Heart of Arts

Prince Dr. Yemisi Shyllon: A Preserver, Promoter, and Pathfinder

Toyin Falola


On such occasions that I have had the opportunity to visit Prince Dr. Yemisi Shyllon, where he took me and my company of people on a tour of his residences or museum — whichever one it was that we were visiting on each occasion — I always left marveling at the depth and vastness of our host in African arts and artists. To listen to him speak is to understand that, for him, collecting art goes beyond a personal hobby or a sport. It is a culture, a way of life whose profoundness forms a foundation for happiness and fulfillment for Prince Shyllon. You have to listen to him talk about his acquisitions and discoveries to understand the depth of his love for and appreciation of arts — and its varied forms, from sculpture to paintings to drawings.

In pre-colonial Yoruba history, the Egba, from where the Prince comes from, had several categories of leaders, each with designated duties and responsibilities. There were the Oba, the Parakoyi, the Ogboni, the warriors, and the tax people. Of all these people, the Ogboni had the blessed responsibility of upholding and preserving the cultural and traditional heritages of the city state. Theirs was a sacredly ordained society of elite people that not only contributed to bringing law, order, and justice to the people but also ensured that the empire did not — at any point in time — stray away from its cultural and traditional roots.

To understand the vitality of the work the Ogboni did, we must first consider the interconnectedness of culture, society, traditional heritages, and development. A truly civilized society has and can uphold and preserve its long history of cultural heritage and traditions.

If there were no conscious efforts to preserve these by the Ogboni, there would have been weakened transmission of value and cultural assets from one generation to another, a phenomenon that would have adversely affected the evolution, development, and even continued existence of the people. For, if a people are disconnected from their history, they are likewise lost from their identity, and to not have an identity is to not know your society’s place in the world; it is to not know what your ancestors before you had achieved and how that influences how you live in the present day and what purpose to aspire to.

Although the evolution of ethnic societies within the geopolitical entity now called Nigeria has led to a gross erosion of traditional structures, societies and responsibilities, there is no denying that there exist individuals who have taken it upon themselves to commit personal resources for the greater good. Prince Dr. Yemisi Shyllon is the quintessential example of such people. He stands distinctly in the category of people who have been preserving and promoting Nigerian and African arts of various forms through commissioning, collecting, and introducing several initiatives.

While we may not have the traditional Ogboni society today to preserve, uphold, and promote the beautiful artistic creations that old and contemporary Nigerians and Africans have worked on or are still working on, we can revel in the peace of mind and assurance that comes with having the likes of Prince Yemisi Shyllon around, people who have adopted a generous approach to the work they do in the world of art and culture. Prince Shyllon has collected and done impactful work that transcends generations.

Shall we talk about his support for art and art creators? Or do we speak of how he commits resources into sourcing and identifying real talent and commissioning such talents to give them the foundation and exposure they need to take upon the world? Many an artist got their first big break when Prince Shyllon commissioned them to work on a project. That is the promoter aspect of the tri-dimensional impact this man and his life and work for and in African art and culture have had.

There are also the numerous initiatives he has launched, the continued expansion of his collection and the resources he puts into maintaining his museums. Beyond that, Prince Shyllon commits time to serve on the boards of serval art-focused initiatives and organizations. If anything, we all know that time is the most important asset to humans, and to dedicate so much time to serve without expectations of remunerations on such boards is yet another testament to the depth of his lifelong commitment to the promotion of Africa through art and culture.

There is a category of people with the financial wherewithal to give, support, and help, and do so for the recognition and appreciation they would receive from such endeavors. I do not in any way criticize these people — the resources are theirs, and they are entitled to the non-monetary gains they expect from committing their resources to whatever endeavor they commit them to. However, when one considers that for Prince Shyllon, the driving force in doing all he does for art, culture, Nigeria, and Africa is not an expectation for recognition, the vastness of his contributions and impact will leave one in awe. There have been recognitions, no doubt — recently, Pan Atlantic University conferred on him an honorary doctorate to appreciate his work and contributions to art. However, if you have had a close engagement with Prince Shyllon or have read about his contributions, you can tell that the driving force for this spectacular man is not in any way the recognition that may — and in this case, have — come. On January 15, 2023, Prince Dr. Yemisi Shyllon will be the first guest on the 2023 series of the Toyin Falola Interviews.

The decision to invite Prince Shyllon lies primarily on the need to document the insights and perceptions, experiences, views, and comments of people like him on African arts and culture. He has been in the field and committed his life and resources to identify, promoting, preserving, and upholding African art and artists. There has to be a new generation of promoters and upholders that will tap into the generous vision of people like Prince Shyllon. And to prepare that new generation, there is the need to document the work and comments of the present generation.

The questions we will ask on Sunday the 15th, and the answers Prince Dr. Shyllon will serve as vital information to help sustain the promotion and preservation of one of the vital things that make us African — our art and craft; representations of our beliefs and perceptions as different peoples of a united continent.

Please join us:

Sunday, January 15, 2023

5:00 PM Nigeria

4:00 PM GMT

10:00 AM Austin CST


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