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Periodising Nigerian Art History: Thoughts on the Words Modern and Contemporary


By Professor Frank A. O. Ugiomoh
By Victor Ehikhamenor
In Bruno Latour’s book entitled -We Have Never Been Modern, (6th printing, 2001), he explicitly declared that Europe never had a modern culture. He says that “Modernity [noun, only] point, in one way or another, to the passage of time. The adjective modern designates a new regime, an acceleration, a rupture, a revolution in time” (p 10). The origin of the word Modern from the Latin Modo and means “here and now.” The word Contemporary is of Latin (L) origin; Con is standing for ‘same’ in English and Tempus (L) standing for ‘time.’ In concrete reality, ‘contemporary’ (noun), means same time.

Yusuf Grillo
The use of the two terms in the development of culture has remained contentious. Latour observes that “the word is always being thrown into the middle of a fight, in a quarrel where there are no winners and losers.” However, that the word presents a contrast with “an archaic or stable past” (p 10). There will always be an archaic and a stable past that interfaces with individual transactions, either with culture or nature. The continuous relevance of the past in the present where the new is also relevant is catered for by the term contemporary. The term explicitly refers to a co-existence in time. Very old and relevant cultural engagements and realities have persisted from time in the present as well as new realities. A dynamic mix of the above nature undergirds the essence of cultural productions and transactions. What is new can be suspicious while the old and stable past inspires confidence.
By Peju Olatise
The Enlightenment culture in Europe structured its cultural epochs into Ancient, Middle and Modern periods about the 17 &18 centuries. However, we know that every ‘here and now’ is modern. The time lapse since the eighteenth century has witnessed multiple ‘here and now.’ Such multiple ‘here and now,’ continue to erode the foundations of the 18-century modernity. By 1950-1970 nothing of that landmark was realistic anymore. They had become archaic. For such archaic presence that continued to lay claim to modernism, cultural historians devised the term postmodernism. The implication of being postmodern is really “you can hang on to that irrelevant term so that we can make progress. The postmodern indeed recognises the contemporariness of every ‘here and now’ as a blend of historical realities.
By Bruce Onobrakpeya 
In Nigeria, regarding periodisation initiatives in its art history, a trending reference has been to take Aina Onabolu up to 1970 as modern and the period after as contemporary. The question is, modern as ‘here and now’ about what, and contemporary within what context?
By Ndidi Emefele
A convenient approach may be to take cultural productions in Nigeria within conventional durational epochs such as the decades or centuries. By this, we refer to the 1960’s, 1980’s, 20th or  21st, centuries. Thus, new artworks that come with the style of the old still in vogue and otherwise ruptures with the past will always be sorted out. In cultural history trends and styles that are no longer useful will naturally experience discard and may resurrect when needed as new styles. So the circle of what is new and what is archaic becomes contentious unless we recognise that contemporariness is the ground that funds memory as culture continues to be produced.         

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