By Japhet ALAKAM
The memories of the life, times, works and achievements of one of Africa’s greatest artists and the man who laid the foundations for contemporary Nigerian art, late Ben Enwonwu came alive last week as artists, diplomats, captains of industry and admirers of the late artist gathered for the 7th Distinguished Ben Enwonwu Foundation lecture held at the Nigerian Institute of International Affairs ,Victoria Island, Lagos.
The well attended event was chaired by veteran artist, Prof. David Aradeon, while Mr Donald Duke, former Governor of Cross River State delivered the lecture .
Speaking on the topic; The Role of Art and Tourism in National Development, Mr Duke charged Nigerian leaders to provide the necessary infrastructures that will enable tourism and arts to develop in the country. Based on the country’s over dependence on oil as a major source of revenue, Duke who transformed Cross River State to a tourism destination state during his tenure stated that “for us to develop the ranks of our society whether in industry or commerce, we must create a situation that will allow tourism and arts to play their role.”
Citing examples from the art and tourism of Tunisia and Dubia, Duke stated that “art is not transient but virtually eternal. It is timeless because it comes from within you and is different from craft because craft can be manipulated. Art should last forever.”
According to him when he visited Tunisia he saw the ruins of Carthage which are still intrinsic and timeless and that according to him,“ shows the civility of the people over 3,000 years ago.” For the former Governor, tourism thrives only in a civilised environment where the basic things of life such as good education, good health care services, law and order are present.” He therefore, charged Nigerian leaders to create such enabling environment so that tourism and arts can develop as is the case in other parts of the world.
Mr Duke who spoke from his own experiences further stated that Tourism was borne out of necessity for Cross River State. According to him when the oil politics did not favour the state , the state decided to create a type of environment that will make the monies from the neighboring states to find their way to Cross River. And in the process of doing that, the State was able to make tourism the bedrock of the economic and cultural developmental scheme of the state and the scheme gave birth to the Obudu cattle ranch that host the great carnivals and TINAPA, African’s premier business resort.
On the late Ben Enwonwu, Duke commended the Foundation for its work and expressed his joy that his works were not commecialised or sold out because “they will reflect in the future.”
On his part the Mr. .Odimayo who represented the Chairperson of the Ben Enwonwu Foundation, stated that the BEFannual lecture has not only become a forum for healthy debate on major issues, but also a major gathering for Nigerian intellectuals. According to him, “the choice of the topic of the lecture was to diffuse the notion that art can only be valued as an aesthetic but can also be valued as a good source of revenue.”
Chairman of the occasion, Prof David Aradeon described the gathering as a forum to celebrate the times and life of Ben Enwonwu, his works and contributions . According to him “the series of lectures since its inception in 2004 attest to the continued relevance of Ben Enwonwu and how his thoughts have continued to inspire us.” On the topic, Aradeon said that the nation is full of iconic places and all of artistic dimensions, so the earlier the country utilises the potentials the better for her.
The occasion also featured the presentation of awards to the winners of the Ben Enwonwu Foundation Young Artist of the Year art (BEFYART) competition, which was launched by Chief Arthur Mbanefo 6 years ago.
The winners were presented with cash prizes. Adetola Victor of Army Cantonment Secondary School, Ikeja received the sum of Fifty Thousand naira for the third prize, the second prize of Seventy Five Thousand naira went to Bankole Olabode of Angust Memorial High School, Somolu while the first prize winner Animasaun Sesan of Birrel Avenue Senior High School Yaba received cash prize of One Hundred Thousand naira.