Thursday, December 5, 2013
Abuja carnival: Setting tone for centenary anniversary Nigeria will mark the 100th anniversary of the Northern and Southern protectorates in January 2014. Last Saturday, the ninth edition of the Abuja International Carnival kicked off at the Eagle Square, setting the tone for the centenary celebrations.Assistant Editor (Arts) OZOLUA UHAKHEME reports. If the number of participants is a determinant of its success, this year’s Abuja International Carnival may not have achieved much. But, if content and theme are what matter, then the festival is it. Of the 15 countries that indicated interest in the carnival, only five showed up. Also, 17 of the 36 states of the federation including the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) were at the opening, thus hitting an all-time lowest turnout since 2005 when the carnival made its debut. The theme of this year’s carnival was A people for a century, a people forever, and it was aimed at creating a platform for the commemoration of Nigeria’s 100 years of existence as a nation. The First Lady, Dame Patience Goodluck, who was to declare the carnival open, and Bayelsa and Benue state governors’ wife who were expected at the event did not show up. Unlike in the past, this year’s Abuja carnival did not evoke fears in many residents and visitors to the FCT. All major roads and streets from Garki Area One to Eagle Square, a major venue of the carnival, were all manned by armed security officials supported by men of the Federal Road Safety Commission (FRSC) and the Nigerian Security and Civil Defence Corp (NSCDC) who controlled human and vehicular traffic. For once in a long time during a national celebration, tourists walked into the square unperturbed by any fear of Boko Haram bombing. Some vehicles drove close to the square to either drop contingents or their costumes for easy reach. The 18-kilometre street carnival that kicked off from Area One at 10 am was not just a long procession of colourful motorised floats and dancers. It was a total celebration of culture on wheels propelled by contemporary music and dance steps. Each contingent was backed by a motorised float and a mobile music box spinning vibes during the trek. The contingents, consisting mainly of youths with lots of energy to trek the long distance while having fun, were a spectacle to behold. The long trek that lasted over six hours terminated at the Eagle Square where guests were thrilled to another round of exciting celebration of the nation’s diverse cultural heritage. In fact, the atmosphere was convivial for the celebration that recorded not too impressive turn-out of both participants and viewers. There was little or no apprehension about seeming threat from the notorious Boko Haram sect that has killed thousands of Nigerians in the northern part of the country. No doubt, this year’s outing is an improvement of last year in the area of costumes design, float concept and content. In totality, the Abuja International Carnival has been able to shed off its traditional elements for contemporary infusions to reflect modern carnival. Minister for Tourism, Culture and National Orientation, Chief Edem Duke said national unity and cohesion are winners at the carnival, adding that culture has in the country’s 100 years continued to grow from strength to strength. He identified culture as one of the enduring elements of nation-building and national cohesion, which ‘continue to strengthen intra and inter-communal relations, help to build bridges, forge sustainable partnerships and provide the foundation for our distinct identity as a people with a proud heritage and a future that is laden with hope and confidence.’ He said that the carnival provides a platform for the projection of Nigeria’s rich cultural heritage. “It is always a delight to see our people from various States of the federation resplendent in their carnival costumes display Nigeria’s diverse cultural forms in a kaleidoscope of colours. The beauty of these cultural forms is firmly rooted in their diversity which has been the source of our strength as a nation in the past 100 years,” he added. The minister stressed that beyond the celebrations and display of cultural forms, carnivals have become mega businesses around the world describing it as the catalyst and backbone of a multifaceted economy. And in order to grow the carnival, he said that federal government is building partnerships with countries where carnivals have truly become a big enterprise. “The Federal Ministry of Tourism, Culture and National Orientation remains committed to the development of the creative sector. We are paying particular attention to this area as we believe that it has a great role to play in the organisation of carnivals and other cultural events. To this end, the new Cultural Policy of Nigeria has designated carnivals as an important cultural and economic activity and has made adequate provision for its enhancement. The Federal Government also partners with States where Carnivals are gaining grounds as an important cultural