I was at the Leonardo da Vinci exhibition in Rotterdam the other day. It was a fascinating experience. That guy who lived and died in the 15th and 16th century was a true genius. Many of the modern day things we use and take for granted are clearly to be traced back to him. He was amongst others, a painter, an engineer, a scientist and above all, a visionary. A lot of people remember him of course because of the Mona Lisa. To a lesser extent, his painting of the last supper which deviated from how other painters before him depicted this iconic event, made him also stand out.
The exposition took place in the old but impressive post office building near an equally magnificent city hall in Rotterdam. I could not help but go into my reflective mode while seeing the long lines of people waiting to see the creations of a man who died almost about 500 years ago. As I walked through the dark and dimly lit hall, I thought of the contrast in the way the Europeans and Africans go about their treasures and history. Make no mistake about it. History is treasure. History is wealth.
There were so many Leonardo da Vinci’s in the history of Africa. But did we keep note? Do we appreciate them? How could/can we even appreciate them if we did not know about them? How many of pieces of our art and history do we preserve? Old is old-fashion in most of the African countries. We are very quick to discard anything we perceive as old and ancient. Most of our ancient architectural buildings have paved way for modern buildings without a history. The number of 200 year old buildings and edifices in black Africa can be counted on two hands.
When the religious fanatics in Mali started destroying the great city of Timbuktu and its architectural monuments and treasures 2012 and 2013, they not only were erasing history. They were robbing a whole continent of the few things of pride that were left by our great forefathers. Anyone who had seen the pictures of those buildings and the old writings it was accommodating would look at the creations of Leonardo da Vinci as child’s play. The architectural elegance of those sacred mosques of Timbuktu is one that the world will never see again. The guy who conceived and built it would be regarded as a genius and revered as such if he were to be European.
When we take down old edifices, we are taking down more than a building. We are taking down our past and even our future. It took me 2 days to be able to get inside of the exhibition hall. There was a 2 kilometre long queue when I first attempted to go in. I could not stay the projected 3 to 4 hour waiting time, so I decided to go very early the next time. Leonardo da Vince was the genius but I could not help doing some maths while looking at all the Mona Lisa copies hanging on the wall. Going by my experience in the 2 days, I reckoned there must have been at least 10,000 adults who came to see the exhibition. With each of us paying 14 euros to enter that is at least 140,000 euros this dead genius has generated for this 4 month exhibition alone.
When you consider how many people around the world go to the exhibitions of his work, you’ll realise that preserving your history is preserving your wealth. That guy who died almost 500 years ago is still providing employment, generating revenue and touching millions of lives even today. You don’t have to be alive to be a breadwinner. A lot of those who came to see his works were hugely impressed but I was more impressed with how many people he is still employing even centuries after his death.
In Africa nobody would have remembered his name or age after a couple of decades. We are too busy living for now that we forget to take care of our great, great grandchildren in centuries to come. Leonardo da Vinci is just one of the several thousands of dead geniuses that are still servicing the European economy centuries after they died. Close to the International airport in Lagos is the old and dilapidated house and company of the dead icon of democracy in Nigeria, M.K.O Abiola. He was a multi-billionaire in his lifetime. He was a hero to many. When he died, everything died with him. Last time I was in Lagos, his company building could hardly be recognisable from the long shrubs that had outgrown the building. With all he lived for, he is now dead without a trace! This is over 20 years ago!
It is going to take trillions of years before we African realise that history is pride and that history can be a source of great monetary and emotional wealth. Meanwhile we keep running like a newly beheaded chicken while Europe is profiting from its group of ancient heroes. We are too busy chasing money when we have a pocket full of gold!