Chief Josephine Oboh-MacLeod lives and breathes art and culture. She’s a painter, sculpts, photographer, philanthropist, advocate for the environment and the less-privileged, and a human rights activist. From collecting artworks at the age of 15 years 40 years ago, she is now an authority whose artworks grace galleries across the globe and exhibitions attract avid collectors. “Sunset”, “Stepping into Universality”, “African Queen”, “The Warrior” and “Esan Perspective” are some of her many works.
Chief Oboh-MacLeod, married with six children, is from a family of 12— seven females and five males— including Nigerian politician Mabel Oboh; former British Commonwealth Light Heavyweight champion Peter Oboh, and Ajegunle musician John Oboh, aka Mighty Mouse. She studied at Government College, Ojo, Lagos; Newman Prep School, Boston, USA; graduated from Newbury College, Boston, USA, with a degree in hospitality management and did her Masters in Business Administration at University of Surrey, Guildford, UK.
She studied Art at London Art College, UK; Interior/Garden Design at KLC School of Design, Chelsea Harbour, UK; and Photography at Calumet Photography and Jessop Academy, UK; also Epson Master Printing Course, UK. She has participated in various art and design apprenticeship programmes.
Oboh-MacLeod, the Adonor of Emu Kingdom, Atayese of Ikateland, Elegushi, was awarded Cum Laude at Newbury College; honours in painting from London Art College; is first female member of Universal Studios of Art, Nigeria; member, Society of Nigerian Artists and Female Artists Association of Nigeria; first black member of Milngavie and Bearden Art Club, Glasgow, Scotland; member of Scottish Women in Business; only black African woman that owns an art and culture centre in Scotland. She has been the executive producer of musicians and performers such as Afro-Celtic cross cultural music with Piper Norman Macleod, AJ musicians such as Mighty Mouse, Chief Nike Okundaye and Femi Lasode former PMAN President and several reputed musicians and performers.
She is first to stage an Afro-Celtic cultural show in Nigeria at The Shrine with Femi and Yeni, Lagbaja, Jazz 38, Jazz hole, Ojezs, British Council, Ikoyi Club, APAPA Boat Club, Nike Art Centre, Lagos Motor Boat Club, French Cultural Centre, MUSON Centre, Kakofoni Art & Culture Centre, French Cultural Centre, Alliance Francis, Emu & Ugboha Kingdom palaces and community centre, Lambs Hill Stables, Glasgow, Hidden Lane Gallery, United Kingdom. In this interview with Agbonkhese Oboh, she speaks of her passions, tough beginnings, politics, goals and growth.
Is your sculpture, “The Maiden”, displayed at Nike Art Gallery, your best work or the auctioned painting by Nelson Mandela Foundations called “African Queen”?
I have a strong affiliation with all my artworks. In terms of sculpture, “The Maiden” in Nike Art Foundation and Museum’s collection is one of my favourites.
In terms of paintings, “African Queen” auctioned at Nelson Mandela Foundation, Scotland, in aid of a sculpture of Nelson Mandela on Nelson Mandela Street in Glasgow, is my favourite.
“African Queen” is all-encompassing in praise of the strength and care of Mother Africa; an appeal to her from me to take Africa to the next level of wealth, prosperity and greatness. Moreover, I am happy that Africa Queen found a very good home and contributed to a very good cause— Nelson Madela’s remembrance.
In addition, I am also very proud of the Old Lagos series of photographs that I was commissioned to install in places like Southern Sun Hotels, Ikoyi, and at other notable homes and businesses throughout the country.
Do you just deal in your artworks?
No. Apart from my own paintings, I am also involved in the business part of arts such as interior decorations, landscape and commissioning artists and supply of artworks, sometimes involving over 50 artists and over 100 artworks at a time.
My Kakofoni Art and Culture Centre, Elesan, Lekki, was one of such projects. I sourced over 100 artworks each for Addax Petroleum, Afren Energy, Molit Hotels, Victoria Island and SINOPEC, to name a few, and some private collectors.
