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Nigeria: Inside Yemisi Shyllon’s World

Yemisi Shyllon's home is characterised by eye-catching pieces of art, including sculpture and metal works.


Engineer Yemisi Adedoyin Shyllon’s art garden at his Lagos home reveals his massive love for visual art

The creeping plants hugging the tall concrete walls give an impressive hint of what the inner walls hold. Iron doors complemented by binocular-shaped interior tunnels cast the compound in the image of a fortress. To a first time visitor, the house in the serene area of Maryland, Lagos could pass for the residence of a military brass hat. With no dogs barking or howling, the hedges alone make a loud statement on the value of the treasures within.

Yemisi Shyllon's home is characterised by eye-catching pieces of art, including sculpture and metal works.

Yemisi Shyllon’s home is characterised by eye-catching pieces of art, including sculpture and metal works.

As the gate is flung open, one is greeted by artworks firmly cast on different sizes and shapes of plinths, depending on the weight. Apart from abstract works, there are metal works and sculptures that are capable of making the brain writhe.  The huge compound hosts other forms of sculpture some of which can make the straitlaced squirm. A particular carving of a maiden at her prime situated at the plexus of the compound, for example, is capable of provoking this emotion. The Eyo masquerade in its immaculate white paint speaks loudly of the meticulousness of the collector’s taste. Everywhere the eyes turn, a work of art is sure to be sighted. One of the captivating spectacles at the entrance is a hut, surrounded by trees. These cast elm-like shadows on that section of the compound, presenting the visitor a contrived rural setting.

Walkways perfectly paved with concrete and gravel lead to the central vault, where another horde of art pieces compete for space. Prominent on the edge of this path is a huge birdcage. This, with the multi-coloured, beautiful flowers, green plants and the birds roaming the compound, confers on the garden the sight of a painting exquisitely realised on canvas. This magnificent collection has been the subject around which “activities have been created” by its owner. As one approaches a rectangular structure, the beauty of the place crystallises even more. This was where this reporter met his host. As we walked towards this building, a firm and confident voice that could be mistaken for arrogance called out: “Are you the journalist from TheNEWS who wants to see me?”

I answered in affirmative.

“Have you been here before?”

“No sir,” I said.

“My name is Prince Yemisi Adedoyin Shyllon, I’m ready to answer your questions. Welcome to my home. But if you ask me questions bordering on religion, I will explode,” he warned.

The rendezvous point itself is artistically executed. Apart from the metal works and sculptures, frescos dot the ceiling, giving it the look of the Vatican’s Sistine Chapel.

Now a bit relaxed from savouring the works on display, we could now survey the other part of the compound. As it turned out, what is hidden is as breathtaking as what one sees at the outer compound. On the wall on the courtyard area, a huge crucifix hangs imposingly as if superintending over the images below. This enforces the garden’s status as an artistic world in contrast. This magazine was to later learn that among the over 6,500 artworks in the garden, privately held by Prince Shyllon, there are Christian collections, some in the mould of medieval religious creations. The garden itself is the largest individual collection in the country. There are exports from the oriental and occidental worlds, particularly from the Buddhist, Hinduism, Judaist and traditional religions of those climes. Shyllon told this medium that he had been to those places and, indeed, over 47 countries across the world, exploring and seeking philosophical, religious and general knowledge. The foreign works are, however, swallowed by the large congregation of African indigenous art, including structures of horse riders and myths of twins in Yoruba cosmology. There are also carvings or moulded representations of kings and warriors, apparently stalking enemies. Rural folktales are also captured, via palm-wine tappers and busts of local heroes, among others.

At the inner recess, a visitor encounters a well-kept standard-sized swimming pool. Rather than marble tiles, the water is surrounded with a range of pieces of arts and green plants, presenting a fabulous sight to behold. The living house presents a different kind of nourishment for the eyes. The blending of the sitting room’s gleaming lights with the artworks on display makes a perfect exhibition room. Apart from the virtual surrealist-Dadaist works, there are special pieces that reveal the man’s artistic philosophy, which can be described as Afro-centric, hence his defence of the continent’s indigenous patrimony. The Moremi mask, Ife and Benin carvings and a couple of romantic ensemble grace the walls. Beside the installations, an artificial water course runs through the sitting room, striking a rhythmic balance between nature and human creations.

The architecture, like the art in the compound, gives a resounding peep into the owner’s ideological leaning. In every available space in the expansive compound, something points to his love of the visual art. From the office, where the tables are littered with carvings and drawings, to the inner recess of the compound, Prince Shyllon’s world revolves around this genre. And recently, he has taken it beyond the collection of works of art, with the publication of Conversations With Lamidi Fakeye, a book on Nigeria’s foremost wood carver, which he co-authored with Ihuoma Pogoson. Shyllon is surely living his dream. He told the reporter: “Art is my life; I live art, I breathe, eat and drink art.”

.This article originally appeared in TheNEWS magazine of 04 February 2013

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