today, this scheme has been bastardized, and year in, year out, the country is witnessing a mass redeployment of corps members who are not willing to live among Nigerians of other cultures and ethnic groups for just a year. This speaks so much about how culture is viewed among Nigerians and some reasons why the country is where it currently is in terms of cohesion and national unity.

Cultural institutions in Nigeria serve the purpose of existence rather than having specific essence. This is further manifested in how these institutions are run. The administrators of the cultural institutions in the country do not see their role beyond their tasks; there is no underlying zeal for the promotion and propagation of culture and art. Therefore, they discharge their duties when needed but never go out of their way to attract people to their institutions. In this age of the internet frenzy and social media buzz, how many of our cultural institutions in Nigeria have an online footprint? How many of them are making efforts to reach young Nigerians? How many are pushing to stay visible and relevant?

READ ALSO: You don blow!

The task ahead for us Nigerians — the people and the government — is to see culture as an all-encompassing cloak on our existence and identity as a people and make efforts to save that cloak from tearing beyond repair. We will get closer to redeeming this country when we have given attention to saving and salvaging the Nigerian culture and bringing a unified Nigerian culture to the fore.

Dele Jegede In Conversation With Prince Yemisi Shyllon

Abeokuta

(This is the third and final part of the interview report with Prince Yemisi Shyllon conducted on January 15, 2023. For the transcripts, see:
YouTube https://youtube.com/watch?v=QFMbXx6aRE4;
Facebook https://fb.watch/i458cu7phB/)

Falola is a Nigerian historian and professor of African Studies. He is currently the Jacob and Frances Sanger Mossiker Chair in the Humanities at the University of Texas at Austin.

 

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Interview

Victor Ekpuk In Conversation With Prince Yemisi Shyllon

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Dele Jegede In Conversation With Prince Yemisi Shyllon

By Toyin Falola
It was Les Brown, an American politician, who said, “life takes on meaning when you become motivated, set goals, and charge after them in an unstoppable manner.” In this sentence of fewer than 20 words, Brown summarizes the trajectory of ambition and the key ingredients that make an ambition worthwhile and successful. In his conversation with Victor Ekpuk at the last edition of the Toyin Falola Interviews, Prince Yemisi Shyllon reinforced Brown’s quote in his own words, and perhaps without ever having come across Brown’s quote of the same similarity. Prince Shyllon attributed his venture into the collection of art and investment in art and culture to a trajectory that stemmed from his search to create a distinct personal identity. In this piece, I reflect more broadly on his answers to the questions posed by Ekpuk.

Before actively collecting art and crafts for several years, Prince Shyllon enjoyed successful career stints at an executive level in multinational companies, with government institutions and boards, as an investor, and as a board member for companies. These, without the other aspects of his life he eventually took upon himself, are enough to make a name for oneself anywhere in the world. However, the prince chose to aspire to something greater than just making a name for himself; thus, the processes for bringing his legacy to life were set in motion. Starting with a search for an innate and unique identity, Prince Shyllon’s interest in the arts and humanities, which he had let go earlier in life for his deep-founded interest in calculations and mathematics, resurfaced. So, like the theory of growth and development — where nature and nurture are said to be equal contributors — Prince Yemisi Shyllon’s resurfaced natural talent soon fed on the elements he interacted with and his experiences during the earliest post-education stage of his life. What started as an interest became a passion, and he began actively collecting art and seeking out contemporary artists.

READ ALSO: Professor Peju Olayiwola In Conversation With Prince Yemisi Shyllon

As Brown said, life begins to take on meaning when you charge after your goals in an unstoppable manner. This can be likened to what Prince Shyllon’s passion for art translated into an obsession founded on goals to promote and preserve African art and culture, patronize contemporary and young Nigerian artists and bring them to the limelight, and create an ecosystem that will give African arts a respected place in the world, one that has extended in different forms, including residency programs for critics, scholars, artists, and art investors looking to study African and Nigerian arts — this, effectively becoming now larger than life or a single existence, is his legacy.