and economic activity. This is with a view to developing carnivals across the country and turn them into unique brands and enterprise,” he said. His Trinidad and Tobago counterpart, Dr. Lincoln Douglas, whose country is one of the five foreign countries that participated in the carnival disclosed that his country has granted 10 scholarship awards to qualified Nigerians wishing to study carnival art, management of festival, and other related areas at two of Trinidad and Tobago’s universities. Dr. Douglas who said details of the scholarship would be worked out soon added that the University of Trinidad and Tobago and University of West Indies would be the two universities where the scholarship would be offered. He said his country has resolved to offer scholarship in the area of capacity building as ‘our contribution to the commitment of the President of Nigeria, Dr. Goodluck Jonathan who has also visited Trinidad and Tobago and shown tremendous interest and support. The visiting minister said there has been an increasing interest in the carnival in Nigeria, which he said, has great opportunity too. “Both countries – Nigeria and Trinidad and Tobago share the same economy culture, we are oil producing countries, oil and natural gas, petro-chemicals. And we understand that those are finite resources. But our peoples, and the way of life as well as our culture are the infinite resources. As long as our peoples are here, we have something that we can leverage upon. I am excited with what I have seen this evening. And with continued support and participation, the carnival will grow.” Continuing, he said: “In Trinidad and Tobago, we have been doing the carnival for the last 70 years or so, and we have developed an art form, an industry, and science of music, band, theatre, mask … everything working together to create wealth for our people. It has become a big industry providing employment for young people as they get involved in something that is meaningful and valuable. “Through the carnival, we have succeeded in taking our youths off the streets or getting involved in negative things. Abuja Carnival portends great opportunities for Nigeria and we have resolved to offer scholarship in the area of capacity building as our contribution to the commitment of the President of Nigeria, Dr. Goodluck Jonathan who has also visited Trinidad and Tobago and shown tremendous interest and support. So, we are reciprocating that level of collaboration and participation.” He said he feels more at home in Nigeria than US where he spent over 15 years. Despite the low turnout, some of the participating states had good presentations during the street carnival session and the carnival floats/performances at the opening ceremony. For instance, apart from featuring about the largest contingents at the carnival, Niger State and Akwa-Ibom State were creative in the presentation and interpretation of the festival’s theme. Akwa-Ibom State presentation at the ceremony was a total story of the Nigeria nation reflecting in visual every major political stage the country went through from pre-independence through military era till date. It also showcased the diverse culture of Nigeria as demonstrated by some members of the state’s contingents who wore different traditional dresses known to some ethnic groups in the country. In fact, there was a deliberate effort to send strong messages of peace, cohesion and love for one another by every state contingent at the carnival. Also, the bigger picture of centenary celebration was never lost as Bayelsa State reminded all with an inscription on its float, saying: It’s our centenary, roll out the drums. Other special contingents included representatives of Nigerian Security and Civil Defence Corps, Eagles Nest (Naija Cultural Heritage Reality Show), United Foods, makers of Indomie, Maltina Airtel among others. The carnival which ended yesterday featured performances by school children within the FCT, durbar, cultural night/traditional cuisine and bush bar/traditional hairdo, masquerades performance, boat regatta, command performance and musical fiesta. The mobile traders and food vendors that brought items to the Eagle Square for sale were alleged to pay about five thousand naira for the space occupied. The allocation of open space and collection of the levies created some drama outside the main square shortly before the kick-off of the opening ceremony. The Abuja carnival was initiated by the Olusegun Obasanjo administration in 2005 as an annual event to hold during the harmattan season in Nigeria. It is to create a platform to present and preserve the rich intangible cultural heritage of Nigeria. Last year, some innovations were introduced into the carnival with the involvement of women and youth organisations, school children, non-governmental organisations, military/para-military and culture/tourism groups. The states that were absent at the opening include Bauchi, Nasarawa, Edo, Imo, Abia, Delta, Enugu, Gombe, Ogun, Zamfara, Lagos, Osun, Borno, Cross River, Kwara, Jigawa, Sokoto and Kebbi.
