BY TAJUDEEN SOWOLE
AS artists and resource persons converge on Agbara-Otor, Delta State in what has become a yearly pilgrimage to the Harmattan Workshop, informal art education and exchange would be the focus of discussion and experimentation.
The 15th edition of Bruce Onobrakpeya-led gathering, quite of note, is holding few months after informal art education dominated the celebration of another art icon, the late Ben Enwonwu.
That the theme of this year’s Enwonwu lecture centred on Art and Communication makes tis year’s workshop richer, as the founder, quite instructive, in his over 50 years old career, has combined his passion for writing with printmaking to promote his art.
In three sessions — February 17 to March 2; March 3 to 15 and August Retreat —the 15th edition will cover areas such as Painting, Printmaking, Metal Construction, Wood Sculpture, Stone Carving, Mixed Media, Textiles, Leather Craft, Jewelry, Drawing and Photography.
The last Ben Enwonwu Distinguished Lecture Series, tagged, Informal Art Education Through Workshops: Lessons From The Harmattan Workshops where Onobakpeya was a guest lecturer, offered a clear insight into what it takes to sustain the workshop.
Great minds, it has been said, think alike, so, Onobrakpeya was actually inspired by Enwonwu’s attitude towards informal art education.
“Indeed, he (Enwonwu) was truly a mentor and a man whose influence on me remains till today. Through his mentoring, I came to realise the importance and power of ‘apprenticeship’ in the lives of young protégés,” the master printmaker says.
He recalls that fresh from art school in 1962, “I had the privilege of working with Enwonwu in his studio, located on Cameron Street, Ikoyi. From this experience, I resolved to learn further under other masters in both studio and workshop environments.”
Other influences and inspirations on Onobrakpeya’s Harmattan Wokshop initiative include the Mbari Mbayo and Ori Olokun experiences.
Aside from passing the culture of mentoring to artists in technical terms, Onobrakpeya recently showed that artists should also be taught how to manage their own affairs. Two years ago, he handed over the directorship of the yearly event to Sam Ovraiti.
OVRAITI says that the decision to choose him as director is based on the fact that the chairman (Onobrakpeya) wanted to get somebody else to handle the affairs of the workshop. And the process of selection, he discloses was not an interview kind, which could have led to sentiment over competence. “No! It was a straight appointment for an independent person.”
Onobrakpeya, who had set up a foundation in his name to carry out his mentorship and other art advocacy projects, recalls his early years, saying that as soon as he was able to bear the cost, he started accepting interns in his studio in 1972. “I had students on industrial attachment as well as artist-in-residence scholars writing dissertations for their degrees and working in my studio.” In fact, the concept of Harmattan Workshop emerged when he realised that his studio could not accommodate all the applicants for intern.