Kunle Filani is a prolific writer on Contemporary Art in Nigeria. As a scholar and a founding member of Ona -arguably the group that articulated in a most clear way a theoretical discourse on contemporary Yoruba art- he knows what he is talking about.
A couple of years ago he published Patterns of Culture in Contemporary Yoruba Art. The book is a much–needed contribution to the thinly populated field of contemporary art history and criticism in Nigeria. For the past fifty years Nigerian and expatriate scholars have produced a considerable corpus of studies on the culture, aesthetics and philosophy of the Yoruba at home and in the Diaspora. But much is still to be done to study, analyze and document the practice and theory of contemporary artists that draw inspiration from Yoruba tradition and cultural practices. Filani and a few others have been writing for years, but their contributions are generally scattered as articles in journals or papers in conferences and symposia. So, obviously, there is a great need for publications like this.
The book has two main sections: a general overview of art in Nigeria for the past one hundred years, and an analysis of eight Yoruba artists: B. Oyadiran, A. Ajayi, T. Wewe, W. Lagunju, M. Oyelami, J. Buraimoh, W. Olajide and S. Adeku.
The first part of the book is a brief summary of an already well documented story and, as such, it doesn’t add much to what Filani himself or several others have previously written. The second part is of greater interest. By highlighting the commonalities and differences of these eight artists, he draws a view of how tradition and modernity, or permanence, continuity and change unfold in a broad section of contemporary Yoruba artists. Putting them together, an outline appears and the posit that that there is such a thing as “contemporary Yoruba Art” is validated. Nevertheless, Filani is careful not to take the part for the whole and conclude that all art produced by Yoruba artists is “Yoruba art”. Even a cursory look at the works of Grillo, Oshinowo, Olaku, or Muri Adejimi, will show this clearly.
The book is published by Symphony Books. Tough as we say in Nigerian common parlance “they have tried…”, the quality of the printing is unjustifiably poor for a book on the arts. Not so many years ago it was impossible to get acceptable locally printed material, but this is not the case today.
All in all, this is book to recommend as a general introduction to a subject of particular relevance in the Nigerian Art context. I hope Filani will develop it into more in-depth studies of particular aspects or artists.