Oguntona: A deathly blow for creative arts
Written by Tonie Okpe
Saturday, 09 January 2010 04:38
This is to all who are passionately dedicated to the search for new ‘epiphanies’ of beauty, so that through their creative work as artists, they may offer these gifts to the world”. These were the words of His Holiness, Pope John Paul II in his 1999 letter to artists of the world. Professor Toyin Oguntona, after several years of productive studio practice life, coupled with the vocation of a teacher, especially at Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria for over four decades, has now moved on to eternity, but his works abound.
One of his profound statements that keep echoing in one’s mind is, “The life of an artist is mainly directed by packaging after so much work has been created, so you need to package both your works and yourself such that whenever you are called upon to make a presentation or show, you would be ready”. Oguntona lived his life to the fullest, with such pronouncements that guided his work etiquette[s] like a creed, so much so that younger artists and academics admired him not only from afar, but also from visiting his studio whenever he was working.
Aside from several solo exhibitions both at home and abroad that spanned years, Oguntona also participated in several group exhibitions and art workshops producing and showing a diversity of textile works. His academic art training for postgraduate degrees abroad did not deter him from carrying on as a studio artist on return from such sojourns, so while teaching, researching and supervising students, he created time not only to produce works of textile design, but also to author practical guidebooks as a way of further expand the frontiers of knowledge in his subject area.
His sudden death during the early hours of Thursday, December 24, 2009 came as a shock to many, both in Zaria and at his last location in Olabisi Onabanjo University, Ago-Iwoye, Ogun State, and even to members of his family who knew he was fast recovering from a protracted illness. Although he has gone to greater heights, his words will forever remain in the minds of his close associates and his works will also continue to be a source of inspiration for several persons who constantly witnessed his creative moments.
After retiring from Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria’s Department of Industrial Design in 2003, he went further to midwife and recruit staff for the new Department of Fine and Applied Arts at Ago-Iwoye, subsequently leading the programme to its first National Universities Commission accreditation exercise through hard work and dedication to the profession.
His last solo exhibition soon after he left Zaria opened in September 2003 at Nimbus Gallery in Ikoyi, Lagos, during which he showed several new works in mixed media while keeping the tradition of his textile design training and practice. Dr Bruce Onobrakpeya in his forward to the catalogue of that show opined thus: “Of the few individuals who have given enviable leadership in either the education of artists or in the practice of the profession of art in contemporary Nigeria, Toyin Oguntona can easily be one of them…An advocate of professionalism, he has never hidden his disdain for artists who do not practise”.
That show probably provided the inspiration to form the Ibogun Group of Artists with Oguntona himself as “Godfather” and other exponents like Kenny Badaru, Johnson Oladesu and Yetunde Fashoro, among others, culminating in his last group outing christened, Opening Glee, an exhibition of the group at the Gateway Hotel in Ota, Ogun State in December 2004. He wrote the Creative Necessity in the catalogue accompanying that show and explained that, “The motivation for the formation of this group is drawn from the principle of Herbert Read: …Perfection of Art must arise from its practice, from the discipline of tools and materials, of form and function…Art must be practised to be appreciated and must be taught in intimate apprenticeship….”
Born in Lagos in 1940, Professor Toyin Oguntona had part of his elementary education in Lagos and secondary education in Benin City, Edo State. After a brief spell in the civil service of the then Western Region, he proceeded to University of Science and Technology, Kumasi, Ghana for his Bachelor of Arts degree in 1961 and graduated in 1965. He later worked with FIIRO, Oshodi, Lagos from 1965 to 1972 during which he went to Pakistan on a Commonwealth scholarship to study a diploma course in textile technology from 1967 to 1969.
On his return, he joined Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria in 1972. In 1976, through the facility of the Federal Government Scholarship and Ahmadu Bello University Study Fellowship, he enrolled at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, USA for further postgraduate studies from 1977 to 1981 culminating in the award of Master’s and Doctorate degrees in art education.
Toyin, as he was fondly called by his peers, participated in many group and solo exhibitions in Nigeria and abroad. He rose steadily to the position of Professor of textiles in 1990 through hard work and dedicated service. In 1991, he had a solo exhibition and a textile workshop in Zaria under the auspices of the Better Life for Rural Women Programme. In 1997 also, he had a similar workshop under the auspices of Family Support Programme in Abuja.
In April 2004, he relocated to Olabisi Onabanjo University, Ago-Iwoye where he served as Head, Department of Fine and Applied Arts and Dean of the Faculty of Environmental Technology, College of Engineering Technology at the Ibogun Campus until his death in December 2009. He was married with children. Adieu, Toyin.
Okpe is a sculptor and Professor of Contemporary Sculpture at the Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria.
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