|Chief Frank Chukwuma Okonta|
I visited Chief Frank Chukwuma Okonta in his country home in Ibusa, Delta State a few years ago with Kunle Adeyemi, during one of the editions of the Harmattan workshop. I was immediately struck by the serenity of his home where he demonstrated his love for nature through his garden and palatial space, he also had quite a collection of art which he fondly displayed hanging on many walls of his home. Chief Okonta came across as an endearing gentleman with a lot of warmth in his heart. He spoke flawless Hausa, had gone to school in the north and now lived in Lagos.
Okonta was a seasoned administrator given his background as a past director in the Ministry of Information, Secretary General of the Nigerian Olympic Committee, chairman Nigerian Boxing Committee and President of Nigerian Cycling Association. He clearly was a gentleman that understood the inner workings of the Nigerian government, based on his varied and accumulated experience in government service.
Over time he also collected art wherever he travelled to, all over Nigeria and very widely abroad. This collection crystallized in his founding the Nkem gallery, where his collection could be viewed. He also became like Gbadamosi and Olagbaju, a great admirer of Nigerian art, and often could be seen encouraging budding and mature artists by attending and visiting exhibitions and shows very frequently. Okonta visited my show Onobrakpeya and the Harmattan Experiment, at Kadjinol station during Dakar 2012 Biennale in Senegal.
But by far his greatest and most significant achievement will be helping to found and later becoming the pioneer President of the Art galleries Association on Nigeria (AGAN). AGAN was the umbrella organization for gallery owners all over the country. AGAN also has to its credit staging the historic art Expo which brought together in an Art fair setting many galleries in Nigeria and West Africa to Lagos.
His legacy will have to be helping to raise awareness of the generality of people about the greatness of Nigerian art, through first his acquisition of a personal collection of art, then owning and operating the Nkem gallery in Lagos, and later organizing the epoch making Art Expo, which was a historic and cultural landmark event, Art Expo brought several galleries together to celebrate Nigerian art and once again reestablish Lagos as a notable art epicenter in West Africa.
Frank Okonta loved great traditional and modern music, and in fact was also an avid fan of Fela, he also loved fine dinning and great gourmet, and civil community and society, but above all he was a connoisseur of Nigerian modern art, who had passion to showcase the magic of Nigerian art.
He will be greatly missed by the creative industry where he laboured greatly to show our, elegance and nobility as a people through the fine arts.
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