For Olagbaju, art collecting passion stops
Art appreciation and patronage in Africa suffered a great loss when one of the continent’s leading collectors, Mr. Sammy Olagbaju, 75, died during the last week of September 2016. Though based in Lagos, Olagbaju’s texture of art collection transcended his base; he collected art from countries across Africa.
For more than two decades, Olagbaju was among three of the regular art collectors whose presence at art exhibitions in Nigeria were synonymous with the number of red tags on the walls of galleries. The other two collectors, Chief Rasheed Gbadamosi and Omooba Yemisi Shyllon, in enriching art appreciation space of the country, founded Visual Arts Society of Nigeria (VASON). Olagbaju died as the chairman of the group.
Beyond collecting art, Olagbaju also extended his love for art appreciation to the terrain of documentation. In 2012, he sponsored the publication of a book titled, Contemporary Nigerian Art in Lagos Private Collections. A 302-page hardcover, the book documents works of over 90 artists in the collections of over 35 patrons, and was edited by a Lagos-based Spanish architect and art critic, Jess Castellote and published by Bookcraft.
Sectionalised in periods, the book has in the pre-independence era 21 artists such as late Ben Osawe, Yusuf Grillo, Muraina Oyelami, Kolade Oshinowo, Raqib Bashorun and Felix Osiemi, among 21 others. And among 33 artists under independence generation are Mike Omoighe, Biodun Olaku, Chinwe Uwatse, Rom Isichei, Duke Asidere, Toyin Alade, Edosa Ogiugo and Bunmi Babatunde.
When the book was presented at the Metropolitan Club, Victoria Island, Lagos, Olagbaju said documentation of Nigerian art as contained in the book “is my contribution to art,” arguing, “until more books like this are published, many artists would not know where their works are.”
Olagbaju sponsored quite a number of art exhibitions, particularly those featuring works of young artists. There is no doubt that the Nigerian community of art professionals would miss Olagbaju’s humility, which he displayed widely in art appreciation.
Shortly after the news of his death pierced through the art landscape of Nigeria, president of Society of Nigerian Artists (SNA), Oliver: Enwonwu said: “it is indeed painful to hear about the passing of Mr Sammy Olagbaju, a collector, patron and lover of the visual arts, as well as friend of the Nigerian artist.”
Olagbaju was a strong member of The Ben Enwonwu Foundation and helped sustain the Foundation’s annual lecture for very long time. “The art community and Nigeria as a whole has lost a very fine and humane gentleman and pillar of support. We are strengthened by his words of advice and the works he left in promoting our visual heritage,” Enwonwu, son of the late Nigerian modernist stated. “The Society of Nigerian Artists commiserates with his family and those he left behind in this difficult time. Adieu Uncle Sammy, Rest in Peace.”
A former president of SNA and one of the artists whose works dominate Olagbaju’s walls, Mr. Kolade Oshinowo, noted, “Uncle Sam as a rare breed,” adding that he was “a great art patron and a fine gentleman who managed to harmonise his net worth and self-worth.”
Among the attributes of Olagbaju, according to Oshinowo, was being “a very humble man who took enormous interest in other people’s joy, satisfaction and progress, and deeply interested and committed in elevating the visual arts in Nigeria. He will be greatly missed.”
Curator at Quintessence Gallery, Ikoyi, Lagos, Mr. Moses Ohiomokhare, described Olagbaju as “a very intelligent man with a good sense of humour.” He noted, “The art industry has also lost a great collector, art critic and supporter of emerging artists.” Apart from the art appreciation passion, Olagbaju “also offered help to the less privileged and put a smile on their faces.”
Still on general sphere of life, Olagbaju, according to Ohiomokhare, “was also a good counselor, offering quality advice to couples in distress. He would surely be missed.”
Professional career of Olagbaju included, among others Chief Executive Officer of Nigerian Stockbrokers Ltd; Head of Corporate Finance at NAL Bank, Lagos; Chairman of Marius Limited, Chairman and co-founder of Midas Merchant Bank; and Director of Niger Delta Exploration & Production Plc and Sproxil, Inc.
Hounours for Olagbaju included being a Fellow of the Chartered Institute of Stockbrokers Nigeria, an Honorary Senior Member at the Chartered Institute of Bankers of Nigeria. In 1964, Olagbaju obtained a Masters Degree in Economics and Political Science at Trinity College, University of Dublin, Ireland.