Thursday, December 24, 2009

2009 Activities in Summary of Bruce Onobrakpeya Foundation

The Bruce Onobrakpeya Foundation

The Bruce Onobrakpeya Foundation (BOF) is an artist led non-governmental organization formed in 1999. BOF's mission is to engender the growth of art and culture through the provision of opportunities for artists to improve themselves through skills acquisition and empowerment, also it seeks to promote and develop public interest in the visual arts by creating awareness for the intrinsic values of African art and its benefits to society. The Bruce Onobrakpeya Foundation has been an enduring player in the visual arts scene since its inception in Nigeria. It has organized the Amos Tutuola Show, Lagos (2000), the Annual Harmattan Workshop since 1998, and participated at the Commonwealth Heads of State and Government Meeting (CHOGM) Exhibition, Abuja (2003), Art & Democracy Exhibition, Asaba, Delta State (2004), and the Harvest of the Harmattan Retreat Exhibition organized in collaboration with the Pan African University, Lagos (2004) amongst other programmes. In 2009 BOF collaborated with the Art galleries Association of Nigeria, in the 2009 Art Expo, and the National Gallery of Art organized ARESUVA

Workshop Activities


This year BOF in the month of Feb and March 2009 successfully held the 11th Annual Retreat of Arts called the Harmattan Workshop Series. This remarkable feat should be seen in the context of the fact that The Harmattan Workshop has become the longest running and most consistent annual workshop of its kind in anywhere in Africa. Consistent in the sense that it has taken place on a yearly basis since 1998 except in 2001 at Venue: the Niger Delta Cultural Centre located in Agbarha-Otor, Delta State. The retreat each year welcomes visual artists from all over the world. This year visitors and participants to this artistic retreat hit an all time high of about 1000 from all around the world.
Also for the first time in the summer month of August, between 17th – 31st August, 2009, accommodation and studio space was provided for the 2 weeks where artists could work independently or with other artists without any distraction. This summer pilot test was well received and will become an annual residency for independent artists in the summer months.

Harmattan Gallery

Activities recorded an increase at the Harmattan Workshop gallery situated in Victoria Island, More than in the previous years the gallery registered more activities as art exhibitors, collectors, art collectors, art critics and enthusiasts registered their presence there. The gallery has also made it’s mark as an important centre for viewing art, and as a platform for artistic dialog and discuss. The following exhibitions were recorded during the period.

Spirit of New Oshogbo Art: Artist Rahmon Olugunna : 9th to the 19th of July, 2009.

Exhibition by folklorist painter Rahmon Olugunna, a second generation artist of the famous Oshogbo School of Art.

Rahmon Olugunna, showed 32 vibrant works of oil on canvas in sizes as large as 42 inches x 36 inches. Despite his long apprenticeship to the painter Rufus Ogundele for several years, his recent works indicate an important and innovative departure from the Oshogbo extraordinary Experimental Workshop art style, championed by Ulli Biere in the 60’s, that has produced frontline painters like Adebisi Fabunmi, Muriano Oyelami and Twins Seven Seven amongst others.
The exhibition was opened by Prince Yemisi Shyllon, an avid collector of modern and intriguing art from Nigeria. This exhibition ran for 10 days at the Harmattan


Nurudeen Odebiyi, is a member of the famous Yaba School of Art and also an alumnus of the Harmartan Workshop retreat. He showed 34 works in various sizes, that mirror some facets of the Nigerian and 21st century West African Society. All of the works were created between 2007 to date and done on oil on canvas and acrylic media.

Nurudeen is a product of several artistic influences, the most recent being the Harmattan Workshop Experience, where he attended the artist retreat and Workshop in Delta state in 2004. This experience according to him “gave me tremendous confidence to keep working as an artist, and also expanded my facility to work in several media, and draw ideas not only from urban Nigeria, but also from the countryside.” His works also showed a distinct admiration for the painting styles of Yusuf Grillo and Ablade Glover, 2 important artistic personalities in West Africa, influences which no doubt may have seeped into his works since his painting days at the famous Yaba Art school.
Last year, he was one of the guest artists featured by the Harmattan Gallery at the 2008 Art Expo which was held at the Lagos museum.

