“We have brought a blend of our Lagos and Abuja experience back to Lagos”
Not because of the importance of the business. The reason it is so sustainable, among others, is the reason Jeff Ajueshi, Director, Thought Pyramid Art Centre, talks with Investor Relations Magazine Nigeria (IRMN) about meeting the existing yawning gap in the survival of the arts.
IRMN: How did Thought Pyramid come about and why the name?
Thought Pyramid Art Centre was established to meet a need. Obviously, it is to meet the need for the art to be professionally housed and managed with the needed expertise, as it is done in the developed world.
If you visit a gallery outside of Nigeria, you will attest to the fact that a gallery is where art finds its bearing, and the artist bears his or her muse. The name of the gallery was derived from a ‘thought’ of a symbol that can be identified with the cradle of civilisation which historical can be found in Egypt. And it is in Egypt that you can find ‘Pyramid’. Hence, the name, Thought pyramid Art Centre.
IRMN: Lagos is more of art city than Abuja. Why did you decide to set up first in Abuja?
Of course, we knew that Abuja was not a city in which people were interested in the art. But, do not forget that it was not as if the Abuja people had an offer for visual art interface that they turned down, in terms of where they could have a good art place to see and appreciate art.
It may be because Abuja residents then used to be uncomfortable or insecure around the art that they could not instantly and easily understand. It may also be because they believed that if they should ask questions, galleries will only intimidate or humiliate them.
We were in the know that people, especially civil servant, could be afraid to look uninformed, and almost as a protective mechanism, they could spontaneously react negatively or reject art altogether simply because they did not understand it. They would do this rather than ask even the most basic questions.
We had to set up here, in order to help communicate that if a work of art intrigues you– any art– no matter how much or how little you know about it, just ask questions. The answers to your questions might intrigue you even the more, and your increased understanding of the art may well evolve into an exceptionally enlightening experience.
We cannot be happier and delighted than that we respond to this particular question; we can strongly tell that there is hardly anything that we like better than talking art with anyone who shows any interest whatsoever. Believe it. We as a gallery are not in business to demean people who do not understand the art.
Rather, we are in business because we love art, and we love sharing our knowledge about art, welcoming people into the realm of art, and putting art into the hands of people who genuinely appreciate it.
We have patiently been doing this in Abuja, and it is paying off. So, gradually, Abuja is becoming a vibrant art city, and I can assure you that in a very short while, Abuja would give Lagos a very stiff competition, in terms of art patronage.
Having said that, you may recall that we started this art business in Lagos before we left for Abuja. Now, we have brought a blend of our Lagos and Abuja experience back to Lagos.
Thought Pyramid Art Centre is now in the belly of Ikoyi, which is a Lagos city known in the art circle with a good number of established art galleries. Thought Pyramid Art Centre has come to Lagos, and is even now formally opened for business and by this feat you will agree with me that we have courageously altered the course of visual arts business in Nigeria.
IRMN: What provoked your passion for art?
This question, for me, is just like asking me why I like the art. From when I was younger, I have always been very fascinated and almost obsessed with visual images and bright colours. Naturally, art for me is often like refined nature that capitalizes on my obsessions with colours, shapes, and causal chains.
What actually drives my passion is that I see art beyond money making; I view it as a way of life which should be sustained, for my survival and my pleasure. In order to survive, I realise that we need to be able to tell the difference between different objects.
If apples are good for us, we will crave them. And if an artist can create a sort of hyper apple — an apple that is especially round and especially red, we will obsess over it. We need water to survive, so we are attracted to anything water-like.
An artist can engage our obsession and cause it to go into overdrive by abstracting and accentuating qualities of water. We are rigged to get pleasure from detecting patterns, because we need to detect patterns in order to survive.
Narrative art, and probably some other forms, help us simulate the world, and by doing so, we can learn about it without risk. Listening to a story or watching a movie is like being in a flight simulator.
Stories allow us to experience — or model experiencing — all sorts of events without actually creating problems for ourselves. Art unarguably is aesthetics. Art stimulates involuntary or conditioned psychological and may be even physiological response.
Embedded in art forms are the basic craving for deciphering puzzles, or finding a pattern, or attributing visual connotations to abstract ideas, or being humbled or being overwhelmed by experiencing the ‘new’.
Please note that artists do not necessarily invent. But, art transcends the sphere of algorithms that makes the creation engrossing. Most importantly, these traits surpass humanity. My relationship with art has helped me to understand that stimuli, visual or any other, trigger cognitive activity, whatever that might mean for a given individual.
We are affected by what we pay attention to, in other words. We must frame our experience bordering on what we are actually looking at? Semiosis: is this red rose a member of the family Rosacea, or a symbol of love, or a reminder of Jesus’ crown of thorns, its red petals a reminder of the blood spilled for our salvation? That depends on whether you are a botanist, or a courtesan, or Umberto Eco.
