Saturday 11 January 2020

Art, culture promotion, philanthropic strides of Oni-Okpaku

Chief (Mrs) Aino Oni-Okpaku
Art and culture appreciation in Nigeria suffered a loss when the news of the death of Chief (Mrs) Aino Oni-Okpaku took over the air of new year euphoria. Oni-Okpaku, a Swedish, but married to late Olusegun Gabriel Oni-Okpaku, was the proprietress of one Nigeria’s oldest arts and culture outlets, Quintessence, in Lagos. Born January 2, 1939, she died Thursday, December 26, 2019 in Gothenburg, Sweden.

From visual to literary arts and fashion, Quintessence’s over 44 years of existence in Lagos keeps boosting appreciation of the creative industry. The Quintessence window for arts and culture goes beyond commercial and critical appreciations; it has, in the past ten years involved in expanding artists’ capacity building via international resource programmes. For example, between 2008 and 2015, Quintessence aided artist-in-residence events in Sweden for Lagos-based Dr Kunle Adeyemi, Adeola Balogun and Adewale Alimi, among others.

In mid-2015, Balogun and Alimi were in Uttersberg near Stockholm, Sweden — courtesy of Quintessence — and worked with renowned Swedish curator, Anders Nyhlen, who runs Galleri Astley and a studio for residency in Uttersberg.

In his tribute, art collector, Prince Yemisi Shyllon noted what she described as "selflessness" of the late culture patron and philanthropist. "She lost her Nigerian husband in 1977, who died from injury sustained during a polo game in Lagos. She did not remarry since then, but devoted her energy to managing the art and books shop, jointly owned with her husband. To better appreciate her, we need to recall that she was only in her late 30s when her husband, Gabriel Olusegun Oni-okpaku died, yet she refrained from remarrying." Shyllon argued that her "most enviable legacy" was the long years in "selflessness of sponsorship and  managment of the Eruobodo House." He listed as activities of Eruobodo, which include helping poor and abandoned babies as well as those deformed and afflicted with diseases.
"Through Eruobodo House, she had for decades picked and taken care of such babies and organized numerous plastic  surgeries and cure for many of them,  within Nigeria and at her country of origin, Sweden."

Recalling his cooperation with Mrs Oni-Okpaku in the area of art appreciation, Shyllon said that she had, on his request, helped some artists in capacity building.  "Thrice, she responded positively to my requests for assistance in art workshops and market opportunities in Sweden, for three Nigerian artists."

Fro his tribute on Mrs Okpaku, sent few days ago, Balogun noted: “she lived a life that epitomizes true selflessness and dedication.” Balogun, a lecturer at Yaba College of Technology, Lagos, recalled that Mrs Oni-Okpaku facilitated and funded art residency programs for Nigerian artists in Sweden of which “I and other artists were beneficiaries of her benevolent gestures.” He disclosed that each time the residency was organised, she would shift her base from Lagos by staying with the artists through out the programme in Sweden. “She was truly a kindhearted heroin whose impact will remain indelible in this clime and beyond.”

Balogun lamented that “Chief will be greatly missed by not only friends and family in the art community,” but added that “our solace is that she's gone to a higher realm to unite with Saints. May her saintly soul find rest in hereafter.”

Quintessence, also in 2015 organised fundraising in support for famous stained glass artist, David Dale, who was facing health challenges. Quintessence stated then that Mrs Oni-Okpaku and Mrs. Elisabeth Seriki were key players in the gallery’s support as well as “all our friends in the art that also supported the cause to enable us add to Dale's rehabilitation medical bills."

Apart from promoting arts and culture, Mrs Oni-Okpaku was also involved in establishing The Eruobodo House, founded in 1997 by a group of Nigerian and expatriate women in the country, as a charity. Chaired by Mrs Oni-Okpaku, the board of trustees of the Ijebu-Ode, Ogun State-based Eruobodo House include Mrs Betti Okubojejo, Ms Comfort Bruce and Mrs Gbemi Tejuoso.

Currently at Parkview, Ikoyi, after relocating from the old Falomo Shopping complex, Quintessence, according to the late founder, had, since 1988, been offering visual artists several opportunities. When Quintessence had its 40th anniversary, she recalled how the gallery started promoting works of artists through exhibitions and fashion shows. She boasted that Quintessence was the first private facility to organize an exhibition of Nigerian arts and crafts in the country.
 She listed Quintessence's international exhibitions of Nigerian arts and crafts, which oncluded those in Sweden, UK, Germany as well as other African countries such as Zimbabwe, Ghana, and Burkina Faso.
 During their school years, Mrs Oni-Okpaku and her late husband met, in California, and in 1973 the couple came to Nigeria. She had her BA, with major, in Textile Arts from the School of Arts and Crafts, Goteborg, Sweden, in 1962. After nine years practice as a textile artist in Stockholm, she left for U.S., to get her Masters in Fine Art, again majoring in Textile Arts, at the California College of Arts and Crafts in 1971.

Her work career in Nigeria included a two-year experience with Godwin and Hopwood Architectural firm, before setting up Quintessence in 1975 at Falomo Shopping Centre, Ikoyi, Lagos. Before her death, Quintessence extended its capacity with a branch in Lekki.

Her chieftaincy title was a honour from Ogotun-Ekiti in the late 1990s in recognition of being a promoter and supporter of African arts and culture.
 -Tajudeen Sowole.

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