The exhibition was opened by Barrister Taslim Animashuan, a collector of Nigerian art, who lives in Nigeria, and has known Odebiyi since his days at the Yaba Art School.

Immigraliens : By Godfrey Okorodus: 10th October – 21st October.
An exhibition of paintings and sculpture : This solo exhibition featured works by Okorodus who is a Nigerian artist based in Belguim.
His exhibition titled , Immigraliens, is coined from the word, “Immigrants” and “Aliens”, two words that accentuate the chasm between two worlds. For some reasons, according to him people move around for the purpose of work, for studies, and more specialized forms of knowledge or political asylum across borders. But for some reasons, a lot of them lack the legal means to embark on such journey and therefore devise other means, including illegal means to ensure they embark on the desperate search for greener pastures. Most often, they are regarded as illegal immigrants in the countries they move to and are usually discriminated against. So they keep moving on and on without definite destinations.
Over the years, living in Europe as an African artist, Godfrey Williams Okorodus has seen first hand the problems that immigrants encounter.
“People come to Europe for different reasons and sometimes when they get there, their aspirations are not met and so they are left in the hand of the authorities who torture them.”
Okorodus who has lived in Europe for about seven years, attempts that with his paintings and sculptured Immigraliens series, he would be able to sensitize the public both in Europe and Nigeria on the need to treat immigrants with a little bit of respect.

This exhibition later traveled to ARESUVA in Abuja, where it was seen by an International audience in the month of Dec. 2009.

Book Launch and Film Production

New Book : Jewels of Nomadic Images
First published: 01/June/2009

439 b/w and colour illustrations196 pages
ISBN: 978-2509-57-4
Binding: Soft Cover
Publisher: Ovuomaroro Studio Press
Subject: African Studies

The book Jewels of Nomadic Images narrates a compelling story, mostly through its richly illustrated pictures, of the immensely fertile artistic landscape of Africa, as seen through the eyes of award winning artist Bruce Onobrakpeya. He seems to be affirming too, that Africa has emerged from its colonial past, and is once again asserting its own identity.


Agbarha-Otor, Delta State, Nigeria 2009
Executive Producer: Bruce Onobrakpeya
Time: 22minutes
Date August 2009

This is a documentary film on the Annual Harmattan Workshop Retreat, now in it's 12th edition, takes place at the Niger Delta Centre Agbarha-Otor, Delta State, Nigeria. It captures various activities connected to the workshop, which has been described as one of the longest running workshop experiences in Africa.
The Harmattan Workshop is a forum where artists have been meeting since 1998 to learn skills, experiment, and exchange ideas for growth, particularly in the visual arts. This was initiated by Dr. Bruce Onobrakpeya in Nigeria. The inspiration for its creation came from workshops he attended at Ibadan, Oshogbo and Ile-Ife directed by Ulli Beier in the 60s and early 70s, and the Haystack Mountain School of Arts and Crafts, Deer Isle, Maine, USA in 1975, under the directorship of Frank Merrit.

Over the years the Harmattan Workshop has grown to involve local and international participants, creating a network for artistic and cultural development. The documentary shows interviews with Prof. Perkins Foss, Bruce Onobrakpeya and several participants of the workshop Experience, and shows clipses of very rarely seen panoramic shots and views of the studio, workspace and workshop areas inside the Niger Delta, which was designed by noted architect Demas Nwoko, an old friend of Bruce Onobrakpeya.


BOF COLABORATED AND PARTNERED WITH SEVERAL ORGANIZATIONS, BOF collaborated with SNA, VASON, Bonhams Auction House, National Art Gallery of Art and Art House to mention but a few.

