By Tajudeen Sowole
WITH the Living Legends Art documentary project showing strongly in the country’s art scene, plans are afoot for its positive involvement in the Nigeria centenary, next year.
Only recently, the project had Prof. John Pepper Clark as its fifth sitter. The initiator, Olu Ajayi, disclosed the broad plans of the projectfew days after Clark sat before painters and sculptors at Didi Museum, Victoria Island, Lagos.
His hope is that before long, the first volume of a Living Legends’ compendium is published to contribute to the Nigeria centenary, next year.
The project debuted in 2007 with Prof. Wole Soyinka as the first sitter. He sat before nearly 20 artists inside the Aina Onabolu Building, National Theatre, Iganmu, Lagos.
Also, a few months ago, artists from Lagos joined their counterparts in Benin for a painting and sculpturing session with the Oba of Benin, Omonoba Erediauwa II, inside his palace.
Sitter, Prof J.P Clark (left) and sculptor, Aseola Balogun during the Living Legends Art recording.
Grillo and Bruce Onobrakpeya were other sitters that have been documented by artists since the project started.
At the J.P Clark edition of the Living Legends, artists who joined Ajayi included Duke Asidere, Aladegbongbe Aderinsoye, Balogun Adeola, Wallace Ejoh, Emmanuel Isiuwe, Lekan Onabanjo, Ibe Ananaba, Sade Thompson, Emmanuel Irokunulo, Odun Orimolade and Kilani Abass.
Supervisors and historians as well as guests present included Kolade Oshinowo. Prof Peju Layiwola, Olatunji Sotimirin, Nengi Omuku and Yusuf Grillo.
Also present were art patrons Sammy Olagbaju, Nero Asebelua, Mr. and Mrs. Okunsanya and the host, chief Newton Jibunoh.
The Living Legends Art is designed to feature artists whose practice complements the status of the sitters.
According to Ajayi, so far, that crucial aspect of the project has been sustained since 2007. The artists, he argued are among the best in the country. “Most of the artists in the project, so far, would make top 50 of Nigerian artists, if there should be such ratings.”
Some of the artists who had participated in the past four editions included Sam Ovraiti, Abiodun Olaku, Edosa Ogiugo, Asidere, Ben Osaghae and Segun Adejumo.
One hundred years history of amalgamation of diverse ethnic and religious groups into what is known as Nigeria of today cannot be written without some individuals, Ajayi noted. Some of these people who have contributed immensely to the development of the country – and are still alive — he explained are the focus of the project.
Just as the Grillo, Onobrakpeya and His Royal Highness Erediauwa editions were organised to coincide with the 74th, 80th and 90th birthday celebrations of the sitters, Clark also had his own as part of his 80th birthday.
The artists involved in the Onobrakpeya edition were Ukhueduan Tom, Uche Nwosu, Isiuwe Angela, Irokanulo, Tunde Soyinka, Maurice Onyeriodo, Nmesirionye Joshua, Juliet Ezenwa Maja-Pearce, Udondian Victoria, Okujeni Tony, Ovraiti, Gerry Nnubia, Onabayo and Ajayi.
|(Sitting) Nero Asebelua, Kolade Oshinowo, Newton Jibunoh, Prof J.P Clark, Prof Yusuf Grillo and Prof Peju Layiwola with the participating artists.|
Also present at were veteran photographer J.D. Okhai Ojeikhere, and chairman, Visual Arts Society of Nigeria (VASON), Olagbaju.
For the Grillo edition, under the supervision of architect, Prof. David Aradeon, four artists were involved: Ajayi, Ovraiti, Orimolade, Agose, Ejoh and Osazuwa Osagie as well as new entrants, Kelechi Amadi-Obi, Ibe Ananaba, Kingsley Braimoh, Joshua Nmesirionye, Awoyemi Ajibade and Edward Samuel.
But in Nigeria where it takes bread and butter or ‘cash and carry’ to earn honours, the Living Legends Art project seems to be scratching for real and genuine achievers, whose identities are devoid of dark spots. Ajayi, however, says the project is not necessarily ‘searching for saints’, and that “we have documented just five people shows that the criteria for selection is strict.”
The Nigeria centenary, he added, is just a stop over as the project continues thereafter with the “ultimate goal of setting up a Legends Portrait Gallery.
So far, the acceptance, he enthused, has grown, attracting more people, even beyond Nigeria. Next on the list, he disclosed, “are former United Nations Secretary-General, Kofi Anan and former scribe of the Commonwealth Nations, Emeka Anyaoku.”
As a renowned art teacher, Grillo seems to have developed strong passion for the project; he has been present in all the editions recorded in Lagos. In fact, each edition comes with art classroom or studio nostalgia.
For example, during his own edition, he stated: "It was a rejuvenating experience." He recalled how the first shoot reawakened his interest in studio work. "I knew it was going to send me straight back to the studio” such that he could not resist getting a charcoal “from Olaku, which I eventually used when I got home."
For being a visual arts project, and perhaps, unavoidably noiseless, Living Legends comes with the challenge of attracting corporate sponsorship.
Over the decades, the Nigerian art environment has lost the value placed on portraiture, either in painting, sculpture or photography.
Official portraits of statesmen, professionals particularly in paintings, are hardly given priority as it used to be. But the Ajayi-led project, which is capable of resurrecting the culture in a more elaborate scope, needs the support of the corporate Nigerian.
Ajayi lamented the difficulties in “getting the attention of well-placed individual and corporate groups to see the vision in the project.”
Ahead of Clark’s sitting, Project Manager, Eki Eboigbe stressed that the selected personalities since 2007 fall within the criteria to justify the artists’ contextualisig of the documentary within art and literature. She said, “it’s about personalities, who have consistent records of positive impartation on the society are inducted and immortalized by living contemporary artist, using art to locate the intersection between fine art and literature.”
|Clark and artists during the recording|
She added, “document living icon project is a contingent of professional artist and scholars dedicated to rectifying the gap in the nation’s art history profile.”
Gradually making international presence, the documentary project had been taken to an event in South Africa few years ago.
Eboigbe recalled that it “contribution to the University of South Africa (UNISA) African speaks lecture series 2012.”
She stated that it was presented “in a conversation forum titled, Imaginaries, locating the intersections of fine art and literature.
The portraits of Soyinka from the Living Legends Art, she explained were used “to convey and express his person and ideas.” The collection, Eboigbe added, “was also showcased at Nigeria’s Golden Jubilee celebrations in Abuja.”