Thursday, 15 September 2011

Muraina Oyelami

How plagiarist copied Muraina, invaded galleries
By Tajudeen Sowole
(First published, May 20, 2006)

Thieves disguising as artists are constantly invading art galleries. What are they looking for? Contemporary Nigerian art.
  And gradually, such theft is on the upswing. Apart from Prof. Yusuf Grillo who has been robbed of his works, another widely travelled painter, Chief Muraina Oyelami, has cried out that copies of his paintings are illegally in circulation on canvas at galleries and exhibition in the country.
  Oyelami, one of the first generation Osogbo art school hosted this writer in his Iragbiji home, Osun State recently.
  He raised that there was a growing syndicate focused at copying his works and signing his name. The works, he said, are being sold in the same value of his real works.
  He listed some galleries in Lagos and individuals named as accomplices. While one of the galleries, The Hour Glass Gallery in South West Ikoyi, Lagos, was said to be smart to identify the badly copied Murainas, (widely used brand name for the artist’s works), another, Sachs Gallery, Victoria Island, was not so fortunate as it fell victim of the copyright theft.
  For each of the two transactions, however, one name, Kola Adeyemi, appears to be the man at the centre  of the alleged theft of Oyelami’s works, while another art dealer, Ovie Omatsola was alleged to have been used by Adeyemi to sell some Murainas to  the owner of Sachs, Bernadette Umeri.
Oyelami explained:  Sometimes last year, in 2005, Dozie Igweze of Hour Glass Gallery called me and requested for my works. I told him I had no works yet. He later called me and said someone brought some paintings of my signatures to him and that the person said he bought the works from me. Dozie immediately sent the pictures of the paintings to me through e-mail. On seeing them, I instantly knew  that one of the works was a bad copy  of my old work, while the other is my work. Some months later, Dozie brought the copied painting to me, (Oyelami showed to his guest, a large size painting of oil on board). Dozie also revealed to me that Kola Adeyemi wanted to sell the work to him.
That situation, Oyelami realised, later, was just the beginning of similar developments waiting to be exposed.   
  While trying to handle the Adeyemi case with caution,  the artist said he was in Lagos some months later and had a shocker at Sachs Gallery. "Bernadette had invited me to her gallery on the 5th floor of Eleganza Plaza, Victoria Island. She was so excited to show me that she had two of  my paintings in her gallery. When I got there and she showed me the works, it didn’t take me long to know that these are another bad copies of  my works.  According to Umeri, one Ovie Omatsola sold the works to her at N140,000."
  Even though he has nothing against anybody copying his works, Oyelami said, "signing my name in copied works is not acceptable." 


 Couple by Muraina PHOTO C/O Hourglass Gallery

Of all the names that came up in the deals, only Umeri refused to speak to the writer inspite of several efforts to get her response on the matter.
  While accepting that he received the said works at his gallery, Igweze of Hourglass, in his reaction said that, the works were not brought to him directly by Adeyemi.
" Someone else, not Kola, brought the paintings to me, claiming that, the person who gave him the works collected them from Muraina. The guy offered to sell one of the paintings  at N50,000 (fifty thousand naira). And when I told him to hold on that I will confirm from Muraina, he later confessed that Kola Adeyemi gave him the works. Kola also called me later, requesting for the fake painting.  I told him I ‘ve  given it to Muraina."  And for reason best known to Igweze, he refused to disclosed the name of the person who brought the paintings to his gallery.
  For the Hourglass, it was not really a strange development in its over five years of visual arts business, Igweze said, adding that he has the experience to know copied works whenever he sees such. "I do not accept such works which was the reason I called Muraina because I suspected the paintings . But it is not unusual to see works that look like that of other artists", Igweze said, adding that he does not accept such works even when they are signed by the artists who copied others.
For falling victim of such a bad deal probably as a result of not understanding the terrain, Sachs Gallery, according to Oyelami, is already negotiating with Omatsola on how to recover the said amount paid for the fake copies of  the Murainas. All efforts to get Bernadette speak on the involvement of her gallery in the dirty business failed.
And having accepted that he actually sold the said  fake paintings to Umeri, Omatsola, in a telephone response to the allegation refused to disclose the source of the works. "Yes I sold the works to Umeri of Sachs Gallery. I  am sorry I can’t tell you who gave me the works. I already told Chief Muraina who gave me the works,"  Omatsola said.
The man at the  top of the two illegal deals, Adeyemi, who also responded on telephone denied the ownership of the controversial works. "I did not fake anybody’s work, I did not sign anybody’s work. I am an artist too. My father just called me from the U.S now over the issue and I have explained my side of the story," Adeyemi said. He however refused to speak further on the matter.
But  in his explanation on the role of Adeyemi, Oyelami said Adeyemi confessed to him that the works at both galleries were supplied by him. "Kola came to my house and said that he got the works from somebody who was owing him. He said he went to the person’s house and discovered that the ‘debtor’ had travelled out of the country,  so he took the works to recover the money owed him," Oyelami said.
And who is Adeyemi’s ‘debtor’? "He refused to disclose his name," Oyelami said.
The Eesa (the king’s right hand man) of Iragbiji town, Oyelami said Adeyemi is enjoying a kind of immunity which is preventing him from taking legal action for two reasons: "As a traditionalist, I don’t want to humiliate anybody. Kola’s father is also an artist, and a native of Iragbiji. If I took any legal action, people would say, ‘ah afterall he is the son of his friend, suppose the boy were his own son, would he prosecute him over such matter?' I had warned him (Kola) to stop this bad businness, he wont listen. And as the faking continues I have the option of alerting the public through the media."
  If two galleries within a year have exposed big fake paintings, ready to be sold to unsuspecting members of the public, perhaps there are many of such works in circulation. While commending the courage of Igweze for alerting him, Oyelami warned people to be aware, naming some few galleries like "Nike, Nimbus, Signature in Lagos and Abuja, Treasure House, Awolowo Road and Pendulum, Lekki as some of the few ones that have his works or better still on-line; www. oyelami. com"
But galleries are not the only outlets being used by the fake art dealers to carry out their trades, particularly, fake paintings of Oyelami. The painter further disclosed of a reported art exhibition which held in Abuja recently where fake works of his were allegedly displayed for sale.
"A few weeks ago, I got a call from a friend in Abuja who said he saw a painting of my signature at a show with a tagged amount of N195,00 (one hundred and ninety five thousand naira). He said he was sure that the painting is fake."  But curiously, Oyelami said he sent someone to the place and got confirmation, adding that he also got the telephone contact of the curator of the show. The curator, he said, is one Pius by name. "I never knew any Pius, but I ranged him. Concealing my identity, I told him I want the Muraina of the show.  We bargained and arrived at a lesser amount, but unfortunately I could not get someone to pick the work for me before the end of the show."  He said he would have payed a token part payment to keep the painting from falling into the hands of innocent collectors.
   Chief Muraina Oyelami began his career in arts in 1964 as one of the members and the first generation of the famous Osogbo art school initiated by Professor Ulli Beier and his wife Mrs Georgina Beier.
 Oyelami has exhibited his works and performed traditional and fusion music throughout Europe, Asia, Africa Australia and the United States. His varied and enormous list of credits include: composer and musical director for Professor Wole Soyinka's "Death and the king's Horseman" at the Royal Exchange Theatre in Manchester, England in 1992; Guest of the Chopin Academy of Music in Warsaw, Poland, International Tutor at Summer School organized by Black Dance Development Trust of England (based in Birmingham) in 1990 and 1991, numerous artist in residencies and exhibitions in Germany, recordings of fusion music with contemporary jazz combos.

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