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Culture promotion, philanthropic strides of Oni-Okpaku

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Aino Oni-Okpaku


Arts and culture appreciation in the country suffered a loss when the demise of Chief (Mrs.) Aino Oni-Okpaku was announced. Oni-Okpaku, a Swedish, who married a Nigerian, was the proprietress of one Nigeria’s oldest arts and culture outlets, Quintessence, in Lagos.

Born January 2, 1939, she died Thursday, December 26, 2019 in Gothenburg, Sweden. She would have been 81 last Thursday. From visual to literary arts and fashion, Quintessence, which she founded with her late husband, Olusegun Gabriel Oni-Okpaku, she impacted the creative industry.

The Quintessence window for arts and culture went beyond commercial and critical appreciations; in the last 10 years, it was involved in expanding artists’ capacity building via international resource programmes. For example, between 2008 and 2015, Quintessence aided artist-in-residence events in Sweden for Lagos-based artists, Dr Kunle Adeyemi, Adeola Balogun and Adewale Alimi.

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In mid-2015, Balogun and Alimi were in Uttersberg near Stockholm, Sweden — courtesy of Quintessence — and worked with renowned Swedish curator, Anders Nyhlen, who runs Galleri Astley and a studio for residency in Uttersberg.In his tribute, the art patron and collector extraordinaire, Prince Yemisi Shyllon, described the late woman as ‘selfless’. “She lost her Nigerian husband in 1977, when he died from injury sustained during a polo game in Lagos. She did not remarry since then, but devoted her energy to managing the art and books shop, jointly owned with her husband. To better appreciate her, we need to recall that she was only in her late 30s when her husband, Gabriel, died, yet she refrained from remarrying.”

Shyllon said her ‘most enviable legacy’ was the long years in “selflessness of sponsorship and management of the Eruobodo House.” He listed as activities of Eruobodo, helping the poor and abandoned babies as well as those deformed and afflicted with diseases. “Through Eruobodo House, she had for decades picked and taken care of such babies and organised numerous plastic surgeries and cure for many of them, within Nigeria and at her country of origin, Sweden.”

Quintessence, also in 2015, organised fundraising in support for famous stained glass artist, David Dale, who was facing health challenges. Quintessence stated then that Oni-Okpaku and Mrs. Elisabeth Seriki were key players in the gallery’s support as well as “all our friends in the art that also supported the cause to enable us add to Dale’s rehabilitation medical bills.”

Recalling his cooperation with Oni-Okpaku in the area of art appreciation, Shyllon said that she had, on his request, helped some artists in capacity building. “Thrice, she responded positively to my requests for assistance in art workshops and market opportunities in Sweden, for three Nigerian artists.”

Balogun noted: “She lived a life that epitomised true selflessness and dedication.” Balogun, a lecturer at the Yaba College of Technology, Lagos, recalled that Oni-Okpaku facilitated and funded art residency programmes for Nigerian artists in Sweden of which “I and other artists were beneficiaries of her benevolent gestures.” He revealed that each time the residency was organised, she would shift her base from Lagos by staying with the artists through out the programme in Sweden. “She was truly a kindhearted heroine whose impact will remain indelible in this clime and beyond.”

Balogun lamented that “Chief will be greatly missed by not only friends and family in the art community,” but added, “our solace is that she’s gone to a higher realm to unite with Saints. May her saintly soul find rest in hereafter.”Apart from promoting arts and culture, she was also involved in establishing the Eruobodo House, founded in 1997 by a group of Nigerian and expatriate women in the country, as a charity. Chaired by Oni-Okpaku, the board of trustees of the Ijebu-Ode, Ogun State-based Eruobodo House include, Mrs Betti Okubojejo, Ms Comfort Bruce and Mrs Gbemi Tejuoso.

Currently at Parkview, Ikoyi, after relocating from the old Falomo Shopping complex, Quintessence, according to the late founder, had, since 1988, been offering visual artists several opportunities.

When Quintessence had its 40th anniversary, she recalled how the gallery started promoting works of artists through exhibitions and fashion shows. At the event, she said Quintessence was the first private facility to organise a show of Nigerian arts and crafts in the country. Quintessence’s international exhibitions of Nigerian arts and crafts at home and in countries such as, Sweden, UK, Germany as well as other African countries such as Zimbabwe, Ghana and Burkina Faso.

During their school years, Mrs Oni-Okpaku and her late husband met, in California, and in 1973 the couple came to Nigeria. She had her BA, with major, in Textile Arts from the School of Arts and Crafts, Goteborg, Sweden, in 1962. After nine years practice as a textile artist in Stockholm, she left for U.S., to get her Masters in Fine Art, again majoring in Textile Arts, at the California College of Arts and Crafts in 1971.

Her work career in Nigeria included a two-year experience with Godwin and Hopwood Architectural firm, before setting up Quintessence in 1975 at Falomo Shopping Centre, Ikoyi, Lagos. Before her death, Quintessence extended its capacity with a branch in Lekki.Her chieftaincy title was a honour from Ogotun-Ekiti in the late 1990s in recognition of being a promoter and supporter of African arts and culture.

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