Friday 27 April 2018

How Lagos auction house exposed 29-year-old 'stolen' Tola Wewe painting

A 'stolen' painting titled 'Iye Bowabo' by Tola Wewe.

As the value of art increases in commercial and critical appreciation, the Nigerian  secondary market appears to have uncovered a painting placed on 'stolen' list for 29 years.
 Titled Iye Boabo, and by Tola Wewe, the painting, according to the artist was exposed by Nigeria's leading  auctioneer, Arthouse Contemporary, during preparation for the next sales scheduled for May this year. However, the unearthing of the painting may also give a lead to the holders of over 100 pieces of art allegedly stolen at the same time Iye Boabo was declared missing. In fact, Wewe told select guests in Lagos yesterday that the store in which the works were kept was looted then.
 In 1989, Wewe, Moyo Okediji, Kunle Filani, Tunde Nasiru and Bolaji Campbell - all founding members of Ona - had a group art exhibition at
University of Ibadan, Oyo State to mark the arrival of the movement. After the exhibition, the works of the Ona artists , according to Wewe, were kept inside Okediji's apartment at Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife. However, Wewe claimed that he didn't know the works were looted until many years later.  He recalled going to Fenchurch Gallery, Onikan in 1996 and saw two of Okediji's works brought for framing.  "I saw two of Moyo's works,  'Circlescope series at Fenchurch brought there for framing.  I didn't know who brought them for framing".
 Communicating his finding to Okediji from Nigeria, then, he said, was difficult until many years later when the two artists reconnected in the country. "It was then Moyo told me that those paintings including mine were stolen."
 Strangely, the artists did nothing about revisiting the stolen works, even the one seen at Fenchurch.   Last week, the drama of the 'looted' works was revisited elsewhere: Arthouse got in touch with Wewe over Iye Boabo asking the artist to confirm provenance of a work that the auction house said was submitted for auctioning. While the controversial painting's fate of appearing at the next Arthouse's auction remains unclear, Wewe was not happy that the identity of the  collector of the work remained elusive and unknown to him a week after he and Arthouse had conversations.  But Arthouse insisted that the holder of the work was disclosed to Wewe during a phone conversation.

After emails exchanges, Wewe and Arthouse's expert Nana Sonoiki extended the conversation to whatsApp over the provenance of the controversial painting.
Wewe: "It is one of my missing works. I will give the title, stories about the work,  etc.  But I must earn my remuneration".
Nana: "Thank you!".
Two days later. Wewe: "Still waiting for your response on the work
Nana: "I forwarded your mail to the owner and no response yet".
Wewe: "We need to act quickly because I may be forced to make this public o".
Nana: How? That we stole your work?
Wewe: Arthouse  has no problem". The artist later added. "Infact you are my saviour now. If not for an institution like Arthouse, how would I have seen this work?"
The same day, Wewe made a request: "Kindly tell him to link up with me so that we resolve the issue or I go through my own way".
 Earlier in the initial mails exchanges, Sonoiki wrote: "The attached work has been submitted for our coming auction, we Kindly request your assistance with the  following information;
Title, medium, artist's statement.
 "We look forward to hearing from you", Arthouse's expert, Nana Sonoiki mailed Wewe on April 18, 2018.
 "The painting is mine.  I have the title and the story that inspired the painting. I am very pleased to discover that this painting is still living because I have been looking for it since the late eighties .
 "I would be glad to know who the collector is and probably agree on some terms before giving you further details on the work," Wewe replied.
 Few hours ago, Sonoiki denied shielding the identity of the collector from Wewe. She recalled her reluctant to mention the name of the collector, but claimed she did later. " Yes initially, but mentioned the name on Sunday when he called".
 If Arthouse eventually drops the painting from its lots for the May auction, whoever holds Iye Bowabo still has an explanation to make. 

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