Eulogies As Prof. Luka Bentu Art Gallery Opens
The genial Professor and Head of Department of Fine Art, Ahmadu Bello University (ABU) had asked him in the heat of completing his last paper for the degree programme: “Would you like to work in this University after graduation?” Who wouldn’t, he nearly yelled but restraining his growing excitement he answered in the affirmative. He was then told to pick up the Post Graduate form immediately… In measured tone the Guest Speaker says now: “That student is the person standing before you and that Professor was Luka Tokan Bentu.” There was tumultuous applause from the gathering with some shedding tears.
Dr. Emmanuel Wesley Okachi, a Senior Lecturer at ABU could not have captured better an aspect of Professor Luka Bentu-his ability to spot talent, nourish it and grow it to star status. This is besides being a humanist, mentor, prodigious scholar, creative czar and astute administrator.
It was in his honour that all had assembled from different walks of life on Monday January 25, 2016 for the official opening of an Art Gallery put together by his family and named after him- Prof. L. T. Bentu Gallery of Art located at Tere House, 60, Murtala Mohammed Way, Jos, Plateau State. A one-week art exhibition was also organized as part of the commissioning of the Gallery with technical support from the National Gallery of Art (NGA).
In a power point presentation titled, “Art-A Source of Living,” the guest speaker did justice to a subject that would have titillated his former teacher and mentor were he to be around-the viability of Visual arts not only as a vocation but a profession. Citing Yusuf Grillo’s painting- Truly Hijab (Oil on Canvas) which was sold for N11 million in 2015; Ben Enwonwu’s African Dances (Oil on Board), N17.1 million also in 2015 and El Anatsui’s Sculpture- Zata (Oil on Wooden Panels), N15.4 million in 2014, he asserts that “despite the uncertainties in the global economy, Art, public art and monuments and architecture have continued to a large extent to impact positively on tourism development and promotion. Businesses and employment in the service industries associated with art and tourism create wealth and employment for citizens in areas where they are sited.”
In the main, however, the day was about Professor Luka Tokan Bentu, a revered artist and scholar who passed away on October 19, 1996 but lives on not just by his great works, the lives he touched but also his children carrying on the torch. His daughter who is the Curator of the Gallery and Chief Executive, Tapshak Entertainment Ltd, Dorcas Bentu, for instance, is a Ceramist. Though she had not practiced since leaving ABU, she has been into other forms of art like costume and make-up design for theatrical productions, music and marketing/management of arts while working with the Plateau State Ministry of Culture and Tourism and currently a private sector art and culture practitioner. Her brother, Stanley Bentu studied Industrial Design, specialising in Graphic Arts but is into marketing, advertising and in the last four years working as a media person. The other children have their specialties in Theatre Arts, Broadcasting and Music. As Dorcas puts it: “Art I would say was a gift my family inherited in different forms from not just my dad but my grand-mother as well who was a traditional potter whose works are currently on display at the National Museum in Jos.”
No doubt, Prof. Bentu in spite of almost 20 years of his passage still resounds with many as speaker after speaker extolled his virtues at the event. The Deputy Governor of Plateau State, Prof. Sonni Gwanle Tyoden who commissioned the Gallery, said he had to be personally present because Bentu was a name he knew from an early age and admired for his extraordinary achievements not only in the field of Arts but in other endeavours. He said it is for this reason that the Plateau Arts Council is named after Bentu. “The door of Plateau State government is open and it will do what it can to support L. T. Bentu Gallery of Art,” he announced. In his remark, Senator Suleiman Adokwe, while praising Prof. Bentu said he will rally fellow senators to support visual arts in Nigeria as a viable sub-sector.
The Senator equally asked that some works be tagged for him as part of his contribution to the Bentu Gallery of Art. Waxing philosophical, Prof. Shamsudeen Amali, former Vice Chancellor, Nasarawa State University, Keffi and representative of the former governor of Nasarawa State, Senator Aliyu Akwe Doma, said: “Art is what we are; what we were and what we would be. Bentu was a great artist.” He consoled Bentu’s widow, Mrs. Patricia Bentu to be happy because his husband played his part creditably and would continue to be remembered by all.
And in a glowing tribute to the art scholar, the Director General, National Gallery of Art (NGA), Abdullahi Muku, titled, “Prof. Luka Tokan Bentu: Timeless Worth of a Selfless Artist” revealed an aspect of the man that is not well known- his activism! “His name will forever resonate in contemporary Nigerian art not only due to his scholarly activities and artistic productivities but for also playing a selfless role as Vice President of the Dele Jegede led Society of Nigerian Artists (SNA) in 1989. Prof. Bentu was actively engaged and deeply involved in all radical, evolutionary, revolutionary and administrative activities of SNA that tactically led to the re-opening of the closed NGA which at the time was ‘embryoed’ within the National Council of Arts and Culture,” he declared.
Muku recalled that following that success was another agitation and powerful advocacy which convinced the Federal Government to pay due attention to visual arts and its significance to national development. “These activities eventually culminated in the government’s germane decision to grant a parastatal status to the NGA in 1993,” he stated. Turning to Bentu’s artistic prowess, the Director General said that his timeless works have been exhibited in Ausria, Cuba, Egypt, Ethiopia, Japan and several times in Britain. “Two of his paintings are currently on permanent display at the London Museum alongside other world-famous artists. His competencies fetched him government patronage/commission to produce many paintings including one for the 2nd World Black Festival of Arts and Culture (FESTAC ’77) held in Nigeria in 1977,” he asserted.
In a declamatory note, Muku said: “Indeed, Prof. Luca Bentu adorns a badge of timeless worth. What with his many works on which his signature of immortality is engraved? What with his selfless activities and rare tirelessness? “The Director General announced that NGA will be putting together a commemorative scholarly articulated exhibition to be complemented with a standard brochure that aptly immortalizes him and his many outstanding explorations, expositions and developmental contributions to Nigerian art.”
Highlights of the event were the purchase of works worth N1.2 million by dignitaries and the donation of a brand new Hyundai car to the Gallery by a philanthropist and art lover who craved anonymity to facilitate its programmes and activities. A highly elated Dorcas Bentu, says of her feeling on the opening of the Gallery: “I’m extremely happy and excited. What started as a dream has become a reality…”