THE ARTISTIC BRAIN DRAIN
The effect of foreign countries poaching African talent in fields of science and technology is no secret. Ufot Ekong who in 2015 broke a 50-year-old academic record in Japan was quickly pinched by Japanese car company Nissan. The list of designers and architects of phenomenal talent mopped up by foreign economies would probably stretch long enough to fill an article on its own, but when it comes to the arts, things are quite different. The very nature of art allows the artist to still enrich their cultural home even when operating from outside its borders. One only has to look at the famous award-winning novelist Chimamanda Adichie to see this. While she may reside in the United States of America, the effects of her work still very much count as artistic contributions from Nigeria to the rest of the world. However, even in the arts where freedom seems to reign, somehow, Nigeria finds itself at a deficit when it comes to talent.
From an artist’s perspective being a writer and poet myself, this is a two-part problem, with both sides working in synergy to reinforce each other. The first part centers on the value placed on art and by association artists. It is normal for humans to want to integrate into their society by seeking acceptance. Some of the works of French philosopher John-Paul Sartre highlighted on how human awareness of observation changes our mode of consciousness. He illustrated this by a thought experiment consisting of a naked woman being watched by a man from a keyhole. The woman carries on unaware of this intrusion while the man carries on with his perversion. Then another man comes on the scene watching the watcher. As soon as the watcher notices this, he feels shame, not because of his actions, but because he is being observed. One can imagine the woman noticing she was being watched and the effects it would have on her state of mind.
This principle applies very much to all aspects of life because all too often we are very aware of what notions and judgment people in our society hold on different issues. In Nigeria, the general disregard for the value of art automatically makes being an artist something to be rather apprehensive about unless you are financially successful from your artistry. In such a case, it is clear that respect is accorded to the level of success, not the dignity of craftsmanship. I often wonder what most Nigerians would think of Chimamanda Adichie’s work if not for her international acclaim and the resulting success.
The general outlook on the Nigerian artist as a time-waster or laborphobe creates a social environment that discourages the brightest of artistic minds in pursuing a path in artistry. To compound this problem, praise and respect given to the financially successful artists have turned the field into one that attracts money-seeking artists, which for the right price often compromise their craft.
The second part of the problem lies in the general parenting model of Nigerians. Understandably, in a country where economic freedom is more or less the way to a good life or at least a comfortable one, it is no surprise that the average Nigerian parent ensures their child tows the tried and tested lines of success. Unfortunately, the arts have not been known for guarantees to success, be it in monetary terms or societal respect. In fact, some parents will actually be ashamed to introduce their child as a student of Fine Art or other such courses because they feel this represents a failure in parenting.
The result of this attitude towards the arts is that at the entry level, very few young Nigerians are encouraged to explore the option. This causes a brain drain situation from the field before there is even an opportunity of a brain bloom. An analogy can be seen with women in the tech industry. This is an industry with a dominantly male culture and hence can appear less appealing to women to join. By default on the executive boards of these companies, less women would be represented, and the same goes for the general workforce. Considering that far fewer women are likely to study programming and engineering courses compared to men, this is to be an expected outcome.
While art can all too often appear to be a luxury, its contributions towards bridging cultural barriers and enriching cultural heritage cannot be ignored nor overstated. One can only imagine how much artistic talent has been lost to the scorn for artistic endeavors or parental redirection from the artistic path. Perhaps it is about time we take a look at more progressive societies and their treatment of art to understand better the value we need to attach to artistry and its place in the society.
Image: Duke Asidere, The Brain Drain Corruption, 2009, oil on board, 122x122cm
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