Legacy is a concept that stems from one person but is larger than its progenitor. Prince Shyllon’s unique identity is what has birthed his legacy. He mentioned something which holds: the bulk of the people who know him today — and I boldly claim a percentage starting from 90 — know him, not for his exploits in the other fields of endeavour he succeeded in, but as an art collector and promoter. The bulk of the recognition and awards he received connected to his deeds in art and culture. For generations to come, his name will surely be listed among the past executives of some of the multinationals he worked for; however, the bulk of the listings of his name and the popular association of his name in decades and centuries to come will be for art collection, culture, and art promotion. For Prince Yemisi Shyllon, art is not only a vehicle for conveying cultural values and beliefs, as you would see in the average African society; art has become culture itself. Culture is a sum of the way of life of a people, and its components are personal cultures — the ways of life of individual persons that come together as the atomic parts of the overarching societal culture. Prince Yemisi Shyllon’s life is fully defined by art. Lodged within his culture are enviable world views, robust associations, and a holistic approach to living.

Art is considered a part of an elitist culture, where it takes those on the upper strata of the societal hierarchy to appreciate and collect art in its varied forms, but Prince Shyllon’s views, as shared during the interview, served as a solid demystification of some beliefs — shall we call them misconceptions — about art. Art can be appreciated and enjoyed by all. However, it takes a deep level of self-awareness — which will, in turn, spark a high level of awareness of one’s society and the environment — to appreciate art. When one has attained a deep level of self-awareness, such a person can remove self or ego from being the centre of focus, a mindset that will result in an all-new awareness and profound appreciation of the ubiquitous existence of art.

Aside from being a way of life and a source of joy, art has also served as a berth for a robust investment portfolio for Prince Shyllon. Investment is an aspect of art culture; when one is as passionate about art as Prince Shyllon, that passion takes varying forms of deployment, one of which is to task the self with sourcing and investing in artworks and artists. Investing in art means being deeply passionate about art and understanding its uses for humans and in human societies. These are prerequisites for taking on a life of investment in anything — whether it be a cryptocurrency and other forms of blockchain technology, art, jewellery, real estate, or stocks and bonds.

READ ALSO: Elevating Africa: The Collections In the Yemisi Shyllon Museum Of Art

Of truth, art remains one of the best ways to diversify one’s investment portfolio. However, it all must start from a genuine interest in art; for you cannot successfully invest in something you do not understand, do not appreciate, or place value on. Prince Shyllon is the collector of the earliest works of several contemporary Nigerian and African artists. He believes that singular move, which has served the artists as the stepping stone to the limelight, has also brought him immense personal benefits, being profitable investments that will yield multiple folds of their initial worth.

Art is a venture that has multiplying effects on society. Aside from being a lucrative and stable source of investment for individuals, art is a way to bring exposure to society and facilitate such society’s attraction of external investors. Beyond that, a society that fully embraces and is actively into art and art output is a society where the members will be gainfully and productively engaged. Due to its enduring and long-lasting nature, art is a vehicle through which legacies and societal histories can be retained and transmitted. Furthermore, a societal embrace of art is a marker for development, self-introspection, and a high level of willingness and commitment to growth and transformation.

When the people of a society intentionally venture into art expression, preservation, and promotion, it means such people have first recognized the importance of their culture, values, existence, and identity. And a society that has attained such levels of recognition is waiting to skyrocket through growth. Examples of such exist in Japan, where anime and manga are two forms of art that power the exposure and development of Japanese art and culture to the world. These art forms have been powering the exposure, adoption, and acceptance of Japanese culture and contributing to the development of the Japanese economy, especially as there are indirect contributions from anime and manga to other industries like food and clothing merchandise. On the other hand is France, a country whose focus on art and investment in art and art museums has served as a lucrative avenue to boost national revenue — seeing as tourism, valued at 211 billion in 2019 — is the main contributor and driver of the French economy.

