Orisun Arts Gallery… set to satisfy the yearnings of Abuja arts lovers
Situated in the Central Business District of the Federal Capital Territory is Orisun Art Gallery. The gallery, which is managed by Dayo Adetunbi, an art collector, can be described as the mother of art galleries in Abuja.
The beauty of the three-month-old gallery is not just the exquisite building that houses it or the quality of artworks but also the huge number of collections as well as the manner the art pieces are preserved in the gallery, which is rear in a country that underplays the relevance of such venture.
Another surprise about the gallery is that it is not even owned by one of the notable visual artists in town. It is rather collected overtime by a Senator of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, Olubunmi Adetunbi, who represents Ekiti State North.
Touring the different segments that house the art pieces, you wonder how long it has taken the gallery owners to assemble the work on display. The lawmaker says it is not a day job, adding, that he is from a family that celebrates arts and culture, his father being a master organist.
“In the hierarchy of arts, music is the apex of the genres of arts. So, it is a family of artists. I believe it runs in the family. Myself and my brother were hardened collectors for arts.”
He disclosed that his history in art collection dated back to his days as a student of the University of Ibadan, which he described as the centre of artistic expression, including cultural arts, fabrics and all that.
“And I began to see a lot of interests in arts and I started picking little, little artworks and by the time I finished my master’s programme, I started work with the Central Bank and then, I started discovering little objects that can be used for house decorations, wood carvings as well as batiks just to decorate my home.
“This moved from home decoration to a hobby and from hobby, it became a passion, almost an obsession.
“So, as I grew in age, in career and income, I began to do more collection purely for interest and personal pleasure,” he said.
However, in the last two years, the lawmaker’s stock of collection grew so huge and large that he started wondering what to do with them.
“Initially, I wanted to own a museum because I wasn’t ready to part with the works but to own a museum means I needed a property to house these artworks which I didn’t have. It was beyond my means of acquisition.
“So, I started playing with the idea of a gallery. At least, if I cannot own a museum, let me own a gallery but a gallery is a painful option because you have to part with arts in exchange for money, which I didn’t contemplate but I have to do with what I can afford. So, the gallery came up. In the last three months, we have been here, trying to sort things out and I think the gallery is ready.”
Beyond passion, what does the gallerist want to achieve with such a huge collection of works comprising woodworks, metal, painting and sculpture?
According to him, he has lived in Abuja since 2004 and he has noticed that cultural space in the city was almost non-existence.
“If you look around, there is no monuments, no works of arts despite the talented art community of Nigeria that have masters and whose works are displayed beyond the shores of Nigeria. And here we are in the conference capital of Africa without indigenous art with which to show the richness of our culture and tradition.
“So, I began to say to myself, this is an opportunity to convert my private collection into a public expression such as this, which gives the opportunity to tourists to look around and see the richness of our works.”
Indeed, what one sees in the gallery is a combination of sculptures from woods, metals and stones in various sizes, shapes and artistic expressions.
The visuals range from contemporary works to the works of old masters. Using the words of the lawmaker, “they are classic works from Nigerian artists ranging from the Zaria to Osogbo, Nsukka, Yaba and Benin Schools of arts. It is a very diverse collection.
“And the luxury of this collection is because of years of accumulation to enable us to have a real take-off of arts that gives pedigree to the gallery. So, I think it will be a good addition to complement what the earlier galleries have been doing in Abuja.
“I just hope that this will be m own contribution to enrich the creative space, indigenous art space in Abuja so that it becomes more tourist-friendly and the international community can have something to look at.”
But considering that arts are relegated in the country and a gallery coming from a law-maker, will this venture change the narrative for the arts?
He said: “Right now, I operate on the demand side of the art in terms of being a collector. I was always the one demanding for works from the artists but now, I am shifting into the supply mood by using the accumulation of my to generate traffic of art lovers that want to see good quality works of masters, contemporary artists across different media of expressions.”
Adding: “Yes, I know quite some number of my colleagues that have expressed concern about the need to expand the cultural space of Abuja and I think this is the really a welcome development.”
But beyond the gallerist’s colleagues and contemporaries, the gallery has a broad-band of collections that every social segment of the society would be able to find relevant in the gallery.
Considering the number and classes of works stocked in the gallery, it is not likely that anybody can come here without finding any work of interest that he or she can relate to and also find affordable.
For instance, at the entrance of the gallery are stocked small to medium size works that the average working individual can afford, that tourist can also afford. I call it a gallery of everybody in spite of the high profile area and the exquisite edifice that houses it.
Speaking on the likely relationship with the body of Nigerian artists, the lawmaker stressed that he is a private enterprise, a non-state initiative even though he intends to collaborate with government in any possible way.
“We also have the opportunity of becoming a member of the Nigerian Association of Gallery Owners and the Nigerian Society of Artists is also a body we intend to engage.”
On the exact number of his collection, Senator Adetunmi stated that his entire collection will be in the neighbourhood of 600 to700 pieces while about 250 are displayed.
“So, we have a huge pipeline of stock. Between me and my brother partnering in the venture, he also has a huge collection and once Abuja gallery stabilizes, we will open the Lagos branch to house the giant works which we are doing in partnership with Asians and others. It is going to be a collage of artistic expressions for public space display of artworks generally.
“We also have close to 500 collections of antiquities ranging from Benin bronze to cultural masks from Yorubas and Jukuns of Taraba State. We also have a number of works from Nasarawa State.”
He added that the gallery will spend time nurturing and sustaining artists that are in the portfolio of his collections, most of whom are younger generations of artists.
Present at the private viewing of the gallery were the Governor of Ekiti State and Chairman, Nigerian Governors’ Forum (NGF), Kayode Fayemi, former governor of Imo state, Senator Rochas Okorocha, former governor of Ekiti State, Otunba Niyi Adebayo, Solicitor General of the Federation, Mr. Dayo Apata as well as other lawmakers.
The Ekiti State Governor, Fayemi, in his remarks, stated that the uniqueness in the art collections was worthy of commendation.
According to him, more Nigerians should be encouraged to venture into the business of cultural artefacts collections because of Orisun Gallery.
He said: “I have always known Senator Adetumbi to be a person of excellence and to put his years of the collection into a gallery of immense value deserves commendation. For us, this is history and culture and this is the essence of who we are. For an art collector over the years to put his best materials on display is worthy of commendations. I hope it is something we can all embraced.
Speaking on why Nigerians do not invest in cultural preservation, Fayemi said: “The problem in the first instance is existential. People have an existential challenge they want to overcome. This is an example of something that preserves value over the long. It should be encouraged and our establishment should pay more attention. We are also going to be putting up a museum in our new civic centre similar to this in Ekiti state.”
Okorocha in his remarks observed that the art gallery was a step to keep history alive in practical and artistic form.
“This galley is simply amazing and it is what it should be when it comes to art. In the face of science and technology development, this is one of the best ways we can preserve our culture.”