Renowned artist and founder, TAFAS Legacy Gallery, Chief Timothy Banjo Fasuyi, professionally known as Tafas, in this interview with TONY OKUYEME, shares his thoughts about Covid-19 and how it has affected on the arts and culture sector. The octogenarian artist and former Federal Art Adviser also talks on the other side of the pandemic
You planned to have an exhibition early this year, but it was not held. What happened?
Some people joined me in planning for the exhibition and we were almost set, when suddenly corona virus (Covid-19) epidemic stepped in. We couldn’t hold the exhibition again. My birthday was 19th of April, and that was my target for the exhibition, to mark my 85th birthday, but I missed that. I am not sure whether I want to hold any exhibition in future, but this place is a permanent exhibition, so people can come in and see the works here – 114 paintings and 114 sculptures, which are my works, and another over 100 works collected by me from different artists from different parts of the world. So, there are about 500 works now in this gallery.
Talking about exhibition, you usually hold exhibitions of your works but you hardly sell the works on display. Why?
It is to share with the public and fellow artists my achievements, my recent development on arts. They come here, they make comments about the works, and that helps you to review your ideas and do more works.
About this selling or not selling works, I need to explain it to you. I sold my works extensively in my younger days. Right from the word go even when I was teaching at King’s College, I was selling my works, even hawking them, because at that time, I needed money. When I was still at King’s College, as soon as I left college on Friday, I went to my studio, prepare four or five works, and by Sunday in the evening, I would have finished about five works – they were all small works. I pack them to the school on Monday, and as soon as I had a break, I ran to the British High Commission, American Embassy, German Cultural Institut, and other embassies, drop one work each with them, and by the time I get back at the end of the week, at least two or three of my works would have been sold. They were cheap, but I needed money. So I was selling works at that time. I am talking about 60 years ago. After doing something for about 60 years, one should be considerate to allow the younger generation to sell their works. If I have to compete with them, some of them will not sell their works. I think, I am fulfilled with what I have achieved so far. That is the second reason why I don’t sell my artworks again. I don’t want to hawk or sell my works for the same market as the young ones who need more money now to build up their houses and so on.
The third reason is that when I became the Federal Arts Adviser I realised that all the embassies in Lagos, at that time, had what they called Cultural Attaches. Assuming the embassies had come to Nigeria with science or technology attache so that we can learn from them, but they came with cultural attaches to collect as many artworks in country as they could, and they did that effectively. They shipped to their countries the many artworks, because they want to build up their own museums. They want their people to enjoy the works of arts. And at that time, many of us did not know the implication of selling ‘our birthright’ to other countries. While the museums in the other countries were keeping theirs, we were losing everything here to them. But when I became the Federal Arts Adviser, each time they call me to parties, which were very frequent, they will be talking about Osogbo art, they want to buy this one and that, and I realised that they were just taking us for a ride. They are interested in our artworks…
So that gave me another reason. And it is not that I don’t sell my works, I give some of my works out, depending on your relationship with me. My family doctor, I gave him a good painting which I did purposely to fit his design. Some embassies outside the country, I made their works for them, and they give me some money. So that is the position. As I said, I have sold before. For instance, in 1984, when my daughter was to get married, I didn’t have enough money to meet the type of society wedding they were doing at that time, and I wanted to host a big party like a big man too. So I tried to organise an exhibition, and I wrote to Total Nigeria Ltd to sponsor my exhibition in Paris. So I went there with 20 paintings and 20 calabash sculptures, and I sold 18 of the sculptures and 11 of the paintings. From there I made enough money to host the party big. Everybody was surprised and wondering I got money to host that kind of party. I told them I made a lot of money from that exhibition. My daughter was very happy, everybody around me was happy.
So it is not that I don’t sell works, but now I don’t see why I should sell again. Let my children, my grand-children, my great-grand-children and other children come here and see my effort. It is my legacy to the world, I cannot sell my legacy. When people come they will that these are the works of Fasuyi. I don’t sell them, but sometime I give them out.
At 85, do you still produce your usual paintings and sculptures?
Of course, as long as I am alive I will paint. Art has become so much part of my life that when a day or two goes without me painting I feel inconvenient. Yes, I cannot go round or walk every day, but when I wake up in the morning, I find something to eat, and then I read newspapers, and get back to the studio and work. So I am still painting, and I will continue to paint. If you go there you will see that my palette is still wet.
How has Covid-19 and its attendant lockdown affected you as an artist?
Covid-19 is a challenge from God. It is not just on earth, it is about the existence of human beings. Covid-19 is beautiful on canvas, from the images shown on television, but very dangerous. And I think the whole world would now realises that God is supreme. It is He alone who can do things, who can solve problems, and who can meet all your challenges. That is one thing we have to think about. The second thing is that people in Nigeria were used to hustle, work, work, work; and when the corona virus came everybody ran under their bed for safety because we were not sure how the corona virus was going to attack or where it is going to attack. So people now have time to rest, whether you an artist or economist you are forced to stay in your homes with your family and rest. That’s one thing with Nigerian mentality. Once you get to the level of level 13 or level 14, you think you are very busy, you can have time to rest. When you get your annual leave, you go back to the office to do more work – as overtime. Not many of us would think of going to have rest, for instance, go to Cameron or Ghana and other places, even in Nigeria, see what they are doing, stay in their hotel, and come back with new ideas.
But Covid-19 has affected every country, even the most developed countries, including America, Russia. It has put sense into everybody. It came and humbled everybody. Religious leaders, political leaders and so on, are now sober. In such situation, it will affect the arts and cultural activities.
Towards the end of last year, there were several exhibitions by the ArtHouse, Society of Nigerian Artists (SNA) and others, but when the Covid-1pandemic came, everybody packed their canvass, paints and palette to one place, looking for how to survive. So the thing has affected everybody, but to people like me, I don’t think I was seriously affected. If I was selling my works per day or per week, I would have felt it so much, but I was busy doing more works. The only thing I lack was that people were not coming to see and appreciate my works. But I have kept doing things according to my vision. I am sure it would have affected so many artists. But I think artists would have produced more artworks than before, unless you were taken unaware and you don’t have enough art materials at home.
So, what I am saying is that Covid-19 has affected everybody, especially the artists, but it allowed them for more practice. I think it the same thing with the musicians, artistes and so on; they are all affected, maybe in different ways.