BY JAPHET ALAKAM
It was a moment of joy and honour for the J. D. Okhai Ojeikeres and the Nigerian art community when Ojeikere received the 2011 Chobi Mela VI Lifetime Achievement Awards in a colourful ceremony held in far away Bangladesh. With this award, Pa J. D. Okhai Ojeikere becomes the first Nigerian to receive the prestigious award for his outstanding contributions to photography and the development of the society.
Ojeikere who started his photography in the local village of Ojomo Emai got the award as a result of his works that documented significant moments in Nigerian history with great passion and discernment. He had in the course of his career focussed on the social, political and cultural transformations that occurred during Nigeria’s transition from a colonial state to an independent republic.
In fact it was J. D. Okhai Ojeikere’s archives of Nigerian and African culture that gave an insight into the everyday life and social patterns of the region in the 60s and allows scholars to make comparisons with today’s development. His “Hair Style” project, a record of over 1000 different hairstyles, which started in 1968 is invaluable in the study of cultural and ethnographic differences in Africa.
The ‘Chobi Mela’ is an international festival of photography held in Bangladesh and it includes a scholarship given in the name of each recipient to a deserving student, to study for a year in Pathshala, The South Asian Media Academy.
The key organisers are Drik picture library and Pathshala (The South Asian Institute of Photography). Bangladeshi photographer Shahidul Alam is the director of Chobi Mela. Previous recipients of the Lifetime Achievement Awards have been, Golam Kashem Daddy, Manzoor Alam Beg, Amanul Haque, Shamsul Islam Almazi, Rashid Talukder, Peter Magubane and Ricardo Rangel.
The award which was received on his behalf by Pa Ojeikere’s daughter in law was officially handed over to him at a briefing organised in his honour by the Center for Contemporary Art, in their Yaba home last week. In a chat with media men, Ojeikere stated that “I could not imagine that at this age things will begin to happen for me. I am happy and feel like 25year old man now.” He however thanked Andr Moroyo and Bisi Silva of CCA for their contributions towards the project. Pa Ojeikere who disclosed that he took all the photographs for the love of art and appreciation of nature advised younger photographers to be very focussed and dedicated, adding that they should take things easy because as time goes on they will grow.
Chobi Mela, the festival of photography in Asia is now recognised as a festival with the most diverse participation in the world. While most major festivals are situated in the West or are organised by western organisations, Chobi Mela is unique in the sense of being ‘home grown’ and has now gained its respectability through the variety and quality of the works exhibited.