Olusola’s undying love for art Ozolua UHAKHEME in Life (Midweek Magazine) November 6, 2013 What are the precious items in the late Ambassador Segun Olusola’s home? A flat screen television, luxury car, air conditioner and gold wrist watch? Sorry, you guessed wrong. Take a trip to the newly inaugurated resource library at the centre for Black and African Arts and Civilisation’s Headquarters on Broad Street in Lagos and see what caught the late art connoiseur’s fancy. Assitant Editor(Arts) Ozolua Uhakheme reports Except for the absence of furniture such as bed, table and chairs, the medium-size room could have passed for one of the rooms in the late Chief Segun Olusola’s home. Among personal effects in the room are plaques, ward robe consisting of several traditional dresses (aso-oke), book shelf, ayo game, miniature talking drums, paintings and a 1990 large-size portraiture of Chief Olusola done by Ethiopian artist, Lemma Guya. At the centre of the room is a scary leopard statue, which poses in readiness to pounce on its prey. These are some of the personal effects left behind by the late Olusola for keeps as legacies. Welcome to Ambassador Segun Olusola Resource Library, on the ground floor of the Centre for Black and African Arts and Civilisation (CBAAC) in Lagos. Last Thursday, CBAAC held a twin event- a memorial lecture and the inauguration of a library to immortalise the former Nigeria’s Ambassador to Ethiopia and founder African Refugees Foundation (AREF). Venue was the conference room, Freedom Park, Broad Street, Lagos. A short drama sketch led by Hafiz Oyetoro aka Saka (a prominent actor in the MTN portability advert) spiced the occasion that was chaired by former Minster for National Planning, Chief Rasheed Gbadamosi. Before the guest lecturer, Dr. Kunle Filani spoke on Leveraging on indigenous African culture and artistic creativity for development: legacies of Ambassador Segun Olusola, it was rain of tributes from guests. Tourism, Culture and National Orientation Minister, Chief Edem Duke described the late Olusoal as a man of many parts, saying that a dissection of his legacies shows that he meant different things to many people. “This is because the positive impacts he made while he was alive. Most Nigerians know him as the brain behind one of the most enduring television drama prograamme in Nigeria’s history: The Village Headmaster. Within the culture sector which I oversee, late Ambassador Olusola would be remembered as a diplomat that promoted the use of culture to facilitate and strengthen interactions among countries in Africa,” he said. The director-general of CBAAC, Prof Tunde Babawale said that the decision to immortalise the great African is to encourage both young and old to bequeath worthy legacies to posterity. He described the late ace broadcaster as a true hero of our land who deserves to be celebrated. “We believe that organising events of this nature would make many of our compatriots know that those who lead by worthy examples will always be celebrated even in death. Today’s event is also informed by the need for those of us left behind to decide how our epitaph will look like before the inevitability of death and what we wish to be remembered for,” Babawale said. He noted that unequivocally, late Olusola would be remembered for his impactful touch on many areas of African arts and culture. Among those present on the occasion were Tourism, Culture and National Orientation Minister, Chief Edem Duke, represented by Seyi Womiloju, Chairman, CBAAC, Senator Brimmo Yusuf, Chief Executive Officer of AREF, Mr. Jimi Olusola, Chief Tunde Oloyede, Mr. Dejumo Lewis, Cultural Affairs Officer, US Consulate, Lagos, Mrs. Bene Uche, Executive Director, The News/PM News, Mr Kunle Ajibade, Mrs Jimi Olusola, Chairman, Equity Assurance, Chief Tutu Buraimoh, Vice-Chairman, Mutual Benefit Assurance, Mr Akin Opeodu,Chairman NANTAP Lagos, Mrs Eki Eboigbe, Dr. Ademola Azeez, and chairman of Society of Nigerian Artists (Lagos State chapter), Mr Alabi Dotun. Guest speaker, Dr. Kunle Filani described the late Olusola as a man of measured taste and disposition, adding that temperance was a virtue he deployed in diplomatic missions and his oratorical eloquence stood him out in public debates. “He became a soothing patriarch to the dispossessed when he founded the African Refugees Foundation (AREF) in Nigeria. He also founded the Ajibulu Moniya Gallery to serve as support for the growing artistic activity in Nigeria,” he added. Continuing, he said: “Ambassador Segun Olusola was a polished and decent elder statesman; he was intelligent and talked with compelling convictions. His style of enunciation in speaking and his gestural emphasis evinced rhetoric. He was indeed a hero of African culture because he possessed and elicited characteristics that are highly prized in indigenous tradition. There is no better way to celebrate this true elder statesman than using his exemplary creativity and leadership to interrogate indigenous African arts and culture thereby suggesting strategies for national development.” In his paper, Leveraging on indigenous African culture and artistic creativity for development: legacies of Ambassador Segun