By Tajudeen Sowole
In a country like Nigeria where the dearth of infrastructure keeps impeding development, particularly, in the creative sector, a private venture, GrenHouse Art Empowerment Centre, is an invaluable asset to its community and beyond.
Situated in an unusual environment, it’s the initiative of artist, Princess Tessy Iyase-Odozi, which focuses informal art education, art appreciation and domestic tourism in collaboration with individuals and groups as well as private and public schools.
Few minutes before Iyase-Odozi took her guest round the three-floor building GreenHouse’s facilities in Olambe, Ogun State, near Ojodu, a Lagos suburb, pictures of the artist’s recent activities replayed in one’s memory. Formally unveiled by the Governor of Ogun State, His Excellency, Senator Ibikunle Amosun few months ago, but the initiative has been a quiet contributor to art appreciation and education within the two states, in the past few years. GreenHouse was earlier noticed on the Lagos mainstream art gallery scene as one the regular participants at the yearly Art Expo Nigeria International, which debuted in 2008.
Still on the strength of the founder, a naturalist painter’s blossoming art career, GreenHouse gradually warmed its way into art connoisseurs’ heart with an emphasis on conservation and naturalism. While that was ongoing, the focus shifted to schools in what she tagged Greenhouse Moving Art Exhibition, a travelling show across selected schools in Lagos and Ogun State.
Having distilled GreenHouse Art Empowerment Centre from her activism in art in the past few years, a window into the several departments of the project, she thought, should be her solo art exhibition. “I titled the exhibition Un Thy Roots, We Stand” Iyase-Odozi stated as she led her guest into the moderate art gallery space of the ground floor. “It’s about living and departing; the spirituality of our being on earth and beyond.” When she had her debut solo art exhibition Arrival, in 2009 at National Museum Gallery, Onikan, Lagos, simplified naturalism breathed into the Lagos art space. Extending that identity, she hovers around naturalism and spiritual realm in the current effort, which featured some installations and crafts, providing a view into the broad focus of the GreenHouse concept.
|Founder of GrenHouse Art Empowerment Centre, Princess Iyase-Odozi (centre) with members of staff.|
Physical structure for GreenHouse appeares like a long time plan, isn’t it? Not exactly, so suggested two installations, depicting barren stems of trees. The trees, Iyase-Odozi disclosed “are in their natural positions; they were here before we started building.” Retaining the trees, and creating an art pieces from them, she explained, has significance to the “sudden” idea of a building for GreenHouse. “I thought it was alright just taking the GreenHouse traveling art programmes from one place to another.” No, all that changed, she recalled when “someone, pleasantly forced me to accept the land on which the building now stands”.
And with over about 10 staffs as well as emerging replica of ancient museum alongside workshops/training in contemporary art, crafts, music and other culture-related disciplines, the dream appeared to be blossoming beyond her imagination.
Consciously, Odozi had the passion for promoting art education and appreciation before the emergence of a physical structure for GreenHouse. For example at one of the Art Expo Lagos events, she presented a lecture titled Catch Them Young! Mentoring And Coaching Artists Through The Moving Art Exhibition. Part of the text reads: “Mentoring and coaching of Nigerian Artists is a highly desirable objective in the context of developing artists and the art sector to play its important role in national development.” She shared her “experience,” stressing that “the best time to begin is when the potential artists are very young and amenable to absorbing enduring values such as art.” And when she assured that “we intend to sustain this initiative,” it was based on the passion for empowerment.
Several years after the Art Expo lecture, she insisted that schools constitute the ideal vehicle for promoting art. “Indeed, it has been well established that early exposure of children to art education, especially through exhibitions, not only stimulates enthusiasm for art but also tends to enhance their overall development and preparation for future self-employment.”
|Exterior of the GreenHouse Building, in Olambe, Ogun State.|
The response, she noted, has started coming almost immediately after the opening. “We have been receiving requests from schools that want to visit our museums and galleries for excursions.”
Though still emerging at the time of the visit, the Iyase-Odozi Art Educational Museum section of the GreenHouse, she said features “collection of replicated artefacts of Ancient and donated works of contemporary art,” adding that the ancient works represent different historical eras and kingdoms in Nigeria.” The rooms are thus labeled: Contemporary Museum 1900-1960; 1961-1975; 1976-1985; 1986-1999. Ancient Museum: South West (Benin, Ife, Osun, lagos, Owo; East, south South (Ifbo Ukwu, Iriji, Mwenka, New Yam, A`bia, Enugu); North (Nok, Argungu, Hausa, Kogi, Igala)
The main goal is that “School children and other visitors are thereby enlightened on the culture of each kingdom.”
Aside making the museums available for excursion and visits, it also serves “research or other educational purposes; to disseminate useful information about various kingdoms represented and some aspects of their culture; as a tourist attraction.”
For an emerging community, which include middle class, Olambe already has an art gallery in the GreenHouse, which
displays collection of works such as sculptural art to paintings for sale and exhibition. It’s an extension of the gallery’s experience having participated at different level of art appreciation in mainstream art scenes of Lagos.
On the workshops and conferences activities of GreenHouse, Iyase-Odozi listed areas of coverage as skill acquisition in Music, acrylic painting, Oil painting, Mixed Media, Tie & Dye, Designs (freehand and computer-aided), bead-making, Fashion Designing, Goldsmith, Sculpture / Ceramics, Draughtsmanship, Candle Making, Soap Making, Hat Making/Millinery, Drawing/ Sketching, Water colour painting, General Crafts
And giving back to a section of the Olambe community is Iyase-Odozi Foundation, which she described as “an N.G.O dedicated to supporting the less-privileged and marginalised groups in society and enhancing the quality of their lives.”
Activities if the foundation, she listed, include poverty alleviation initiatives in its host community; coaching, mentoring, counseling and inspiring the youth to enable them achieve their potential; working through the GreenHouse Art Empowerment programme to remove unemployed people, particularly the youths, from the streets in the host community by imparting skills in Arts and Crafts for self- and paid- employment.