By Chris Onuoha
Renowned print-maker and painter, Bruce Onobrakpeya and lawyer and playwright, Fred Agbeyegbe added more honours to their caps as they were recognised by Center for Values in Leadership (CVL), an outfit known for leadership development, as Leaders Without Care for Title, in recognition of their landmark achievements in their various fields.
In its 25th edition of the Leaders Without Title (LWT) series that honors outstanding sector leaders of 70 years of age and above, a colloquium was held at CVL’s auditorium to celebrate these two remarkable art icons with a theme “Art as Bandage” with focus on the impact of art on the society.
Bruce Onobrakpeya (83), a renowned printmaker, painter and sculptor and Fred Agbeyegbe (80), lawyer and playwright stand out among the ranks of living legends, whose talents and efforts in this sector not only posted a great imitation of life, but have given meaning to life through their emulative contribution to Art, which has spoken the truth to power and often restrained by impunity and with Drama which also shed light on real life. The duo synonymously fit in, as a bandage for the wounds the society incurred in the quest for nation building. This is portrayed in the need for so much healing for a nation enmeshed with corruption, impunity and injustice in the exercise of authority, terror attacks and shedding of innocent bloods.
The panelists were Prof. Pat Utomi, founder and Chief Executive of CVL as the moderator, alongside Engr. Prince Yemisi Shyllon, Jess Castellos, Kolade Oshinowo, Chief Nike Okundaye, Bolanle Austen-Peters and Melinda Akinlami while the audience includes some captains of industry, art lovers and young dynamic minds.
Prof. Pat Utomi in his introductory speech said, “Nothing ever captures the need of people than their works of art. They remind you of the spirits.” He went further to eulogize the achievements of the duo, threw the teaser on “How do we define ourselves drawing attention from these creative geniuses from years back” and how art has served as a healing industry.
Describing art as a major contributor to any nation’s economy, the famous art critic and author of many African art books, Jess Castellos, took the first shot saying that art stands for enjoyment and more importantly the central element for the societal development. However, he emphasized that education and capacity building is also important to harness the potentials in art sector.
Prince Yemisi Shyllon, the great art collector and founder of Omooba Yemisi Adedoyin Shyllon Art Foundation (OYASAF) in his terms described Art as a means of documenting the present for the future, which to him relates the present and the past. “It is a heritage, tradition, culture, language and the way ancestors lived. It provides means of investment for those who want to see it as an investment, while it also involves the business of collection of Nigeria art and history and intellectual relationship among art critics”
On the economic significance of art, Shyllon said, “The enormous cultural festivals in Nigeria are dying and needs to be addressed. With photographic documentation of some cultural festivals in Nigeria which I am doing now, I observed that the extinction is imminent if not well revamped. People troop to Brazil every year to see Rio carnival. We have the same carnival here which can be developed into massive money spinner.
Talking about commercialization, the busiest country in the world is France that accommodates about 85 million people every year as visitors. And Nigeria, with great potentials can develop institutions around natural heritage sites to showcase art works with visitors coming in to spend money….”
Kolade Oshinowo who defined art as life when given its value, said “We have a problem which is over dependency on oil. Like Senegal’s Art Festival, “Dakar biennale”, Nigeria can do much more with such huge convergence of art enthusiast coming from the entire world to spend money for the love of art. We are doing a great deal of injustice to our generation but for people like Bruce and Fred who will leave something behind, a purposeful gallery will retain such history for posterity.”
For, Bolanle Austen-Peters, who support all forms of art, she believes in the power of history. She harped on documented works of art and literature that describes indigenous culture and way of the people which must not be allowed to go extinct.
“As a people, you must know where you are coming from and decide where you are going in the future. It is actually important that people are grounded in their root and know who they are. All over the world, it is creative people that drive development. If we can’t create, we can’t move forward as a people.”
She however, laments on the myopic perception of some organisations and prominent Nigerians who do not show interest investing in arts because they want a quick return for their investment.
Other speakers, Nike Okundaye of Nike Arts Gallery and Melisa Akinlami spoke with strong voice on the importance of art and its appreciation. For Melisa, she said she has seen art heal hearts in the course of her job as a journalist, drawing a point from the internally displaced people (IDPs) scenario. To her, creative works that touch the heart goes a long way to alleviate emotional and psychological effects of ugly experience.
The colloquium came to an end with an auction of two paintings of Bruce Onabrakpeya titled, “The Leopard in the cornfield and Scavenger in the forest”.
Other activities that marked the day were a cultural dance performance by a dance troupe that ushers in guest to an exhibition of paintings by Bruce Onabrakpeya with an expose of his works and tributes to the duo. Guest artist ‘Ebele the Flutist’ also entertained the audience with a soulful rendition from one of her songs blended with the wind instrument, followed by presentation of plaques and cutting of birthday cakes by the two honorees with vote of thanks.