I transcribe the recent interview at Omenka, the arts magazine. It is now available online at http://www.omenkaonline.com/jess-castelotte-on-collecting-nigerian-art/.
JESS CASTELLOTE ON
COLLECTING NIGERIAN ART
With El Anatsui at AKAA art fair, Paris. November 2016
Lagos, 2013. With Bruce Onobrakpeya
Collecting as a social practice is a relatively recent phenomenon in Nigeria. The late Sammy Olagbaju, with his usual wit and good humour, used to refer to the collectors as a “tribe”. They share a common passion for the gathering of art, but the reasons why they collect, the way they go about assembling their collections, the proportion of their resources they are ready to devote to the acquisitions of works, is as varied as in any other art world. Some collectors buy art because they want to enjoy the artworks, some do it because they see art collecting as social practice that allows them reinforce or improve their social status, some do it with an eye on the price and as a way of diversifying their investments, and others do it for a mixture of all of these reasons.
How would you describe your collecting habits and the thrust of your collection?
I am not a collector, but, over the years, my regular contact with artists, especially young ones, has allowed me acquire a few pieces. I have never had, and I will most likely never have a work by Enwonwu, Okeke, Grillo, or any of the most prominent artists in the Nigerian art canon. Instead, I have collected from younger artists, mostly not very well known when I met them: Tony Nsofor, Uche Peters, Gerald Chukwuma, George Edozie, Olumide Onadipe, Busayo Lawal, Raji Mohamed and many others. Some of these pieces are now in the art collection of the Pan-Atlantic University. It gives me a great joy when people, and especially students, see and enjoy them there. I think the best way of collecting is the one done with the ultimate aim of making these wonderful artworks available to the general public. For years, several of us have been considering the possibility of setting up an art museum that would allow many people, and especially young students, learn about the history of Nigerian art as well as see physically some significant works. Thanks to the foresight of Pan-Atlantic University and the generosity of Yemisi Shyllon, the first phase of an art museum is already being built at the main campus of the university. It will still take some time before the museum opens, but I am sure, once it does, it will be a great contribution to the Nigerian cultural world. I am glad to be part of this project.