Olusola, Filani said African countries must initiate mutual bonds of integration through culture and the 21st century should launch Africa as a continent into unique civilisation through proper culturalisation concepts. He said that African leaders cannot afford to underestimate the relevance of culture for national development, stressing that Africa must look inwards to tap her rich cultural resources by harnessing the potentials of indigenous science and technology. He noted that Western science and technology are not the only means of accessing civilisation and quality living. He said alternative indigenous methods must be further explored and made suitable for contemporary consumption. “African leaders must inculcate culture into development initiatives fashioned by interactive organisations such as African Union and NEPAD. Government must begin to implement UNESCO recommendations on culture and education. Government must implement cultural policies by effectively funding and empowering relevant ministries and parastatals. “Concerted efforts must be made by top government organisations to sensitise and encourage non-governmental and individual participation in culture development,” he added. Filani lamented that it is unfortunate that Nigeria does not have befitting national museums and galleries. This, he said, must be urgently attended to not only to preserve and conserve our cultural heritage, but also to serve as revenue generating organs through dynamic tourism policy. He charged economically viable states to bring mega-tourist monuments to accommodate cultural and modern creative structures. “Lagos State especially with her huge population and diverse economic potentials must lead the tourist initiative. Many African countries not endowed than Nigeria have huge cultural monuments to celebrate their origins, visions and heroes. For example, the Dakar bronze sculpture African Renaissance monument is a 49 metres tall bronze statue with expanded environment that accommodates varieties of cultural activities. It is sad that in spite of Nigeria’s strategic position in Africa, there are no befitting and well developed monuments and parks in our cities,” he lamented. He noted that African leaders must create dynamic economic and communication linkages in the regions and sub-regions, as Africa can explore cultural affinities for social, political and economic development. “It is certain that the deficits in political, educational, economic and social leadership can be addressed by embracing the dynamics of African culture concepts. Nigeria as the most populous country in Africa with the largest Black inhabitants in the world must take the lead in championing socio-economic and political liberation from the shackles of imperialism and neo-colonialism. This can only be done through cultural awareness of independent African countries and cultural integration of seemingly disparate states. For Africa to have a future, our present must creatively interrogate and engage the past,” he said.
Marathon: Eyeing a world recordMarathon, a giant painting measuring 2.4m x120m on canvas (mixed media of oil, acrylic, glue and sand dust) spreads across the length of the main studio. Former Ondo State Commisssioner for Culture and Tourism Chief Tola Wewe is at the verge of creating a world record. He has painted over 100 metres of the 120 metres canvas earmarked for the project. He spoke with Assistant Editor (Arts) OZOLUA UHAKHEME.
Last month, a controversial Indian American painter, Mr. Gurmej Singh in Kalamazoo, Michigan, US set a Guinness World Record for creating The Transcendental, the “world’s longest painting by an individual,” an entry that coincidentally-was disqualified from a local art competition. The painting measured 11,302 ft. 2.11 in. (3,445 metres) and took Singh 38 days to create.”
Former Ondo State Commissioner for Culture and Tourism Chief Tola Wewe is close to creating a new world record in creating one of the longest paintings. By last week, he had completed over 100 metres of his 120 metres Marathon he dedicated to humanity. At his Ondo residence, Wewe has deconstructed a section of his home to facilitate his work on the Marathon. In the last two years, work on Marathon has been consistent and progressive. But, don’t count the number of tubes, cans and brushes that have been consumed to do this artwork. Also, forget about the monetary implication of executing the painting project.
In the beginning
“Ten years ago, I was at Port Harcourt, Rivers State capital for a group art exhibition organised by the Total Petroleum. Prof. EL Anatsui was one of the exhibiting artists. He called me and said I was capable of doing a giant painting on canvas. Since then, I have been thinking about the project. But, five years ago, when I was appointed Ondo State Commissioner for Culture and Tourism, I decided to start it. Also, at that time, I had little time for serious painting of individual works. I therefore ordered for a canvas measuring 120m and I have been working on it at will. I never shared the though with most of my artist friends because I never wanted to be distracted or discouraged. Also, I did not discuss it with the press until now.