Nigeria is a country that is struggling to have an overarching sense of identity that citizens can aspire to, so much, so that ethnic identities supersede the Nigerian identity — thus leading to the factions, disgruntling, and lack of cohesion that bedevil the Nigerian spatial entity.

As pointers to other ethnic groups, the Yoruba, Igbo, Hausa, Efik, Tiv, and Urhobo consciousness and identity are stronger than what currently serve as the vehicles of national consciousness and identity in the country. However, one way of combating the issue is for the country to unify through art. Nigeria has the potential to solve its identity crisis if there are concerted national efforts to express the Nigerian identity through art and promote such identity, especially in a way that shows it also relates to the several ethnic groups. This way, the Yoruba, with their strong sense of Yoruba consciousness, identity, and culture, can see the reflection of their identity and art in the overarching national art expressions.

READ ALSO: Prince Yemisi Shyllon: Different Slides Of Success

This endeavour will cut across the nooks and crannies of the country and involve government bodies and agencies, private stakeholders, and researchers. It is a move that has to go beyond the documented policymaking lacking implementation — as is often the case in our country. It should not be another means to take pay cuts and self-indulging shares of resources that have come to be termed as the national cake. It is a national project that has to go beyond constructing and abandoning cultural centres in 3 or 4 cities in the country. It might just be the needed starting point for the country.

This is yet another dimension of thought that the interview has opened up, lending credence to the vitality of what we do in interviewing Nigerian, African, and Pan-African personalities.
(This is Part Two of the interview report with Prince Yemisi Shyllon conducted on January 15, 2023. For the transcripts:
YouTube

;

Facebook https://fb.watch/i458cu7phB/)

 

Falola is a Nigerian historian and professor of African Studies. He is currently the Jacob and Frances Sanger Mossiker Chair in the Humanities at the University of Texas at Austin.

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Prince Dr. Yemisi Shyllon: A Preserver, Promoter, And Pathfinder

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Dele Jegede In Conversation With Prince Yemisi Shyllon

THE TOYIN FALOLA INTERVIEWS
A CONVERSATION WITH PRINCE YEMISI SHYLLON, 2023
By Toyin Falola

On such occasions that I have had the opportunity to visit Prince Dr. Yemisi Shyllon, where he took me and my company of people on a tour of his residences or museum — whichever one it was that we were visiting on each occasion — I always left marveling at the depth and vastness of our host in African arts and artists. To listen to him speak is to understand that, for him, collecting art goes beyond a personal hobby or a sport. It is a culture, a way of life whose profoundness forms a foundation for happiness and fulfillment for Prince Shyllon. You have to listen to him talk about his acquisitions and discoveries to understand the depth of his love for and appreciation of arts — and its varied forms, from sculpture to paintings to drawings.

In pre-colonial Yoruba history, the Egba, from where the Prince comes from, had several categories of leaders, each with designated duties and responsibilities. There were the Oba, the Parakoyi, the Ogboni, the warriors, and the tax people. Of all these people, the Ogboni had the blessed responsibility of upholding and preserving the cultural and traditional heritages of the city state. Theirs was a sacredly ordained society of elite people that not only contributed to bringing law, order, and justice to the people but also ensured that the empire did not — at any point in time — stray away from its cultural and traditional roots.

READ  ALSO: Yemisi Shyllon Museum Of Art: The Beauties That Represent Our Enigmatic Continent

To understand the vitality of the work the Ogboni did, we must first consider the interconnectedness of culture, society, traditional heritages, and development. A truly civilized society has and can uphold and preserve its long history of cultural heritage and traditions.

Prince Dr. Yemisi Shyllon: A Preserver, Promoter, And Pathfinder If there were no conscious efforts to preserve these by the Ogboni, there would have been weakened transmission of value and cultural assets from one generation to another, a phenomenon that would have adversely affected the evolution, development, and even continued existence of the people. For, if a people are disconnected from their history, they are likewise lost from their identity, and to not have an identity is to not know your society’s place in the world; it is to not know what your ancestors before you had achieved and how that influences how you live in the present day and what purpose to aspire to.

