Thursday, 8 September 2011

Sam Ovraiti:Challenge of being the first director of Harmattan Workshop

Challenge of being the first director of Harmattan Workshop, by Sam Ovraiti 
By Tajudeen Sowole
Saturday, 30 April 2011 00:00  
 Having experienced the challenges of being the first appointed director for the over one decade old gathering of artists known as Harmattan Workshop, which holds yearly at Agbar Otor, Delta State, Sam Ovraiti allays the fear of sustainability of the Bruce Onobrakpeya Foundation (BOF) initiative.

WHAT did you envisage about the challenges after your appointment as the first director of the 13th Harmattan Workshop?

I live an outcome-based life; I envisage the outcome before I start doing anything. Having been part of the workshop since the inception, till last year, I know the problem faced by the previous administration. In fact, I know the minds of the chairman, Bruce Onobrakpeya Foundation (BOF), Dr. Bruce Onobrakpeya. I knew that there would be people who would not like certain things. For instance, someone asks: ‘why is this person made this, while I am here?’
Sam Ovraiti
Would that suggest that there were some underground politics and disenchantment over your appointment?
No! No politics on the choice of director. But when you gather people from diverse background, it’s not impossible for somebody to say, for instance: ‘why did you make rice, why not beans?’
I know also that we were going to face some accommodation challenges, particularly now that we were doing two weeks, instead of the usual six weeks. So, I already strategise on what to do.
The choice of director for this edition was based on the fact that the chairman wanted to get somebody else to handle the affairs of the workshop. The process was not an interview kind that offered choices or lobbying opportunity. No! It was a straight appointment for an independent person.

How has your idea as an independent resource person conflicted with that of the chairman and management of BOF?

As I stated earlier, I have always known the challenges. For example, in this edition, I appointed a quality control officer for the kitchen section, which we have never had in the previous years. And this worked very well. Also, I have re-orientated the participants on the spirit of the workshop, which is about liberalising your minds. If for example, you were used to painting in a particular style or colour in Lagos, when you get here, you have to learn new things such as working without your usual tools. Even when you don’t have enough tools, you can make do with whatever you see and produce something unusual.  We have also cut down on excursions and concentrated on studio work, so that we achieve maximum results.
On results, what is your assessment of the 13th compared to the last editions?

In visual art, one era cannot be compared or rated by the other in improvement on ideas. You cannot say, for instance, that impressionism is better than realism, or realism is better than naturalism. You can say from this, we got that; from that, we got here, etc. from what we did last year, we have been able to get something new. For about 5 years now, we have been able to get some people from the west African coast to be part of the workshop. This year we have participants from Ghana, Benin Republic, Belgium and Canada. In fact, the young man from Canada did something on metal sheet. This new elements would rub on all the participants. So, there are some high points last year. This year, we have in the beads section more of furniture, interior and functional-base bead works compared to the wearable we had last year. In the leather section last year, they did things like bag, but this year, they are doing shoes. Also this year, we have professional ceramists.


More importantly, all the facilitators are new. Dr. Bruce thought that if there is a new director, it will be better to let the director choose the facilitators. These are artists who are studio-base. This led to the fact that we have more of drawings this year because of the old and experience hands.
On the copyright lecture section of the workshop, do you thing the existing copyright laws have been properly tested by the visual artists compared to their counterparts in the music and movie industries?
We don’t have much of electronic media on our side. People compared us with the other professionals, but the movie is the movie and the music is music; the visual art is the visual art. The laws have been tested several times. For example, when I had issue with an advertising agency that used my work unauthorised, I didn’t need to go to radio and TV to announce it. We also know that Oshinowo did same, so was Muri Adejinmi. But they did not involve the press.
Are you satisfied with the existing copyright laws as regards resale right of artists?
I have always told people that the laws are there, it depends on who wants to apply it. The laws would work according to the knowledge of the person applying it – the understanding. If you are dealing with me, we are not likely to have problem that will take us to court. Litigation comes in when one person is totally ignorant. So, there is a basic element every artist should know. Because you read Fine Arts does not mean you should not know the laws of contract.
And where you are using verbal agreement, your knowledge of the person you are dealing with matters: weather the person has integrity or not. For example, you cannot call me to come and exhibit somewhere without a contract. Can you call Daddy Showkey to come and play for you without a contract, knowing the number of people he has in his band? No, you can’t because you know he would not follow you.
So, on resale right, anyone who does not have a longtime vision, would be shortchanged. It has been said that the poor would get poorer, the rich richer. And the scripture also states: ‘you will reap in this life, hundreds fold, fifty, thirty folds according to your understanding,’ not according to your skill or knowledge. So, the more you understand, the more folds you reap. Some artists don’t understand, they sell themselves cheap and later grumble and quarrel when somebody else does that right thing.
Something leads to something: if they (auctioneers) didn’t sell those works for N9m, N8m etc, the artists may not even know what he is worth. And you cannot be agitating for a share of something, which somebody bought as an investment. When the artist sold to the buyer, he (the artist) thought he was making so much money. But now that the buyer, after keeping the works for 15 years or more and is reaping the investment, the artist is crying wolf. So, artists should be wiser. If you are buying my work, I am giving you a receipt, which states that: please note that any secondary sales would attract 10 per cent of the sum.
When something happens, it shows light on the ignorant. If the Kavita Chellaram-led auction did not happen, we would not be talking about resale right.
On sustainability, how does the Harmattan workshop outlive its founder?
Onobrakpeya, as you know is blessed with many children, yet the place is already sustaining itself without the presence of his children or himself. And don’t forget that this is a foundation, not Ovuoromaro Gallery or his studio. And that we have as much as 94 people on camp this year, including lecturers and young artists shows that the place can sustain itself as the alumni are growing. Am not bothered about the how to sustain because the substance would come. In future, the beneficiaries would be part of the donors. For example, most participants made entries through the internet, voluntarily, not by writing to them.
During the lecture section, there were voices of unsatisfied members raised against the leadership of SNA. Where exactly do you think the missing link lies?
There are too many activities, yet there is inadequate information. Perhaps they need to get more PR strategy. Human being always complain that we don’t know what is happening, but yet they would not do what they know. If SNA is not doing something, artists can organize themselves in groups and do what they know.
For example, in this edition, I appointed a quality control officer for the kitchen section, which we have never had in the previous years. And this worked very well. Also, I have re-orientated the participants on the spirit of the workshop, which is about liberalising your minds. If for example, you were used to painting in a particular style or colour in Lagos, when you get here, you have to learn new things such as working without your usual tools. Even when you don’t have enough tools, you can make do with whatever you see and produce something unusual.

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