After hitting the 100metres mark
After hitting 100meters mark, which is a world record on its own, I decided to expose it to some of my friends. I wanted to do it for humanity and for art lovers. I am happy doing it. The idea was to present my experiences, a kind of visual diary, talking about corruption, kidnapping, celebration etc in Nigeria. Again, the themes are not planned for, and the section I am working on now is about the celebration of my mother’s return from kidnappers.
Cost of the project
I have not bothered myself about the cost of producing the painting. I don’t want to cost how many tubes or cans of oil I have used because the result is my utmost interest. The effort is worth it because I have to give account of my existence. All that is there are messages I must deliver to the art world. I do wake up by 1am or 2am to paint and later crashed on my bed. Each time I am done with a section, I carry out the measurement. I have not opened the entire canvas at full length, but I measure each section after completion. I can’t place a value on it now. The collectors will do that when I am ready to sell it. The painting is my life and my footprint, which is a testimonial for my existence. I keep having an inner push gearing me up to continue the work.
Duration of the painting
Actively, it took me six years. I have been consistent in the last 2 years when I was done with the government. The painting of Marathon forced me to create an extension in my house to allow for more space and concentration. The work is mainly for humanity, no sponsors for its production but might consider that when I am going to exhibit it. Apart from Mrs Nike Okundaye and Prof. Moyo Okedeji I have not told any of my artist friends, I did not want anybody to discourage me.
As at today I have done over 100 metre long marathon I don’t know if I am going to stop at 120m. I may go further if I am instructed by my superior forces. If I die after this work, I am fulfilled. My works are in most of the world’s galleries but I needed to do something that has not been done. I will publish a book on the art work and Prof. Okedeji is handling that aspect.
Showcasing Marathon for art lovers
The artwork must be viewed by the public. I intend displaying it in my farm in Ondo town, before I will show it around the world. But, I must show it here in Nigeria before taking it outside. I will do a print of sections of the painting for the majority to collect. In fact each of the work will be in form of installation. I have been selling my paintings to buy materials to do this work. I survive and live well on arts. I am also a farmer, I breed dogs, have over 20 fish ponds. When I am bored, I go to farm.
Leaving Lagos for Ondo
I left Lagos because I can’t get the same concentration and space I have here in Ondo town. My friends will distract my creative flow. This environment is good for me. I love to be with nature and the local people. I visit and attend cultural events at real shrines and I experienced the real culture. I am more at home with traditional people. It will interest you that I have two chieftaincy titles: I am the Obagbemigun of Ido-Ani and the Bobagunwa of Odo-Owo. If I reincarnate, I will always want to be an artist.
The kidnap of my aged mother is the only dark moment in my life. It was a nightmare. I did not sleep for 100 days. I was smoking and drinking gin (Ogogoro). I had nasty experience from the security officials because they keep promising. In fact, my appointment as a commissioner in Ondo State exposed me to kidnappers who were demanding 150 million ransoms. In one of the telephone calls, they asked me if I claimed I don’t have money, how I got my jeep. I then told them to take my jeep and free my mother.
Creative industry and the economy
The most thriving sector of the nation’s economy is the creative industry, especially visual arts. Nigeria should invest in its areas of strength, which are arts and sports. Unfortunately, Nigeria keeps investing in wrong areas like sciences.”