These projects allow me to combine my business acumen, creativity and organisational, motivational, marketing, entrepreneurial, artistic and other skills. I am extremely happy when I deliver.
You are recognised as one of the biggest female contemporary African art collector in Africa, Scotland and the United Kingdom. How has the journey been so far?
It has been a steady progress to reach this point in my lifetime. I have had times when investing in art had created serious challenges to my cash flow.
Your collections include hundreds of established African and international artworks along with yours. What’s your future aspiration?
It is to continue to create more positive awareness locally and internationally to show the beauty of African art and showcase some in local and international museums and galleries.
You are recognised as the only black female activist member of the Scottish Conservative and Unionist party in East Dunbartonshire, Scotland?
To my knowledge I am currently the only active Scottish Conservative and Unionist Party member of black African descent.
The Scottish Conservatives are making effort to increase ethnic minorities’ representation within and outside politics.
Your artworks are currently been displayed in several galleries and community hubs in the world. Can you mention just a few of where we can find them?
You can find my artwork at Nike Art Centre, Lekki; Johfrim Art and Design/ JOM Charity Art and Culture Centre, Glasgow, UK; The African Art Centre, UK; Kakofoni Art and Culture Centre Gavin’s Mill Community Hub, Scotland, UK, among other places.
Chief Josephine Oboh-Macleod, can you tell us about the painting that brought you to the limelight?
It is “In the Field”. It is a beautiful landscape picture that was part of my exhibition at the Co Art Exhibition with master artist, Professor Bruce Onobrakpeya.
My painting encouraged the viewer to appreciate nature. It also subtly raised the issue of the environment, and our carbon footprint and climate change due to environmental abuse, deforestation issues that are now hitting forests and tropical areas of states such as Esan, Edo.
It is mostly due to ignorance of the importance of the forests, illegal and indiscriminate burning of the forests and illegal felling of trees that includes our medical trees and medicinal herbs that grow under most of these trees.
I got positive reviews from Chuka Nnabuife, now Sir Chuka Nnabuife. His article cemented my lifetime friendship with multi-talented Jahman Anikolapo, Ben Tomoloju and other journalists.
Position Magazine’s Mr. Dapo Adeniyi, Betty Irabor’s Genevieve Magazine, Vanguard and others also gave me reviews. The painting was bought by a top business entrepreneur who I later found has excellent taste for pristine environment.
You were the first to stage an Afro-Celtic cultural show in Nigeria. Are you still into it?
I started staging Afo-Celtic shows since the 1990’s in Nigeria and also in the United Kingdom most recently.
I am planning a major Afro-Celtic show in our Afro-Celtic Textiles Exhibition sponsored by The National Lottery Community Funds, Scotland, UK, in September 2021. It will involve visual and performing arts.
It will be a very creative, exciting and enjoyable exhibition; positively promoting and laundering Africa’s image, especially Nigeria that suffers from mainly negative publicity internationally.
You happen to be the first female to join male elders (Edion) in Emu Kingdom, Edo State, and also the only female patron of Department Arts and Creative Design, Ambrose Alli University, Edo State.
I was very honoured when I was made an Odion (Elder) by the male Edion headed by Odion Egbe (Oldest Person in the Clan) in Akhiomhen, Emu Kingdom.
Even kings have to attain the right age to join them. It’s a very strict system that pays a lot of respect to the aged, something now very much and sadly missing in the western countries, where some elders are not included in active community affairs.
I am also very proud to be made a patron of Ambrose Alli University, Ekpoma. My parents, Chief Major Etafo Oboh and Chief Comfort Eimiebaluye Oboh, contributed greatly and supported Professor Ambrose Alli in establishing the university.
I believe the children are our future so one of the main objectives of my charities, JOM Charity (SCIO) based in the UK and Kakofoni Foundation, Nigeria, is to promote children’s holistic education and promote youth empowerment.
As the only surviving government-recognised traditional female chief in Emu Kingdom and most of Esan land and a chief in Lagos State, I feel honoured and I will humbly state that I am here to serve the people. I am the people’s humble servant— to whom much is given much is expected.