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Global perspectives #3

Rethinking the politics of theory of visual studies in Nigeria

Frank Ugiomoh
University of Port Harcourt


In the mid 1990s the National Universities Commission (NUC) in Nigeria updated qualifications for faculty members in Nigerian universities pursuant to similar initiatives in European universities. The PhD became the specific degree for faculty members to retain their positions as lecturers. This directive however assumes that the PhD appertains to all academic disciplines.  The creative arts, especially visual arts programs, hitherto adopted the Master of Fine Arts (MFA) degree as its terminal. Ill prepared for the new directive, visual arts programs in Nigeria have been enmeshed in crisis regarding how to tailor its programs to accommodate the philosophy doctoral. What has emerged so far is a growing spate of “methodological harlotry” in the doctoral programs in the visual arts arising from what I term the politics of theory currently at play in Nigeria. It causes despair in faculty members with the MFA degree in Visual arts departments prompterd to conform and earn the PhD in any discipline. And these diverse disciplinary focuses and their methodologies now muddle up research directions.

The initiative in Europe, which Nigeria has adopted, is linked to Immanuel Kant in The Conflict of the Faculties (1798). It articulates the interdependence that exists between the lower and the higher faculties in the system of knowledge generation. In Kant’s supposition the lower faculty (philosophy) is the mainstay of the university’s knowledge foundation while the higher faculty (service to humanity) nestles on the lower faculty in its boundless search for knowledge. The University of Berlin in 1809 initiated the Kantian structure in the generation of knowledge. The disciplines of the creative arts only woke up to this realization in the 1990s in the UK when, significantly, the PhD was institutionalized as the degree that qualifies one for a tenured position in the academic rung of a university. Thus to supervise a doctoral degree where generation of new and usable knowledge is an ultimate objective a faculty member must have earned same degree
In Nigeria, there is the urgent need to advance the Kantian position that the practice of art is beyond craft or doxa, to an understanding that art is a form of knowledge or theory, and philosophy doctoral in the discipline ought to be so directed. Required therefore is the need to define the nature of visual art research in its dominant qualitative approach incorporating the quantitative where need be. For this reason my modest contribution to what I have termed an over-ride of the doctoral discipline by a methodological harlotry has been to initiate a text (still being developed) on research in visual studies. It incorporates the studio and theory aspects of research in the discipline. The overriding stress here is the development of critical reading and thinking with the image.


Frank Agbiyoa Omoh Ugiomoh (1954) sculptor, printmaker and art historian is a professor of art history and theory in the Department of Fine Art and Design, University of Port Harcourt, Port Harcourt, Nigeria. He holds the following degrees; BA, sculpture; MA, African visual arts; MA and PhD, philosophy of history and aesthetics. He publications focus on the subject of historiography and methods in African art his¬tory as well as criticism in modern Nigerian art and of recent has joined the discourse on photography and the practice of photography in Nigeria.

He has executed some sculpture commissions in public spaces and has participated in group exhibitions in Nigeria. He has a solo exhibition: “Vision and Visuals” (1988) to his credit. Ugiomoh, in October and November 2009, participated and presented papers in the conferences; “Real Energy World / Niger Delta,” Forum Stadtpark, Steirischer Herbst 2009, Graz, Austria; and the 100th year of art history at Ludwig Maximillian University, Munich, Germany. He was a research scholar at the Rock Art Research Institute, University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, South Africa (July –October, 2006). He gave one of the Keynote address on art and artists in Africa at Africa 05 held at The British Museum (UK).He has also given other papers on art practice, theory and history at The Clark Art Institute Williamstown, Massachusetts (2008) and Getty In¬stitute, Los Angelis, California (2009).

Recent publications (selection): “The Crisis of Modernity: Art and the Definition of Cultures in Africa”, in: Third Text, Vol. 21, Issue 3, 2007: “Novelty and Art Historical Identities: A Retrieval to Overtake Adepeg¬ba's Ara Allegory”, in: Critical Interventions (UCSC, Santa Cruz), No. 3/4, 2009, “Pale Reflections and Fables of Life: George Osodi’s Real People of the Niger Delta in Nigeria” in: Camera Austria (Graz, Austria), No. 106, 2009 and Nka: Journal of Contemporary African Art, 27, Fall 2010. Participant in “Contemporary African Art History and the Scholarship” in NKA: Journal of Contemporary African Art, No 26, (Spring 2010),

Ugiomoh is the Editor, Africa Studio: Journal of Creative Practice. He is also a consulting editor to local and international journals including NKA: Journal of Contemporary African Art and Critical Interventions: Journal of African Art History and Visual Culture.

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