With a donation of more than 1,000 works of Nigerian art, Prince Yemisi Shyllon is establishing the country’s first privately funded university museum. The Yemisi Shyllon Museum of Art (YSMA), which opens on Saturday at Pan-Atlantic University (PAU) on the Lekki peninsula east of Lagos, will also show works owned by the university and gifts from other collectors and artists.
Shyllon, a Yoruba prince of Ake in Abeokuta, south-west Nigeria, says he wanted to give the museum “global impact” by offering the best works from the 7,000-strong collection of his Omooba Yemisi Adedoyin Shyllon Art Foundation, created in 2007. These range from traditional works of pre-colonial Nigeria to 20th-century paintings by Ben Enwonwu, wood carvings by Lamidi Fakeye and a wall-hanging sculpture by Ghana’s El Anatsui. The collection also includes photographs documenting Nigeria’s disappearing cultural festivals.
Shyllon, 67, was keen to find a “museum partnership arrangement” to secure the legacy of his art. Having studied management at the Lagos Business School at PAU, he felt there was a “strategic fit” with a university that he says has for many years been promoting visual artists and conserving an art collection in its own buildings.
In 2011, PAU launched a virtual museum of modern and contemporary Nigerian art in the hope of finding a backer who could make the idea a reality. Three years later, Shyllon proposed building a university museum that would also host works from his collection.
The agreement provides “structures that are expected to attract and manage individual and corporate sponsorship funds for the sustainability of the museum”, Shyllon says. His grant to the YSMA, reported at N600m ($1.7m) by the Financial Times, is designed to subsidise costs for the first ten years. It remains to be seen whether he will donate any of the remaining 6,000 works in his foundation to the museum in the future.
According to the Global Africa Art Market Report published by the French-Ivorian dealer Jean Philippe Aka, Nigerian collectors come second to those from South Africa in developing the African art market on the continent. Shyllon hopes other Nigerian collectors will follow his philanthropic example and also help establish university museums that would stimulate art education in Nigeria.
“Prince Shyllon wanted his collection to be seen by many people and serve the country,” says Jess Castellote, who was appointed director of the YSMA last year. “Hopefully this will be a contribution to the whole [Nigerian] system.”
Appeared in The Art Newspaper, 16 October 2019