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ZARIA; the Movement

The Nigerian College of Arts, Science and Technology (NCAST); the first formal art institution in Nigeria was a three-fold boarding college with branches in Ibadan, Zaria and Enugu. The Department of Fine Arts and Industrial Design of the Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria was founded in 1953 as part of the Ibadan branch of the old Nigeria College of Arts, Science and Technology, this moved to Zaria in 1955. In 1957 / 58 the school was affiliated to the Slade School of Art, and later the Goldsmith School of Art, both of the University of London. The college subjected its students to conventional Western techniques in art, though based predominantly on African subjects.

The radical revolution in the visual arts began in the late 1950s / early 1960s, following the creation of the Zaria Art Society, a forum established by students of the college. The period following this witnessed the gradual change of art styles; an embrace of indigenous expression and the systematic rebuff of the western. This was to be later termed Natural Synthesis. Nicknamed the Zaria Rebels by Ghanaian-born art historian,Kojo Fosu, the Zaria Art Society was a conscious movement fuelled by the first generation graduates of the college (1958 – 1961). This group challenged the College’s curriculum and later went on to influence every sphere of visual arts in Nigeria.

Based on the recommendations of the Ashby Commission in 1962, NCAST was merged with the then regional universities, principally the Ahmad Bello University, Zaria, Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife and the University of Nigeria, Nsukka. The Zaria Art Society folded up a year before; in 1961, following the graduation of majority of the founding members. Nonetheless, members of the group regrouped in 1963; strengthened by new entrants, to form the Society of Nigerian Artists(SNA) .

Although the original notion of Natural Synthesis should be attributed to a cross section of graduates of 1959 – 1962, Fasuyi is sometimes credited as the main proponent of the movement, this might emanate from him being the first graduate of the institution (Painting, 1959). Nevertheless, historians acknowledge Natural Synthesis to the pioneering set of the school; including but not limited to Wangboje, Adeka, Erese, Oyewole, Thomas, Agbabiaka, Grillo, Olaosebikan,Talabi, Okolo, Akolo andNwoko. Other notable partakers include Okeke, Onabrakpeya, Jegede, Baikie, Akinbola, Ajepe, Odita, Bot and Oso. This is not to say the idea was not common practice throughout the whole Department.

The early independence period was critical for many Zarianists; with a gallery and an exhibition centre in Lagos promoting and showcasing indigenous art. Moreover, a handful of the NCAST pioneers had participated in the Independence Exhibition; exposing them to a natioanl audience. The 1960s also saw the dawning of the Mbari Mbayo Writers and Artists’ Club Workshop which gave room for constructive criticism or some sort of competition with Zarianism. The Society of Nigerian Artists was founded in 1964 from the exponents of Natural Synthesis; Yusuf Grillo was elected the First President.

The early 70s witnessed a gradual loss of steam in the concept of Natural Synthesis, owing to the loss of grasp of the concept’s essence by later graduates and also criticism from the Nigerian public claiming it was becoming old fashioned. This and other issues prompted Professor Wangboje to organize the first International Art Seminar in the Department of Fine Arts, Zaria in 1972. The first major communique on art in Nigeria was birth from this seminar.

Several Zaria art graduates of the 70s cum 80s helped promote the international image of Nigerian Art; partaking more in international exhibitions and mixing with and experimenting with foreign ideas – this, some critics claimed watered down the Natural Synthesis stereotype. Nevertheless, some of the artists credited with representation on the international front include Oduntokun, Yussuf (Sina), Jegede, Nelson-Cole, Oshinowo, Buhari, Okpe, Jari, Sani etc. A few of these artists still lecture in Zaria.


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