International Art Expo Nigeria 2009: Aug 22-30, 2009

The Bruce Onobrakpeya Foundation, Art Galleries Association of Nigeria (AGAN) in conjunction with The National Gallery of Art, (NGA) Abuja, staged from Aug 22-30, 2009 the International Art Expo Nigeria, which was the second art fair of its kind in Nigeria. This fair took place at the National Museum Onikan, Lagos. The fair is conceptualized to be an annual event for the Visual Arts sector, and a tool for promoting Nigerian visual art market to the international market.
This year the Harmattan Gallery celebrated it’s founder Bruce onobrakpeya’s 50 year of active studio practice, by featuring the works of 2 International Nigerian artist, namely Olusegun Fayemi, an experimental photographer based in New York, and Godfrey Okorodus from Belguim. About 40 galleries across Nigeria showed artworks, with over 100 artists cutting across several generations of artists featuring works of art through the galleries. Also in participation was the West African country, Republic of Benin.

The year ended with the 2009 presentation of the Prince Claus Fund award to the Nigerian/Ghanaian artist El Anatsui at the Dutch Embassy in Victoria Island on the 18th of Dec 2009. The award was accompanied by a modest purse of 25,000 euros, a befitting tribute to an artist whose works, while in Nigeria in the last 35 years has influenced a lot of younger artists. The event was attended by several dignitaries including the chairman of BOF, Prof. Bruce Onobrakpeya who celebrated this year 2009, 50years of artistic practice in Nigeria. In the words of the chairman of BOF, “El Anatsui’s work has not only impacted on several upcoming artists, but his work continues to impact on, even his peers. It is this kind of relevance and creativity that institutionally the Harmattan workshop Series strives to rekindle and replicate in the contemporary art of Africa.”

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Seasons' Greetings

Wishes You a Beautiful Christmas


New Year full of Joy & Prosperity!

Thank you for your patronage throughout the year.

Warmest Greetings

Harmattan Workshop Gallery

10 Elsie Femi Pearse street,
Victoria island Lagos, Nigeria



Sunday, December 20, 2009

Call for National Endowment for the Arts

Abati's views exactly coincide with my thoughts on the weakness of our government in not having a special fund set aside for the Arts and Humanities. Without a fund of this nature, one of the logical consequences is that, as a nation we cannot expect long term sustenanace of truly prodigious talent in the arts.

Happy reading

Guardian Newspapers

Friday, December 11, 2009

Lessons from the Kennedy Centre
By Reuben Abati

THIS week in Washington DC, United States, politics extended a warm handshake to culture in typical American tradition, as President Barack Obama at the 2009 Kennedy Centre Awards honoured five icons of the American cultural establishment: Grace Bumbry, the opera singer, Dave Brubeck, the jazz musician, Mel Brooks, the writer and director, Bruce Springsteen, the rock star and actor, Robert de Niro. The Kennedy Centre Awards is one of the major recognitions of the contribution of cultural figures to the definition and promotion of American culture and spirit.

To an ordinary American, the Kennedy Centre event may seem routine, for at every turn, the American political establishment acknowledges the value of culture and its capacity to humanise, even more importantly, its embodiment of the essential American spirit. So it is that prominent American actors and actresses are sent to the war-front to inspire the boys and cultural figures see themselves as national ambassadors. Brubeck and Springsteen were cultural ambassadors for the US during the Cold War years. They used their music to sell America.

It was both fear and respect for arts and culture that resulted in the McCarthy inquisition of the fifties when artists who showed any kind of Communist leaning were labelled enemies of the United States. Without any doubt, America has had its own difficult moments and there are probably many Americans who distrust the Political Establishment's seeming romance with the Cultural Establishment. But the understated truth is that, either overtly or covertly, writers, actors, journalists, sportsmen, film directors, scholars, indeed anyone involved in the art of cultural expression are co-opted into the American Project.

