A trip to the Yemisi Shyllon Museum of Art
Updated: Feb 24
Every time I did some research on places of interest in Lagos, the Yemisi Shyllon Musuem of Art comes up in the results. I'd been meaning to check it out for almost a year, so you can imagine how fast I said yes when my friend asked if I wanted to go. I cancelled my plans for the morning and before long we set out. It is about an hour and a half's drive from Lekki, and this was with minimum traffic. The museum is on the Pan-Atlantic University campus, on the Lekki-Epe expressway.
The building peaks your curiosity as soon as you see it. It has a simple cubic design, textured and rust coloured walls and sits against the sky in elegant contrast. I knew we were in for a treat.
Yemisi Shyllon, prince of Ake Kingdom, Abeokuta and is the number 1 art collector in Africa. He owns over 7,000 individual art pieces and donated 1,000 to this museum. We ran into Jess Castellote, the first and current director of the YSMA and also the architect who designed the building and he showed us around the awe-inspiring space.
The bottom floor of the museum has artefacts and artworks that range from Nok civilisation to young contemporary artists like Ayobola Kekere-Ekun and is segmented by the materials used in making the art.
The tour starts with a dive into the older terracotta pieces, and advances through the wood and then the metal phases of art history. It is basically a storybook of Nigerian heritage and history but with much much much better pictures.
The terracotta section features some of the claywork dating back to the 14th century and I could remember learning about Nok art in junior secondary school fine art classes. Needless to say, it gave me butterflies to meet them in person...
Castellote educated us about wood section next and as you can expect, wasn't any less impressive.
As you can expect, there a lot of interesting pieces of art but the Ifa divination trays (Opon Ifa) stuck in my mind.
In the past, these were used to interpret the messages from the Ancient Gods. The priests (Babalawo) would cast cowries unto these trays then deliver the messages. The markings show 'Esu' who is responsible for transporting divine messages across realms accompanied by his birds. This deity is misrepresented as the devil in modern day society because of colonial influences.
Next we entered the metal work section. More recent than the previous, these were created out of mostly bronze or brass. The Ife Bronzes are stuff of legend in my head, and here it stood in all its majesty.
Metal works may vary in colour depending on ratios of elements in the alloys. More copper in the mixture gives a more reddish appearance to the metals.
Castellote meant what he said about this place being an educational monument, rather than a tourist destination.
Because of the scale of the collection, through clever design and lighting he wanted to make sure a lot of different pieces are always in your peripheral view.
Works by renowned Nigerian artists are on display, like Bruce Onobrakpeya, Nike Davies-Okundaye, Ben Osawe, Uche Okeke, Susanne Wenger and so many more. It's the kind of collection you simply need to see, nothing I can type can encapsulate it.
We thanked Mr Castellote for his time and the existential experience we had just had.
Membership packages are available and they are affordable - as low as N12,000 a year/person. They also have family plans, etc and you can get more information on their website.
We spent some time in the sculpture garden, got some lunch at the student cafeteria and headed home. A surreal day, so I highly recommend you check it out. Click the link for a virtual tour HERE.
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