Saturday, 3 May 2014

How Soyinka portraits opened curtains on International Cultural Exchange, exposes documentation values

By Tajudeen Sowole                                                                                                                
The ongoing portraits exhibition of Nobel Laureate, Prof Wole Soyinka at the Cultural Centre, Kuto, Abeokuta, Ogun State, which opens a youth-focused international cultural exchange in arts and culture exudes the value of visual documentation. In fact, it may also inspire future portraiture shows to mark special days in the life of celebrities.

Curator of Wole Soyinka International Cultural Exchange Art Exhibition, Olu Ajayi explaining one of the portraits to the Governor of Ogun State, Senator Ibikunle Amosun and other guests during the opening of the 30 days long event.

  Portraits of Soyinka captured by12 established artists in Lagos, six years ago, under the Living Legends project led by Olu Ajayi, and now on display as Wole Soyinka International Cultural Exchange Art Exhibition inside the Hall of Fame of the Ogun State Cultural Centre radiates a new aura of promoting values, particularly of revered personality like the celebrant. The exhibition opens 80 days activities, leading to the 80th birthday of the renowned and fearless playwright. 

And when the Governor of the State, Senator Ibikunle Amosun warned that in celebrating Soyinka, "we must, for his sake, put in place all that he stands for," the place of creativity in the uplifting of a people was emphasised. Amosun, who declared the events opened noted: "This is why the standard of the works here is high." The long celebration of Soyinka's 80th birthday, the governor explained is well justified. "We cannot over celebrate Soyinka." He added that the celebrant is not jus a pride to Africa, "but to the world." 

With workshops on arts and culture, 80 children and youths from across Nigeria are expected to interact with facilitators across cultures during the 80 days celebration.

As the governor and visitors were taken round the exhibits, the portraits, mounted on easels appeared like a convergence of the diverse styles and techniques of art leanings across 'schools' in Nigeria’s visual arts parlance. Despite not being presented in their original canvases and sculptural formats, the works still radiate masterly touches. Ajayi explained that the logistics of moving some of the works about appeared too risky for their “fragility.” 

Indeed, the status of artists who gathered at the Aina Onabolu Building, National Theatre, Iganmu, Lagos and captured the sitter, Soyinka, could not have produced anything less less. The exhibiting artists are Edosa Ogiugo, Abiodun Olaku, Duke Asidere, Ben Osaghae, Patrick Agose, Wallace Ejoh, Osazuwa Osagie, Segun Adejumo, Olu Ajayi, Sam Ovraiti and Odun Orimolade.

While the Living Legends portrait projects a broader focus in documentation, the WS International Cultural Exchange Art Exhibition has exposed a new potential: sitters already captured in the project could be equally celebrated in the future. 

Shortly before leading the governor and other guests to view the portraits, the founder Living Legends and curator of the exhibition, Ajayi stated that the concept is to promote true virtues of people that have contributed to humanity. Soyinka, he recalled "was the first icon recorded under the Living Legends project in 2008."

And in extending the virtue of creativity to the future, young artists were invited from Moshood Abiola Polytechnic (MAPOLY), the producer of WS International Cultural Exchange, Lillian Amah Aluko explained. “It’s part of the Open Door Series of the WS International Cultural Exchange project.”
  The opening of the exhibition was perhaps a better opportunity for the students of Department of Art and Industrial Design, MAPOLY, to get inspiration. Seated in a single row inside the Hall of Fame, the students were seen drawing Soyinka from several references, mostly of reproduced images. "The students' presence here is one of several ways of exposing them to the world of art," the school’s Head of Department, Olayemi Bello stated.

Head of Department, Olayemi Bello speaking to the visiting students of Department of Art and Industrial Design, Moshood Abiola Polytechnic during the opening of the WS portraits exhibition in Abeokuta, Ogun State.

Executive Producer of WS International Cultural Exchange and CEO of Zmirage, Teju Kareem disclosed that the youths are the focus of the exhibition and several workshops lined up for the 80 days events. The international connection of the sections such as youth advocacy in literature and culture, he added, are mostly coming from the U.S. 

Still on the children and youth-focus of the cultural exchange,  he disclosed that “80 children from across Nigeria has been selected to participate.” Kareem recalled that in the last five years, the project has moved across cities of the world, including Asaba, Osogbo and London. For the 2014 edition, Osun and Lagos State, he said will also host parts of the event.

For Abeokuta, the capital city of Soyinka’s Ogun State home, which is fast becoming a tour destination, particularly for those who seek to escape from the unavoidable ‘madness’ of Lagos, the activities lined up for the WS at 80 brings additional values. The state government hopes to maximise the opportunity of the long celebration to and expected high volume of human traffic to expose the city's tourism potentials. Commissioner for Culture and Tourism, Mrs Yewande Amusan articulated this much when she listed the areas of the city's tourism focus such as the adire (tie and dye) textile design festival as well as mountainous Olumo Rock.

Amusan explained how the adire brand – synonymous with Abeokuta – is being lifted into the world fashion stage. This much, she assured will be further promoted with a “partnership already ongoing with Ade Bakare Couture,” a leading Nigerian designer in the Diaspora. 

Last year, the Soyinka celebration was held in Lagos where 600 students from about 20 schools and 79 essay finalists from across the country participated in an essay competition Do your own thing under the watchful eyes of judges led by Dr. Razinat Mohammed.

Other highlights of the WS80/ICE programme to mark Soyinka’s 80th birthday in July is the plan to stage 80 performances featuring Poetry/Spoken Word artistes from all over Nigeria, parts of Africa, USA and the UK; the Essay Competition that will feature 80 student-finalists drawn from around Nigeria; command presentations of at least two of Soyinka’s plays, including the hardly-staged Dance of the Forest - which is slated to be presented in the Site-specific theatrical format. There is also the London leg of the programmes that will feature play presentations, Advocacy lecture and others.

According to the organizers, the Open Door Series Project WS is an International Cultural Exchange Program designed for the purpose of using the platforms of Literature, Arts and Culture to affirm and uphold the dignity of man. Focusing on the youths as the future of humanity, the ICE seeks to foster unity among mankind regardless of nationality, ethnicity and religion.

The Project is a partnership between the Zmirage Multimedia Company and Global NewHaven led by Prof. Segun Ojewuyi of Southern Illinois University, Carbondale, Illinois, USA, who is co-Executive Producer of the WS/ICE project.                                                         

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