Although the evolution of ethnic societies within the geopolitical entity now called Nigeria has led to a gross erosion of traditional structures, societies and responsibilities, there is no denying that there exist individuals who have taken it upon themselves to commit personal resources for the greater good. Prince Dr. Yemisi Shyllon is the quintessential example of such people. He stands distinctly in the category of people who have been preserving and promoting Nigerian and African arts of various forms through commissioning, collecting, and introducing several initiatives.

While we may not have the traditional Ogboni society today to preserve, uphold, and promote the beautiful artistic creations that old and contemporary Nigerians and Africans have worked on or are still working on, we can revel in the peace of mind and assurance that comes with having the likes of Prince Yemisi Shyllon around, people who have adopted a generous approach to the work they do in the world of art and culture. Prince Shyllon has collected and done impactful work that transcends generations.

READ ALSO: Elevating Africa: The Collections In the Yemisi Shyllon Museum Of Art

Shall we talk about his support for art and art creators? Or do we speak of how he commits resources into sourcing and identifying real talent and commissioning such talents to give them the foundation and exposure they need to take upon the world? Many an artist got their first big break when Prince Shyllon commissioned them to work on a project. That is the promoter aspect of the tri-dimensional impact this man and his life and work for and in African art and culture have had.

Prince Dr. Yemisi Shyllon: A Preserver, Promoter, And Pathfinder

There are also the numerous initiatives he has launched, the continued expansion of his collection and the resources he puts into maintaining his museums. Beyond that, Prince Shyllon commits time to serve on the boards of serval art-focused initiatives and organizations. If anything, we all know that time is the most important asset to humans, and to dedicate so much time to serve without expectations of remunerations on such boards is yet another testament to the depth of his lifelong commitment to the promotion of Africa through art and culture.

There is a category of people with the financial wherewithal to give, support, and help, and do so for the recognition and appreciation they would receive from such endeavors. I do not in any way criticize these people — the resources are theirs, and they are entitled to the non-monetary gains they expect from committing their resources to whatever endeavor they commit them to. However, when one considers that for Prince Shyllon, the driving force in doing all he does for art, culture, Nigeria, and Africa is not an expectation for recognition, the vastness of his contributions and impact will leave one in awe. There have been recognitions, no doubt — recently, Pan Atlantic University conferred on him an honorary doctorate to appreciate his work and contributions to art. However, if you have had a close engagement with Prince Shyllon or have read about his contributions, you can tell that the driving force for this spectacular man is not in any way the recognition that may — and in this case, has — come. On January 15, 2023, Prince Dr. Yemisi Shyllon will be the first guest on the 2023 series of the Toyin Falola Interviews.

The decision to invite Prince Shyllon lies primarily on the need to document the insights and perceptions, experiences, views, and comments of people like him on African arts and culture. He has been in the field and committed his life and resources to identifying, promoting, preserving, and upholding African art and artists. There has to be a new generation of promoters and upholders that will tap into the generous vision of people like Prince Shyllon. And to prepare that new generation, there is the need to document the work and comments of the present generation.

The questions we will ask on Sunday the 15th, and the answers Prince Dr. Shyllon will serve as vital information to help sustain the promotion and preservation of one of the vital things that make us African — our art and craft; representations of our beliefs and perceptions as different peoples of a united continent.
Please join us:
Sunday, January 15, 2023
5:00 PM Nigeria
4:00 PM GMT
10:00 AM Austin CST

Register and Watch:

https://www.tfinterviews.com/post/yemisi-shyllon

Join via Zoom:
https://us02web.zoom.us/j/89163554170

Watch on Facebook:
https://www.facebook.com/tfinterviews/live

Watch on YouTube:
https://youtube.com/channel/UC2lvX7A2iVndiCq0NfFcb0w/live

Falola is a Nigerian historian and professor of African Studies. He is currently the Jacob and Frances Sanger Mossiker Chair in the Humanities at the University of Texas at Austin.

 

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