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Why Grillo’s works should be preserved – Artists

Yusuf Grillo is no strange name in the creative industry. His death prevailed a quiet life that has seen to the creation of several creative…

Yusuf Grillo is no strange name in the creative industry. His death prevailed a quiet life that has seen to the creation of several creative gurus in Nigeria. The contemporary artist was known for his iconic works which include the use of colour and natural settings.

The former Head of the Department of Art and Printing at the Yaba College of Technology, Yusuf Grillo, has been laid to rest, but his works and contributions to the creative industry in Nigeria have been speaking volumes contrary to his quiet lifestyle.

The former president of the Society of Nigerian Artists was honoured in death by some people who have benefited from his repository of knowledge in Abuja. At the well-attended ceremony, people from all walks of life were united in their aim of discussing how best to immortalise this man who had charted a great path for the development of art in Nigeria.

Guests at an event to celebrate the contributions of Yusuf Grillo to the art industry. The event was oganised by the FCT Chapter of the Society of Nigeria Artists in Abuja

Grillo, who studied at the Cambridge University, United Kingdom, in Germany and in the United States of America, was also known for his artistic prowess during his time at the College of Arts, Science and Technology Zaria.

The works of Grillo, an artist of repute and teacher par excellence, was at the centre of discussion when several artists within and outside the country met in Abuja. The artists expressed fear that soon, the works of Grillo might be shown overseas due to the absence of a National Museum in Nigeria.

The Curator of Nsibidi Gallery Wuye, Cornel Agim, who’s also a former lecturer at the Ahmadu Bello University Zaria, described Grillo as an icon who “has to be uplifted, praised and immortalised.

Government has to find a place for him in the history of contemporary art,” he said.

Agim, who was the keynote speaker at the event while sharing a memory of the late artist, said “He is an icon but he was not prolific. His painting is not the kind of painting people do; it may take him one year to do a painting and he refused to make noise.

Works of Grillo

“At the National Gallery of Art (NGA), we wanted to make a brochure on him on his 70th birthday, but he refused. He said he doesn’t celebrate a birthday but we managed to do his autobiography which he clearly acknowledged but without fun fare.”

He said his works should be collected and kept in a repository, but expressed fear “that we don’t have repositories. Nigeria unfortunately doesn’t even have an art gallery. All over the world, they have art galleries but we don’t have that. It is unfortunate.”

He said the establishment of an art gallery would not only help in preserving the works of Grillo but also ensure Nigeria joins the comity of countries that has made effort to preserve its culture and identities.

The National President-elect, Society of Nigeria Artist (SNA), Muhammad Suleiman, said Grillo charted the course for Nigerian artists while several Nigerians now own a living due to his exemplary contributions in the industry.

He however said nothing could be done to properly celebrate Grillo’s contributions.

He said, “He is our pioneer president. If you have someone of this capacity, you may never do enough. But one ideal thing is to ensure to build on everything he stood for. He became an institution. The government may want to name places after him, fine, but the legacy he left behind is important. We need to study Yusuf Grillo. We need to read Yusuf Grillo. We need to present Yusuf Grillo as an alternative to this oil revenue that we have. If you need economic projection, we have over-relied on a single system of economics but he has put forward another means. Not many countries are moving forward without art. It is first, the beauty of the whole place that attracts people and that was what he stood for.”

He said there was no problem in naming airports or the National Gallery of Art after him but the best way to ensure his immortality is to institutionalise his ideas.

Suleiman feared that soon, the works of Grillo might be seen at Chatham House London if nothing is done to ensure the preservation of his iconic paintings.

He said, “The history of Yusuf Grillo might just move out of this country because you don’t have the house-to-house Yusuf Grillo. Historical pieces in the Bible have been captured by several artists and they are in galleries that people now visit. There is one thing that is not in Nigeria, and that is the Museum of Art.”

Suleiman said the society would agitate for the establishment of the National Museum to ensure that works like that of Grillo are safely kept for oncoming generations.

The Chairman FCT chapter of the Society of Nigerian Artists, Chike Emembo, who hosted the event, said it was an honour to celebrate the life of Yusuf Grillo. “As an educator, he was one of the pillars on which contemporary Nigerian art is standing. His work as a studio artist and resource person to which artists have continued to glean from cannot be measured.”

He said the event was organised to acquaint younger artists with the great icon, adding that Grillo should be remembered as “an artist in the purest form of the word, focused and dedicated to his craft and willing to share his knowledge with those that need it.”

He said the best way to immortalize his contributions was to consolidate the foundations he laid as an art educator, adding that the group also honoured the past FCT Chairman of SNA Otemu Akpodiete, as well as Sir Victor Uwaifo.

Yusuf Grillo died on August 23, 2021.

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