Arts & Entertainment

Tour with Many Turns

Gilbert Alasa visited the culture-rich gallery of one of Africa’s finest historian, musician, painter and sculptor, Sir Victor Uwaifo. He takes us through the twist and turn of his tours.
On a typical day, there’s nothing mystical about Victor Uwaifo Avenue in Benin, a street named after the multi-talented legend. The street exudes a certain dullness intercepted by everyday Nigerian music, sounds of passing vehicles and pedestrians. But all that fade away very quickly as soon as you pick your way through Revelation Tourists Palazzo. The centre, built in the 1980s, prides itself as a foremost custodian of the Bini history, folklore and culture.
Just at the entrance to the museum is a catalogue of eye-popping photos of starving children caught in the throes of reckless abandon, following the 1967 Nigerian Civil War. One of the kids clung on feebly to an empty bowl while the rest look away in resignation. On the far left is a troika of long-barrelled guns, an ensemble of local muskets lined up inside a glass placed on the wall. They form the firepower of the Bini people in their historical war against the Igala people in modern day Kogi State.
And just then, this writer is ushered into the Hall of Fame. Here, portraits of global icons are showcased. The visitor is treated to a video footage of Nigeria’s pre-independence era till that of Yar’adua. A few steps away, something awful meets the eyes. A group of naked men and women bound together by chains are seated. Their faces reek of pain and dejection. The hall is referred to as Slave Market. Their story is told by two elaborate white boards placed just beside them and a video footage that confirms the authenticity of their story. Other sculptural works are placed in this hall, telling a compelling story of slave trade in Africa.
As the guide leads this writer to an opposite hall, the sight of three hanging men strikes the eyes. One of them is Anini Lawrence. And the other Monday Osunbor, flanked by DSP Iyamu. Their story forms a watershed of dare-devil criminality that swept through Benin-City some 29 years ago. Cameramen and journalists swoop on them, asking probing questions. The
criminals, looking downcast, manage a reply or two. A video footage shows their ruthless execution, bringing tears to the eyes. The visitor is caught in awe of how Osunbor refused to die, despite the flurry of gunshots fired at him by the soldiers.
And then, a solo tunnel leads to the City of Blood. The scene is scary as one approaches. On the left is the sight of Victor Uwaifo’s famous encounter with a mermaid at the Lagos Bar Beach. A beautiful woman with long strands of hair holding a “gift” in front of the Guitar Boy, with her body partially immersed in water. The exchanges between them remain a mystery known only to Sir Uwaifo himself. The encounter inspired the popular “If you see mammy water, never never you run away” lyrics of the 80s.
At the hall, a human skeleton hangs on a local ladder made of raw wood. It is flanked by a dark, mysterious figure. His waist is adorned with a white fabric and his shoulders are flung apart, exuding uncanny confidence. Beside this figure is a Bini chief hanged with a red rope. This writer would later learn that the chief had committed a misdemeanour which warrants his strangulation by subjects of the Oba. On the floor, a human is consumed by a vulture. The story is told by detailed inscriptions on two white boards placed on the wall.
As the tour gets pretty serious, this writer is ushered into a large studio dotted by various musical instruments. The tension considerably wanes as one is entertained with soulful music. In a moment,one finds oneself in the airplane house built by Uwaifo. Here, history is carefully interspersed with entertainment. A video clip succinctly captures the works of the legend.
The flipside 
All over the world, museums help to preserve history and create a relaxed atmosphere for knowledge transfer. Most museums are run as not-for-profit organisations but in some climes, they have become a money-spinner, providing alternative income to their owners.
However, the state of things at Pallazo calls for improvement. For instance, this writer spent a great deal of time awaiting the official who ought to have led the tour. It would be later learned that the official had embarked on a personal mission at the expense of organisational demands.
At the various halls, some of the audio-visuals refused to play. Dilapidation of structures is gradually creeping in too.
Again, the number of visitors Pallazo attracts seems to be very poor. And in the past few years, the centre has been unable to come up with programmes to expand its frontiers. Such inertia cripples the growth of any brand. Our world has grown noisier than it was years ago. No serious brand can afford to remain in the dark. Strategic visibility is crucial.
Exploring the gains
In 2014, Parliament’s Portfolio Committee on Arts and Culture clamoured for the revamp of the Nelson Mandela National Museum in Mthatha, South Africa. The department said it would make bold propositions in consultation with the Museum’s management. It expressed concerns that a museum named after the apartheid hero would be allowed to rot away. But Nigeria is yet to witness such reverence for its pool of arts.
As one of the leading arts centres in the country, stakeholders are expected to come up with bold initiatives to transform this history-rich centre. For a brand that wields the sort of trust and acclaim like Victor Uwaifo, investors could ride on the crest of this brand promise to make the museum thrive.
Handlers of the museum could come up with educational  initiatives and work in tandem with schools, promoting transfer of historical knowledge, cultural values and a teaching aid to students of Fine and Applied Arts.
The museum could equally organise festivals and exhibitions. These activities are a sure-fire way to attract affiliate works, networking, and leisure for members of the pubic as well as financial support to embark on massive artistic works.
In The Economics of Museum, authors Bruno Frey and Stephan Meier said a number of museums now create value through “ancillary activities” such as museum shops, restaurants and cafes, sale of catalogues, cultural trips and exhibitions. These initiatives could have a huge impact on the operational expenses of the museum and create jobs.
A museum is just what it is: an art collection centre, telling stories in paintings, sculptures, artefacts, etc. But a museum must be able to create real, social value. Not just a static depot of art works.

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