Saturday, September 28, 2013
How I escaped Nairobi attack — Soyinka Ozolua Uhakheme Assistant Editor Arts Nobel laureate, Prof. Wole Soyinka, has said that the late Ghanaian diplomat and poet, Kofi Awoonor and himself could have been together at the Storymoja/Hay Literature Festival held in Nairobi, Kenya. He said he was invited to the same festival but could not attend. Awoonor was killed by terrorists last Saturday at the Westgate Shopping Mall shooting in Nairobi. Soyinka said two commitments: a public conversation with a very brave individual, Karima Bennoune, an Algerian national, whose trenchant publication – Your Fatwa Does Not Apply Here, and the annual conference of international investigators in Tunis, were responsible for his inability to attend the festival. He said: “My absence was particularly regrettable, because I had planned to make up for my failure to turn up for the immediate prior edition. Participant or absentee however, this is one edition we shall not soon forget. It was at least two days after the listing of Kofi Awoonor among the victims that I even recollected the fact that the Festival was ongoing at that very time. “With that realisation came another: that Kofi and I could have been splitting a bottle at that same watering hole in between events and at the end of each day. My feelings, I wish to state clearly, did not undergo any changes. The emotions of rage, hate and contempt remained on the same qualitative and quantitative levels,” he added. Soyinka spoke in Lagos yesterday during a memorial reading session tagged Humanity and Against and held in honour of the late Ghanaian poet. He described the late Awoonor as a passionate African who gave primacy of place to values derived from his Ewe heritage. “That, in turn, means that he was thoroughly imbued with the spirit of ecumenism towards other systems of belief and cultural usages – this being the scriptural ethos that permeates belief practices of most of this continent. We mourn our colleague and brother, but first, we denounce his killers, the virulent sub-species of humanity who bathe their hands in innocent blood,” he added. Renowned poet, Prof JP Clark explained why Soyinka and himself were not at the funeral of the late Chinua Achebe at Ogidi, Anambra State, blaming it on politicians that hijacked the funeral. He noted that Prof Soyinka and himself did not sit and plot action on whether or not to attend Achebe’s funeral in Ogidi. “Politicians hijacked the Achebe’s funeral. I said to myself, if there is life after death, Achebe would be laughing at the politicians. So, writers could not have found a space in Achebe’s funeral. From the President to the Governors, they hijacked it,” he noted. Clark said critics might be wondering why a memorial is being held in honour of Awoonor in Lagos unlike when Chinua Achebe died. President of the Association of Nigerian Authors (ANA), Prof Remi Raji, who read from his collection of poems, The Fire Next Time, said of the late Ghanaian poet: “African literature has indeed lost an influential voice. The name, Kofi Awoonor, was very present in our minds as young students. Though I never met him in person, his writings have been influential. The ANA has sent a condolence letter to the Ghana authority. Today’s memorial is very instructive. His death is a reflection of the urban barbarisms in the globe today.” Other scholars who read excerpts at the memorial were Prof Kole Omotoso, Prof Femi Osofisan, Dr. Wale Okediran and Lola Shoneyin.
Thursday, May 2, 2013
My art is my diary’
Seven years ago, renowned art scholar, Prof Christopher Uchefunna Okeke was struck by stroke. Last Sunday, he defiled all odds and joined friends and relations to celebrate his 80th birthday at the Fredom park, Lagos. Assistant Editor (Arts) reports.
The select audience, comprising renowned art scholars and patrons such as Prof John Pepper-Clark, Prof. Bruce Onobrakpeya, Chief Rasheed Gbadamosi, Prince Yemisi Shyllon, Joe Obiago and Oliver Enwonwu, were unmoved by the long wait. The celebrator, Prof. Uche Okeke, who turned 80, was yet to appear at the venue of the birthday celebration hours after the 4pm start off time. Still, in his absence, speakers took turns to reflect back on the doggedness and resilience of the art scholar who has been on a wheel chair since February 2007 following a stroke attack.
Last Sunday, Prof. Okeke ‘stood’ tall among his associates and relations who gathered to celebrate him. It was an evening of prayers and encomiums from friends, associates and relations who recalled the works of the great artist, poet and illustrator. The venue of the party organised by his children as part of activities to mark his 80th birthday, was the Kongi Gallery Hall, Freedom Park, Broad Street, Lagos. One of his children, Mr. Chindo El-Farid Uche-Okeke, was the compere.
At exactly 6.51 pm, about three hours into the celebration, supported by his wife, Kaego, and children he rode triumphantly on the wheel chair into a cheering audience that stood up singing. Okeke, who wore a top made from earth-colour Ankara on a pair of milk trousers, offered a broad smile to all in appreciation of the honour. Though he did not say ‘thank you’, his body language and the expression on his face, said it all.
