According to recent calculations, the number of princes in Nigeria is incalculable, so high are the numbers.
But to his credit, Prince Yemisi Adedoyin Shyllon of Ake has impressive credentials, not least of which include university degrees in engineering, law and business as well as loads of experience in everything from marketing to investment analysis and art auctioneering.
But what was even more impressive to the scores of artists who listened to him early this past week at Kuona Trust (where he came with his fellow African art collector Herman Bingham) was the prince’s philanthropic approach to the arts.
For at his home outside Lagos, he runs workshops and artist residencies for students of African art from all over the world.
He also sponsors children’s art competitions and workshops based on his strong conviction that cultivating appreciation of the arts, culture and creativity is key not just to a quality education but to strengthening Africans’ sense of identity, dignity and self-respect.
His message shared first at Kuona and subsequently at the Nairobi Gallery was all about the need for Africans to gain greater awareness and appreciation of their own cultures, rather than trying to emulate (or ape) Western ones which they’ve been brought up to believe are somehow superior to African traditions and cultures.
The other point about Prince Shyllon that impressed the artists who came to listen to him was the magnitude of his art collections which he said include well over 7,000 works of sculpture, painting and multimedia as well as over 55,000 photographs of what he describes as Nigeria’s ‘fast disappearing cultural festivals.’
Explaining how he’d begun collecting art as a student at University of Ibadan, he said, “At first, it was just an interest, but then, it became a passion and finally, an obsession such that I now have to keep a portion of my collection in storage.”
As of this week, he’d bought only one Kenyan artwork by Adrian Nduma. But the Kenyan who impressed him the most was the late Joseph Murumbi, Kenya’s second vice president whose art collection he had seen at the National Archives.
So humbled by Murumbi’s Pan-African art collection that Prince Shyllon said he’d love to one day be as great an African art collector as Mr Murumbi, not only for his vast and varied collection but for his profound and unapologetic appreciation of African culture.