What we see depends on how we believe the world to be structured, where emphasis resides. Do you see the sun, or the horizon, or how light reflects, or the colour of a sunset, all of that, some of that, or more? Each viewer has his or her own lattice upon which to knit pictures, some of the common fabric, much of the one-off yarn, unique, only accessible to the viewer.
An artist creates stimuli, for whatever reason. Some may want to convey something very specific to the viewer, while others do not. Generational shifts in conceptions of the world are likely over time to depreciate the resonance intentional artists can achieve with their viewers.
It appears, to me at least, that successful symbols (those which persist, meaningfully, in the consciousness of a people over long stretches of time) achieve recognition within many conceptual schemes (the minds of viewers), instead of only within egotistical and insistent, blinkered, schemes.
Art for me offers a moment frozen in time that is available to the ages, as it takes on the form of a touchstone for those who follow; something to visit along the way and to hold in common with others in their culture; something allowing us to see how we hold ourselves relative to the object beheld and relative to our contemporaries, as well as something to feel.
What you see as beautiful, wonderful, spectacular, astonishing or nauseating supplies you with a kind of cultural pulse rate, a way to measure your relative metabolism. The more things more of us see, hear, sense, read or feel as members of a culture, the more broadly are we able to see ourselves in our own light.
So, while gazing at the ‘Mona Lisa’ in Le Louvre, you coincidentally touch base with millions of others, creating a great big common moment, a kinship.
When your very soul is moved by a Shakespearean insight, or Michaelangelo’s ‘David,’ or Emily Dickinson’s ‘love’, or Beethoven’s ‘Ode,’ or Edward Hopper’s ‘isolation,’ or Dizzy Gillespie’s ‘riffs’, then you touched base with that moment in time, like tagging another base in a great big cultural home run. You belong to the subculture of people bound however loosely by a common experience.
IRMN: What were you doing before you ventured into art?
Answer: It will interest you to know that ever since I left school, it is this business of art that I have found myself indulgingly engaged in; I have been involved in extending the frontiers of art in this country in my little way, and I have also been living by it, in economic terms.
That is why it could only be worth the while partnering us in any practical area of art to give more creative value to everyone who wishes to appreciate it.
IRMN: How was it making the switch into art?
Answer: I can say I had made any switch, though there have been an avalanche of challenges at different points. I think that one of the biggest challenges of my continuing on full scale, and of my being in a full-time art business now is the pressure of competing with the big money stores and cheaply made items brought in from other countries.
Unfortunately, too many people have not developed an appreciation for handmade artistic creations. Meanwhile, they tend to do comparison shopping between factory-made and frankly, inferior works and those created one at a time by an artist who adds touches that no manufacturing process could hope to capture.
Another challenge for me is reserving uninterrupted creative time as the cornerstone of growth and success for my business, since the vibrant nature of art is what differentiates art from other things.
I see that unfortunately, this knowledge and practice can get lost in the hectic times of making, marketing and customer service. At the same time, I am happy to see that it is important to be creative in finding non-conventional ways to keep my work visible to the public.
I also think that with the way marketing is trending, it is wise for us to make a constant effort to stay on top of traditional as well as social and digital strategies to broaden our audience. Change for me is intensely personal.
I knew that for change to occur in any organization, each individual must think, feel, or do something different. So, I had to manage the change myself in a way that it was not like operating a machine or treating the human body of one ailment at a time.
I realised that engaging in activities involved working with a fixed set of relationships. For me, the proper metaphor for managing change is balancing everything. You can see that most organisations today find themselves undertaking a number of projects as part of their change effort.
An organisation may simultaneously be working on a number of ideas such as process reengineering, employee empowerment, and several other programs designed to improve performance.
But the key to the change effort is not attending to each piece in isolation; it is connecting and balancing all the pieces. In managing change, the critical task for me is understanding how pieces balance off one another, how changing one element changes the rest, how sequencing and pace affect the whole structure.
And that is exactly what I did in my switching from what I was doing before to running the art business, and the same ideas are also applicable here, when we have a few things to focus on.
Do not forget that poetry of ancient Persia is full of bridges. In the works of Rumi and others, metaphors are the bridges of art, in the sense that they unite two seemingly irreconcilable things.
They give people a route to make sense of an alien world or concept by relating it to something familiar. They illuminate by association: interestingly, the bridges also represent journeys between different states of being, rather than just a means of getting from point A to point B.
That idea of two cultures stuck at either ends of the same bridge is what I applied to art and business today. Today’s most obvious examples of art and business overlap admirably, but they also thrive because of an uncomplicated fit between my audience for the business and the artwork.