The retired art teacher at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka and founder, Asele Institute, Nimo in Anambra State, who is famed for illustrating the late Chinua Achebe’s popular book, Things Fall Apart, considered his art as a visual diary of ideas he has nurtured over time.
“Time is, therefore, of utmost importance to me, taking pride over place in my scales of values. Yet, I am an environmentalist of some sort, for I believe I can create my own world out of elements from my past and from the history of man on earth. For me, art has always signified the search for values. These values do not necessarily change but fall and rise with historical man as he tarries here and returns to the place of the dead,” he said in a graffitti on the wall of the hall.
Prof. Pepper-Clark described Prof Okeke as a versatile artist who got published by Mbari Club as a writer before his contemporaries. He also noted that Okeke’s pioneer group of visual artists from Zaria was larger than the writers association and that they made their mark more than the poets. Prof. Clark recalled that Prof. Okeke was one of the early pioneer visual artists who came to the University College Ibadan, when the Mbari Club was just formed.
The literary icon also used the reminiscences to talk about their school days at Ibadan. He recalled the old rivalry between the then Principal of University College, Ibadan and the Rector of the Nigerian College of Arts, Science and Technology, Zaria saying ‘there was rivalry between the two heads of the colleges on who has more degrees than the other. But, all the campuses of the Nigerian College of Art, Science and Technology, Zaria were looking up to us at Ibadan.’
Nobel Laureate, Prof. Wole Soyinka who came midway into the celebration observed that the creative energies and the camaraderie enjoyed by artists and writers in the days of the Mbari Club at Ibadan cannot be replicated today. “Unfortunately, it is impossible to replicate what happened when the Mbari Club started at Ibadan. We can’t enjoy the same things again. But, there is a muse of creativity that I happened to be here without notice,” he said. Soyinka who joined the celebration later was at his office to pick up his mails when he knew about the celebration.
Founder of Omooba Yemisi Adedoyin Shyllon Art Foundation, Prince Yemisi Shyllon, said Prof. Okeke pioneered the development of Uli art that gave birth to great disciples such as El Anatsui, Obiora Udechukwu among others at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka.
“I have benefitted from the great works of Okeke. We pray God to grant him good health and long life,” Shyllon added.
Prof Onobrakpeya, a classmate of Prof Okeke at Zaria, described the evening as an occasion to thank God for Okeke’s life and all his endowments as a visionary artist, father and citizen. “We pray God that he should get better, well and the artistic endowments should be productive and extend from now till future. We are asking that Asele Institute should be upgraded in order for his legacies to spread,” Onobrakpeya said in an emotion-laden voice. President, Society of Nigerian Artists, (SNA) Oliver Enwonwu said Prof. Okeke ‘s extraordinary career saw him rise from his student days (1957- 61) at the Nigerian College of Arts, Science and Technology, now Ahmadu Bello University, to one of the most important figures in the history of modern Nigerian art.
“His career begins as a clerk in the department of labour at Jos, takes off as the head of the Visual Art Section, Refugees Affairs Committee of the Biafran Directorate of Propaganda in 1968, and reaches its climax as the head of the Department of Fine Arts, University of Nigeria, Nsukka. Indeed, much of his legacy rests not only on his role as a founding member of the Zaria Art Society which later became the Society of Nigerian Artists, but his contribution to a modern Nigerian visual language,” he said.
Continuing, he said: “Prof Uche Okeke, we the executive of the Society of Nigerian Artists and indeed all our members are here to celebrate you.Enduring success never comes easily. It takes the struggles of life to grow strength. It takes a good fight for principles to build fortitude. It takes crises to gain courage and it takes singleness of purpose to reach a goal. This, Prof Christopher Uchefunna Okeke, describes your life story. On this occasion of your 80th birthday, we all salute you and say; May God bless you. May you prosper and live long in good health.”
Others who spoke included Chief Rasheed Gbadamosi, Mr. Ashim Nwoko, son of Demas Nwoko.
The family used the evening to announce the launch of Uche Okeke Foundation holing next year as well as the publication of a book on Uche Okeke’s seminal works. Also, a giant birthday cake was cut by the celebrant in an evening that witnessed lots of back slapping and exchange of pleasantries among arts community members present.