It is not necessarily America's nuclear warheads that define it, but Coca-Cola, CNN, its architecture, its musical geniuses, poets and so on. No Presidential inauguration for example is complete without poetry and music. Because America does not joke with its cultural producers, it is able to capture the world through their genius. On Sunday, December 6, it was not just five performing arts icons that were honoured in Washington, DC, it was the entire American cultural establishment. The honorees were treated to dinners, to performances and to Presidential attention and tributes. An American President who listened to Brubeck's music as a young man, another President who had read Robert Frost or Toni Morrison, or Arthur Miller, Tennessee Williams or F. Scott Fitzgerald is likely to have a sense of nation and a bigger sense of humanity and of the American Age. "We worked really hard for our music to be part of American life and our fans' lives... So it's acknowledgement that you've kind of threaded your way into the culture in a certain way. It's satisfying", Bruce Springsteen, 2009 Kennedy Centre honoree said.

The first stanza of this statement may be borrowed and put in the mouths of any major Nigerian artist or cultural worker. The difference is in the second stanza: the absence of acknowledgement, the kind of acknowledgement that America showers upon its cultural icons. Nigeria may be a problematic country (no regular electricity supply, corruption walking on high stilts, ethnic dissension, sectarian crises, doubts about the country itself), but it is way ahead and ranks with some of the most privileged countries in the world in the area of human talent. Cultural producers advertise the infinite capacity of human imagination and the creativity of individual talent.

Nigeria has more than a fair share. This after all is the country of Orlando Martins, the Nigerian who acted in British movies more than 60 years ago. It is the country of Wole Soyinka, Chinua Achebe, J.P. Clark, Ben Okri, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Niyi Osundare, Hubert Ogunde... We have men and women could beat the drum so well even spirits would assume human form and dance. We have fine artists who can turn space into living images - this is the country of Ben Enwonwu, Bruce Onobrakpeya, Chris Ofili, Akin Fakeye, Yusuf Grillo, Aina Onabolu, Ladi Kwali... Our rich cultural lives have been transformed into a thousand lyrical images through sheer artistry.

For generations, ordinary Nigerians have had their lives enriched by home-made music of various genres. It is with great excitement that Nigerians, who know, recall the music of Rex Lawson, Osita Osadebe, Oliver de Coque, Sir Warrior, Nico Mbarga, Inyang Henshaw, Bobby Benson, Roy Chicago, Victor Olaiya, Zeal Onyia, Ebenezer Obey, Orlando Owoh, King Sunny Ade, Sonny Oti, Dan Maraya, Shina Peters, Prince Adekunle, Haruna Isola, I.K. Dairo, Ayinla Omowura, Yusuf Olatunji, ... If these were Americans, they would have been honoured many times over and properly iconised for their expansion of the scope of human freedom and creativity. Recent successes in the movie industry in Nigeria, that is Nollywood, have generated much interest appropriately and it is a phenomenon that is worth celebrating.

There has also been similar explosion of talent and genius, albeit of uneven and tentative quality, in the hip hop genre. Nigeria can equally boast of sports men and women, architects, journalists and so on who over the years have helped to define the Nigerian spirit and shape identities. Next year, when Nigeria celebrates its 50 years of independence, a few of those cultural workers will be remembered, their posters will be displayed, but it shall be a hollow recognition put together for effect, not necessarily because there is a proper acknowledgement in official corridors of the value of the arts as great vehicles for national development.

Every serious country treats its artists with respect. As it is in the United States, so it is in Germany, the United Kingdom and even modern-day China and Japan etc. It is not an accident that those societies where cultural workers are oppressed and their art, repressed are often underdeveloped or jinxed. The scope of human freedom in a society can be measured through the quality of environment for cultural expression. The attitude in Nigeria over the decades in official circles, has been to treat cultural workers as beggars or interlopers who must be controlled. Cultural symbols are left to waste, opportunities for constructing the architectonics of our collective heritage are squandered. Nigerians know about Elvis Presley. In the United States, he is revered in god-like fashion. When Michael Jackson died, Nigerians mourned as if a part of their lives had been excised.

