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Celebrating El Anatsui @75

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El Anatsui PHOTO: Andy Keate. Courtesy October Gallery, London

Monday, February 4, 2019, marked the birthday of the Nigerian-based Ghanaian artist, Emeritus Prof. El Anatsui. He is African’s most celebrated visual Artist of the 21st century, particularly in Nigeria and in his homeland Ghana. In appreciation of the enormous contributions and impact of this internationally renowned giant of the visual arts, series of remarkable events took place in different parts of the globe to honour him.

As a close associate of Prof. Anatsui, I was privileged to witness three of Anatsui’s pre-birthday anniversary events that took place on January 31 and February 2, 2019, at both Nsukka and Enugu. And the birthday celebration at the UNN Senior Staff Club on February 4, 2019. The very first of these events that flagged off the rest took place during the Annual General meeting of the club on January 31, 2019. Before the AGM proper, Emeritus Prof. El Anatsui was decorated with the status of Life Member of the Senior Staff Club; the highest honour the university club confers only on outstanding individuals.

His Excellency, Atiku Abubakar and the late Prof. Meriam Ikejiani- Clark were among distinguished Nigerian that have received this prestigious honour in the past.

Anatsui, interestingly, is the first non-Nigerian to be admitted into the university staff club’s circle of life members. His investiture was exceptionally remarkable not only because of his admirable status as the greatest living artist in the 21ST century, but also because the highly esteemed recognition and admission into the club’s league of life members, signified our recognition that the Ghanaian-born artist, who has lived a greater part of his life in Nigeria than in any other part of the globe, has indeed become a distinguished son of the soil.

Accidentally, his admission into the league of life members of the senior staff club coincided with his 75th birthday. It was also at this very occasion that the club’s outgoing President Prof. Anselem Onyimoyi informed club members that Anatsui had procured a five-in-one gymnastic workstation for club members. On why he donated the state-of-the arts multi-purpose gymnastic equipment to the club, Anatsui explained: “Exercise is key to health, club members, particularly the elderly need such facilities for their effective daily workouts.”

It was not only the UNN staff club that honoured Anatsui in a grand style. The Enugu sports club, which has existed since 1929 and remains the oldest sports club east of the Niger and beyond, equally honoured him in an exceptional manner.

Under the presidency of Hon. Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi (the Executive Governor of Enugu State) and the Chairmanship of Chief Ben Etiaba, Enugu Sports Club organised a special 75th birthday luncheon two days before the actual date of Anatsui’s birthday. This was on February 2, at the club Cinema Auditorium. The climax of which was the conferment of grand patron of Enugu sports club award to Prof. Anatsui by the club’s Chairman Chief Ben Etiaba and his executive council. The grand patron award is the highest honour that the Enugu sports club confers on highly distinguished and outstanding figures.

In his conferment speech, the club Chairman said: “Today, we confer on you, Emeritus Professor El Anatsui our highest honour, Grand patron of the Enugu sport club as we speed up our on-going project towards the completion of our mini-museum of sports artifacts and art gallery, which will be named after you, because we recognise that no other single individual has made Enugu State a shining spotlight on the global map than you have constantly done with your ever growing international accomplishment in your field as a visual artist. This is why Enugu sports club celebrate you in a special way.”

Still on February 2, 2019 at 3:30pm invited guests, Enugu sports club officials and well wishers accompanied El Anatsui to the National Arts Gallery at 1 Temple Avenue, GRA, Enugu where all the academic staff of the Sculpture Unit, Department of Fine and Applied Art, University of Nigeria Nsukka (UNN) flagged off another grand celebration of Anatsui with a special group arts exhibition, titled, Igwebuike Exhibition Of Sculpture In Honour Of El Anatsui (Odogwu At 75 Years).

Prof. Obiora Anidi flagged off the exhibition. Speaking at the event, Anatsui promised to participate in the subsequent edition of the art event that has now become a yearly ritual.

Some of the leading artists in the UNN Sculpture sub-section whose works featured at the exhibition include, Dr. Chijioke Onuora, Dr. Ekene Anikpe, Dr. Eva Obodo, Mr. Uche Onyishi, Dr. Chike Akabuike, among many others. The occasion was also graced by some of the founding members of AKA group of Artists, the likes of Bona Eze Udu, Chris Afuba, Tayo Adenaike and others.

The climax of the El Anatsui week was on his birthday, February 4 and the event was a birthday party exclusively for the elders of the UNN Senior Staff Club. It was, indeed, an all elders birthday bash in honour of one of theirs. The occasion was garnished with speeches, dance, jokes sand birthday songs, while grand remarks from Emeritus Professor Onyegegbu, Professor Dave Onyejekwe, Professor Nnadozie Inyama, Professor Okoro Ijeoma, Professor Nnaemeka Ikpeze and the new club President, Professor Ejikeme.

The occasion became even more splendid and colorful when most of the elders joined Anatsui to cut his birthday cake and took the elders version of the familiar, ‘Happy Birthday song.’

• Mbajiorgu (nuresdef laureate), University of Nigeria, Nsukka (UNN)


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