At NGA, UNIBEN show, town meets Gown

It’S an autobiographical work that refers to her as Acada (an over studious person). That was her nick name when she was growing up. She used to read a lot.” Prof. Peju Layiwola, daughter of Princess Elizabeth Olowu who represented the exhibiting artist at the event...
Representative of CG, Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps (NSCDC), FCT Command, Dr. Peter Maigari (left) representative of Permanent Secretary, Federal Ministry of Information & Culture and director, Entertainment and Creative Services, Ugo Akudo Nwosu; Chief (Mrs.), Nike Okundaye and DG, National Gallery of Art (NGA), Ebeten Ivara while presenting the Visual Arts Personality of the Year award to the recipient to Mrs Okundaye at NGA Mast Festival and Awards ceremony in Abuja recently.

Representative of CG, Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps (NSCDC), FCT Command, Dr. Peter Maigari (left) representative of Permanent Secretary, Federal Ministry of Information & Culture and director, Entertainment and Creative Services, Ugo Akudo Nwosu; Chief (Mrs.), Nike Okundaye and DG, National Gallery of Art (NGA), Ebeten Ivara while presenting the Visual Arts Personality of the Year award to the recipient to Mrs Okundaye at NGA Mast Festival and Awards ceremony in Abuja recently.

“It’S an autobiographical work that refers to her as Acada (an over studious person). That was her nick name when she was growing up. She used to read a lot.” Prof. Peju Layiwola, daughter of Princess Elizabeth Olowu who represented the exhibiting artist at the event was, of course, referring to the iconic sculptural piece of same title, Acada (Cement) on display. An accomplished sculptor and scholar herself (a case of like mother like daughter?), it was an emotionally intense moment as she gazed at the work. “That work, I actually posed for her at the age of 10.” Explaining the context, she continued: “I used to come with her to pose for her when she does her sculptures and so, that work represent her as much as it represents me. So, it is one work that depicts everybody.”

In contrast, Ellis Erimona’s Agbada series is a commentary on a contemporary issue: power even though, nuanced. In the series, the artist focuses on the second republic where the Agbada represented power in all its magnificence, splendor and grandeur. It is a satire on power brokers imitating the dress code of then President Shehu Shagari in his flowing Babariga!

Indeed, these intricately executed works among many others showcased, are testament to the abounding skills, sophistication, originality and mastery of form and material by the exhibiting artists in the exhibition put together by National Gallery of Art (NGA) in collaboration with the Department of Fine and Applied Arts, University of Benin at Ekhuan campus, which opened on May 2, and ran till May 16, 2023. Titled, “The Exhibition of the Sculptures of Princess Elizabeth Olowu and Chief Ellis Temille Erimona” the exhibition featured about 40 sculptural pieces mainly copies except a few of the miniature sculptures by Erimona.

On what informed the choice of the artists for the exhibition, the Curator and Director, Curatorial Services department, NGA, Dr. Simon Ikpakronyi said: “Princess Elizabeth Olowu and Chief Ellis Temile Erimona are renowned sculptors. They were selected by virtue of their contributions to knowledge in the field of visual arts within the country and internationally.

Interestingly, the artists blazed trails in different ways. Their art works not only celebrate the culture and tradition of Benin, but have streaks that endear them to other cultures within and outside the country.

They are indeed true ambassadors of Benin kingdom and the University of Benin.” Unsurprisingly, Efemena Ononeme, professor of Sculpture and Art History, at the Department of Fine and Applied Arts, University of Benin, was full of praise for the exhibiting artists: “I will say the works are very impressive, very good and they are stimulus to the students who are here now learning the steps of becoming sculptors in their own right as well. These sculptors that are being exhibited, stand the test of time. You will be astonished at the various medium of expression they used: We have a lot of Bronze casting; we have Mortar, Concrete and a host of others. I sincerely believe we should encourage our art so that it does not die and a way of recognising the contribution of our seniors in the profession is to ensure that their legacy do not die and that is exactly what the National Gallery of Art and the University of Benin are doing at the moment. So, I will add that the sculptors that are being exhibited are impetus to our students who are here learning how to become sculptors and great artists in their own right as well.”

On his part, the Director General, National Gallery of Art, Ebeten William Ivara, said the artists whose art works are being showcased are products of the Department at one point, as students and later as lecturers. He declared: “This department is one of the highly respected Art Schools in Nigeria. I commend the lecturers, for continuing and indeed, scaling up the cherished tradition of nurturing students who have over the years contributed immensely to the growth and development of visual arts in the country and abroad.”

The exhibition which held at the expansive drawing Studio of Fine and Applied Arts Department had its thrills with the Department of Theatre Arts’ dance ensemble under the watchful eye of Dr. Josephine Abbe, providing high octane entertainment with well-choreographed “Iku ’Edo” dance; a recreation of Benin traditional cultural dance with sonorous songs, dexterous drumming and graceful dance… The hall was filled to capacity with guests from the University community, Edo traditional institution, sister federal parastatals in Benin, the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA) led by the Commander, Edo State Command and the public in a classic case of town meets gown.

Onoko, former Arts Editor Thisday, is Deputy Director overseeing office of Director, Information Services Department, National Gallery of Art

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