By Tajudeen Sowole
As 2014 is Nigeria’s centenary in nationhood, master printmaker, Dr Bruce Onobrakpeya leads over 200 artists to the U.K, for a gathering that could be the biggest event outside the country in the landmark year.
Opening at the School of African and Oriental Studies (SOAS), Brunei’ Gallery, University of London from April 10, 2014, and showing for three months, the art exhibition titled Dream, Fantasy and Reality… From 1998 to 2014, features some of the works produced by artists in over 15 years of Onobrakpeya-led yearly Harmattan Workshop.
One of Bruce Onobrakpeya’s works Hunter’s Muse, from the U.K-bound art exhibition.
Organised by SOAS and Bruce Onobrakpeya Foundation (BOF), the exhibition did not have the centenary in focus when it was conceived in 2011, but it’s being projected as the biggest event outside Nigeria in the centenary year. Nigeria was formerly created in January 1914 by the British colonialists when the Southern. Northern provinces and Lagos colony were amalgamated ‘for administrative convenience.’
In 1998, Onobrakpeya started the Harmattan Workshop, as a gathering of artists designed for informal exchange in the process of creating art. The workshop has since then been holding yearly at its traditional home, Agbar Otor, Delta State.
Few editions ago, the scope of the workshop started expanding beyond Nigeria as artists from the West African coast as well as Diaspora joined the gathering, which has become Nigeria’s foremost art workshop. Severally, Onobrakpeya had traced the origin of the Harmattan Workshop to the inspiration he got from similar events, particularly from the the Mbari Mbayo and Ori Olokun experiences, during the 1960s, in Osogbo and Ile –ife.
Between 1998 and the last edition, the Harmattan Workshop had enjoyed the presence of quite a number of established artists from across the country as facilitators. Indeed, it has strengthened the passion of the founder, Onobrakpeya as a pathfinder in modern and contemporary Nigerian art.
During a preview organised by BOF, in Lagos, the facilitator and curator of Dream, Fantasy and Reality…, Prof John Agberia of the Department of Fine Arts and Designs, University of Port Harcourt (UNIPORT), Rivers State, traced the origin of the exhibition to SOAS’ tracking of Onobrakpeya, in the past one decade.
Agberia recalled how he introduced Onobrakpeya and the Harmattan Workshop to several gatherings organised by SOAS in 2005 and 2009. One of Onobrakpeya’s works titled, Colourful Slum attracted the interest of the organisers of a cross continent conference, European African, in 2005 such that it was used on the cover of the brochure, Agbaria said. But the forthcoming exhibition, he disclosed, was proposed to SOAS, during his visit as a Commonwealth scholar. “I proposed an exhibition, based on the Harmattan Workshop.” The approval, he added, “was granted in 2011.”
Some of the exhibiting artists include Onobrakpeya
Kolade Oshinowo, Mike Omoighe, Sam Ovraiti, Nelson Edewor , Anthony Okonofua, Uwa Usen, Agberia, Peju Layiwola, Andrew Onobrakpeya
Akin Balogun, John Silas, Ehi Iyioghiojie, Tola Wewe and Salubi Onakufe
Among others are Godwin Moses Unokwah, Chuka Onabuife, Afolayan Oladipo
Olu Amoda, Bisi Ajayi, John Crawford, Patrick Akpojotor, Tijani Mohammed
Pamela Cyril-Egware and many others.
Agberia noted that given the scope of the exhibition, the immediate beneficiaries are the host community of the Harmattan Workshop, Agbar Otor, and Nigeria in general. And holding in the year of Nigeria centenary, the show, Agberia argued “is the first outside the country during the period.” He therefore urged federal government to support the exhibition as “it has the potentials of promoting Nigeria’s ideals to the rest of the world.”
Stressing the impact of the Harmattan Workshop and the importance of the exhibition, Onobrakpeya stated that the value of the workshop has been resonating outside Nigeria, in the last two years. He cited the participation of Harmattan Workshop in the last Dak’Art biennale, 2012 in Dakar, Senegal as an example. The exhibition of works from Harmattan at the Dak’Art, he disclosed, was the only representation of Nigeria at the event.
More importantly, the Harmattan Workshop, Onobrakpeya insisted has served as skill acquisition medium for the less privileged people of Agbar Otor who, every year, have the opportunity to interact with established artists and facilitators. He also stressed the value of arts and culture as crucial contributors to the growth of the Nigerian economy, particularly at the grassroots. “Some countries that do not have crude oil depend on art and culture for revenue,” he argued.
Mapping and Partitioning Fabrics From Dream, Fantasy and Reality, a London-bound exhibition.
For the SOAS exhibition, the challenges of BOF, Onobrakpeya disclosed, include insuring the works, financing their freighting and getting the artists to London. He however hoped that government, corporate and private individuals would support BOF to maximize the opportunity the exhibition offers.
However, some supports seemed to have emerged from Prince (Engr) Dr Yemisi Adedoyin Shyllon Professorial Chair in Fine Arts and Designs, Uniport, the Chair Occupant Agbaria disclosed.
On the content of the exhibition catalogue, Agbaria assured that the documentation factor, as crucial as it is, is rich enough to justify the huge gathering. The contents, he said are in two parts.
Part One contains Introducing the Exhibition, written by -John Hollingworth, MBE; The Preface, by The Brunei Gallery, London; Message from the Chairman of BOF) by Bruce Onobrakpeya, MFR; African Art at the Workshops, by Sydney Littlefield Kasfir; Artists and the Workshops in Africa-John Picton and Richard Fardon; African Art in the Collection of the Brunei Gallery, John Hollingworth; The Contexts of Dream fantasy and Reality of the Harmattan -John T. AgberiA; and Workshop Series by Charles Gore. Under the Part Two come the images of the art works.
The content-specific definition of the exhibition, which covers a period of 15 years, must have been a challenge in selecting approximately, 220 to 244 works. Agbaria stated that the selection of the works went through three stages to get what truly represent the periods in contents. One of the challenges, he said was gender balance, and at the end of the selection, “we have women almost outnumbering men.”
And according to other information on a website www.agbarhaotorexhibition.co.uk, designed for the event, there will be a conference Dream Fantasy and Realities: Perspectives on Nigerian Art to complement the exhibition. The Sub-themes include Art and Environment, Art and historical reconstruction, Art and Inter-Ethnic Coalition, Language and Communication, The Arts and African Integration, The Arts and the African, development, The Art and African Diaspora, Art and globalization, Art and the Transformation Agenda in Nigeria.
“The conference is expected to run concurrently with the exhibition in the first two days of opening session. Actual days shall be announced later.”
Meanwhile, the 16th edition of the Harmattan Workshop, according to the director, Sam Ovraiti, holds from February 16 – 28, 2014, for the First Session and March 2-14, 2014 for the Second Session, at its traditional home, Agbar Otor, Delta State.
Having been in the periphery of art education - formal and informal - for a greater part of his career, the Harmattan Workshop, indeed, stresses the importance of art skills acquisition Onobrakpeya’s creative memoir. One of his students at St Gregory’s College, Lagos, artist, Mike Omoige recalled that Onobrakpeya’s passion in impacting knowledge is legendary. and for the SOAS exhibition, he noted that “it’s joy and glory of the Niger Delta.”