52 years after, Oyenuga’s suitcase back home
Fify-Two years after, the search for Prince Emmanuel Adewale Oyenuga’s whereabouts by his host in Spain has finally come to an end. In 1967, Prince Oyenuga, a photojournalist, had enrolled as a student at the art school, Escuela Massana, Barcelona, Spain, however, three years later, he and his wife, Elizabeth, decided to leave Barcelona for London. They left behind a suitcase with his friend Louisa Guadayol. Louisa passed on six years ago, in 2016, and her daughter, Ana Briongos, continued the quest to return the suitcase to him or his family.
The suitcase was finally delivered to his family with the support of the Spanish Embassy in Nigeria, Ana Brinogos and the Africa Art Foundation (AAF), in Victoria Island, Lagos at an event, tagged, Unpacking The Suitcase Handover.
Speaking during the event, Consul-General, Spanish Embassy in Nigeria, Daniel Millar, said: “This handover started as a quest that has moral significance. The suitcase was kept for over 50 years, waiting to be given back to the family, restitution, so, this event is symbolic, and the handover ended a journey and begins another journey. The Embassy, AAF, and Prince Oyenuga family will continue to collaborate to show the suitcase’s contents to a wider audience, digitising it. I am delighted to present it today. I’m sure people will be happy to see some of the photographs taken in the 60s.”
Speaking also, Briongos, said: “The suitcase was locked and given to my mother to keep till Oyenuga returns, so, we waited for him to come for it, but 50 years later, we didn’t hear from him or his family. We didn’t know what happened to him and had no word from his family, but we learned two years ago that he lost his life in a car crash a few years after he left us.”
The 75-year-old woman added: “My mom asked me to keep the suitcase and look for him; my mother passed away five years ago at 99.” Speaking with The Guardian, Azu Nwagbogu, said: “We’ve been working on this project for over two years in collaboration with Briongos who was determined to return the archive, so, it’s a team effort that had support of the Spanish embassy.
“We went door to door to search for the family of Oyenuga and we were able to locate his son three months ago.” On what the return means to Nigeria and Spain, he said: “Diplomacy is everyone’s responsibility. Every time I travel out of Nigeria, people ask where I’m from and I tell them Nigeria. So, you are representing your country and I think Briongos has represented her country very well. This shows that there is a moral imperative to return what is not yours; even though, it costs her efforts, money and time, Ana made it happen. For us, we believe that strengthening relationships through meaningful narratives that connect people like this, matters.”
Speaking on what would happen to Oyenuga work after being delivered to his son who is not into photography or in the creative sector, he said: “We know what we think will happen but it has to come from them because they own it, it is now their responsibility but I hope they will share the value with the public. We will do what we can with the family, and talk to them; AAF is not a commercial space, and we are not a gallery, we just have an interest in archives, history, and heritage so, I hope they will see this as an opportunity for us to do something bigger.”
The first son of Oyenuga, Adedoyin, said: “I am thrilled, I never knew how important this was until today. I knew my father as a great photojournalist with the Ministry of Information but I never knew he did a great job like this. He travelled and left me with my grandmother when I was little but I was able to witness him taking shots with his box camera.”