By Japhet Alakam
A line in the Nigerian national anthem reads:“the labours of our Heroes past shall never be in vain.”As a manifestation of this prayerful wish, the family of one of the first generation and greatest artists of the Nigerian art, late Prof. Ben Chukwukadibia Enwonwu in honour of the indelible archievements left by the accomplished artist of pioneer contemporary art in Nigeria, established the Omenka Gallery as a place of research, exhibition and production of knowledge.
The gallery situated at 24 Ikoyi Crescent, Ikoyi,Lagos has been in the vanguard of promoting and projecting Nigerian art throughout the globe.
Penultimate week, Vanguard Art was at the famous gallery where the director and first son of the late artist, Oliver Enwonwu, who is also an artist explained some issues about the gallery.
According to him, Omenka gallery started in 2003 by the Ben Enwonwu Foundation as part of efforts to keep the legacies of the late Prof. Ben Enweonwu, one of the greatest artist in Africa, so as to preserve and build on his life and works for the development of modern and contemporary art practice in Nigeria.
The gallery does that through exhibitions, debates, workshops and seminars and the area used for the promotion and exhibition is the Omenka gallery. The gallery since inception has contributed to a quality inter cultural dialogues that stimulates future exchanges between cultural institutions and individuals from Nigeria and other parts of the world.
Omenka as a name was used because that was the name late Ben wanted to use. “In fact he wanted to establish a gallery when he was alive but could not do that because he died. So, I felt it was wise for me to use that name for the gallery because it was one of the things he wanted to do and that was how the name came about.” He said.
According to Oliver Enwonwu, who is the chairman of Society of Nigerian Artist, Lagos chapter, the gallery promotes the works of emerging and established Nigerian artists through solo exhibitions, group shows, large themed exhibitions and workshops. It also examines in an experimental and research-minded way, modern and contemporary art developments and discourses in Nigeria.
“So far so good, we have had a couple of exhibitions that have been very successful. Today, we are one of the leading galleries in Lagos and indeed, Nigeria.
We also have international participation in major art related events, last year we were at the 3rd Joburg Art Fair, this year we are going to participate in the 4th Joburg art fair which is one of the biggest art related event for contemporary art all over the world. So, Omenka Gallery will be there to promote Nigerian art and artists even internationally.”
Continuing, he stated that “next year, the gallery will also participate in Art expo New York. earlier this year, the gallery curated a show between Nigeria and Italy at the Civic Center, Victoria Island, tagged Cross Currents- Nigeria and Italy, where about ten leading contemporary artists from Nigeria and leading contemporary artists from Italy exhibited side by side, thereby promoting cultural ties.
It was a successful exhibition as we were able to promote the cultural diversities of the two countries.” “And through that we were able to prove that Art is not just for a mere decorative purposes.” he added.
The gallery houses one of the largest collection of Ben Enwonwu works and works of other artists. It also organises tours for school children as a way of promoting art even at the tender age.
For example the BEF Young Artist of the Year, which is in the second year running, through that the gallery promotes art and creativity in children between the ages of 10 – 15 in secondary schools in Lagos.