At the 2009 Kennedy Awards event, President Barack Obama, following in the footsteps of his predecessors, since 1978 and even longer, acknowledged the supremacy of the cultural side of things: "These performers are indeed the best. They are also living reminders of a single truth - and I am going to steal a line from my wife Michelle here - the arts are not somehow apart from our national life, the arts are the heart of our national life." There are Nigerian performers too that are truly the best in conveying the truth. Excellence is represented by the poetry of Soyinka, J.P. Clark, Christopher Okigbo, Niyi Osundare, Odia Ofeimun, Ogaga Ifowodo, Funso Aiyejina, Tanure Ojaide... Nothing can be more soul-lifting than an encounter with an Onobrakpeya or Enwonwu. Fela is Nigerian. But there is no official monument in his honour. There is no official library where anyone can access the evergreen works of our musical icons.

Bobby Benson used to be the soul of party life in Lagos. His club on Ikorodu road (Caban Bamboo/Hotel Bobby) was the epicentre of culture. In another country, that building would have been preserved and a proper cenotaph erected in Bobby Benson's memory. But it has since been pulled down. It became a watering hole for miscreants and an urban planning nuisance. Soon, it will be replaced by a church or bank - two signs of the times. Fela used to live in a place known as Kalakuta Republic around Mushin. It should have been preserved. But no one has thought of that. All our artistes, dead, dying and living, have been forgotten. When they are remembered by the state, either at public events, or during the annual National Honours Awards, or the equivalents in the states, they are treated as if they are being done a favour. The gesture is more about the politician, or ethnic politics, or profit, not the artist.

Hence, many of the artistes are not even interested in the acknowledgement of their contributions by governments that have failed the people. China Achebe rejected his National Award for example. The Nigerian Establishment can learn a lesson or two from the way America treat its cultural heroes and this, in spite of American contradictions. Our country must move from the Age of Darkness to the Age of Enlightenment and beyond. It is only in the Dark Age, where Nigeria seems trapped, that government would put a noose around the neck of a Ken Saro-Wiwa and snuff life out of him, without proper trial, without fair hearing.

It is a sign of Darkness that in 2009, a government agency called INEC will use public funds to place newspaper advertorials to abuse Nobel Laureate Wole Soyinka for daring to criticize electoral commission and its boss. The D.O Fagunwa family had a memorial event for the writer a few days ago, at the University of Lagos; there was no official acknowledgement. Our ballot box-snatching, vote-rigging politicians, who should know, have never heard of D.O. Fagunwa. So, don't ask them about Amos Tutuola either, or Christopher Okigbo. The spread of cultural illiteracy is worsened by the refusal to teach history in Nigerian schools. In many states, history is not in the curriculum. A country where history is a taboo subject buries its own memory and commits the sin of forgetting.

Nothing prods the memory and our conscience more than culture and the arts. It is why America reads poetry at every Presidential inauguration. It is why the streets of America are littered with stone-marks of historical locations and moments. It is why the Germans preserve the birth places and living quarters of their cultural icons. It is also why the struggle for saving Nigeria must be pursued in addition to other necessary battles at the cultural front. There is a National Museum in Onikan, Lagos. It is more famous as a parking lot; with about N100, you can park your car there while sorting out business in the neighbourhood. On weekends, the grounds are hired out for those endless owambe parties. There is no point attempting a comparison with the equivalents in other parts of the world.

Another sign: recently, Prof. Dora Akunyili, the Information and Communications Minister drew the ire of Nollywood actors and producers when she accused them of portraying Nigeria negatively in their movies, by focusing on voodoo and crime. This is typical Nigerian response to culture and the arts. But the expectation that culture must serve the purpose of propaganda, as dictated by officialdom, is wrong-headed. The starting point for government should be in the shape of more meaningful engagement with the cultural sector.

Nigeria cultural producers need encouragement in the form of policies, initiatives (such as Endowment Funds) and institutions which promote talent and freedom, not restrictive laws which are targeted at the exact opposite. Now and again, we hear stories of Nigeria's "best" living in penury, completely forgotten by the society that they had served so well with their talents. If Dave Brubeck, 89, and Mel Brooks, 83, were Nigerians they would have long been forgotten. The difference is one of culture and social values.