Thursday 17 November 2022

'How to get Onobrakpeya's Harmattan Workshop on UNESCO World Heritage List'

Participants during 'Our Inheritance-What I took from Bruce Onobrakpeya' at Kongi's Harvest Gallery, Freedom Park, Lagos.

FOR its 2022 edition, Lagos Book and Arts Festival (LABAF) celebrated one of Nigeria's modernists, Dr Bruce Onobrakpeya.  

During one of the yearly festival's sub-events, an observation that Onobrakpeya's iconic legacy, the 24-year-old Harmattan Wokshop, in Agbarha-Otor, Delta State,  deserves a UNESCO Heritage listing was supported by another modernist, Timothy Adebanjo Fasuyi.

However, as individual, Onobrakpeya got recognised with UNESCO 'Living Human Treasure Award, in 2006. His mastery in printmaking has also given him several international recognitions.

The artist whose 90th birthday has been enjoying attention from quite a number of events since July/August, by different organisations, was on Tuesday, November 15, 2022 a central focus of LABAF. The day's events took off at Freedom Park, Lagos Island with a gathering themed The Onobrakpeya @90 Fiesta, an exhibition of few of his works in metal & found objects. The exhibition, which was presented in collaboration with Bruce Onobrakpeya Foundation (BOF) preceded the symposium.

Themed Our Inheritance-What I took from Bruce Onobrakpeya, the symposium had Dr Kunle Adeyemi as a moderator, Nse Abasi Inyang, Dr Barret Akpokabayen, Juliet Ezenwa Maja-pearce, and Ogochukwu Ejiofor as discussants. The symposium started with brief introduction by conveners Toyin Akinosho and Jahman Oladejo of Committee for Relevant Arts (CORA), which, among others, highlighted how Onobrakpeya's gallery supported LABAF's maiden event in 1999. Akinosho noted that the famous Zaria Art Society, of which Onobrakpeya was a foundation member "has influenced contemporary Nigerian art of today." 

Dr Adeyemi opened the discussion  saying people like Onobrakpeya exist in nearly every aspect of profession, confirming how resourceful Nigerians are wherever they are anywhere in the world.  He argued that the Onobrakpeya generation however seemed to have created brotherliness among themselves hence their successes. 

 Sharing his experience, Adeyemi, a printmaker recalled how participating in Harmattan Workshop as a student from University of Benin made him realised that "printmaking was beyond all I have read in books." He added that the experience was so "illuminating" such that "my art was liberated."  

Ogochukwu, a young artist whose experience with the Harmatan Workshop started in 2018, disclosed that for the first time, she saw professionals in realtime practice. Seeing quite a number of professionals, she recalled how "I realised that I needed to be myself." Some of the things she got from the workshop, included "colourmanship and textures." And from the skills on texture, learnt at the workshop, she explained how it "became a theme for me in my art." 

The values of Onobrakpeya as a teacher and father was highlighted by Abasi who had the privilege of being one of the master printmaker's students at St Gregory College, Obalende, Lagos. Despite the naivety of his students, Onobrakpeya, according to Inyang, kept "encouraging us no matter how bad" the situation was.  He said his teacher was so close to him such that his parents eventually got to know him as part of the family.

From being a secondary school student of Onobrakpeya, Inyang would later be among the early participants, in 1998, at the young Harmatan Workshop. "It was a space for experimentation," Inyang noted. "It has been able to help the.neifhbouhood of the agabr Otor community."

 Such a resourceful centre as the Harmattan workshop, Inyang said, deserves to be listed as UNESCO World Heritage. "I don’t know why UNESCO hasn’t named it a monument for tourism yet! It’s more than deserving of it," he stressed.

 Later, from the audience, a seniour of Onobrakpeya at Nigerian College of Arts, Science and Technology (NCAST),  Zaria, Fasuyi, 89, seemed to provide an answer to why the Agbar-Otor centre hasn't received a UNESCO attention. Fasuyi suggested that "a connection" is needed to get the attention of the world cultural organisation. "I will ensure that UNESCO recognises Agharha-Otor Harmattan Workshop," Fasuyi assured. "I have enough connection to make this happen."

 For Dr Akpokabayen, his Agharha-Otor experience, he said, rescued him from almost a directionaless situation after graduating at Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile Ife, Osun State. "Fortunately, I met Prof Bruce and started internships under him," he disclosed his pre-Harmattan Workshop contact with the master printmaker. "And when the Harmattan Workshop came up, my life changed completely." He added that his experience then later earned him "a job at Yaba College of Technology. 

 Ezenwa Maja-pearce who shared her experience recalled attending the workshop "for the first time In 2007," she got attracted to the printmaking section. She disclosed her printmaking experience "provided an answer to many questions bothering my mind." Among such questions answered was finding out if there people she shared something in common with. "For once, I realised that I was among people who were just like me; you realised that there are people 'crazier' than you."

 Also on the scheduled for the Visual Arts Day dedicated to Onobrakpeya at 90 were performance, Don’t Eat Garlic Near The Queen by Jelili Atiku;  ceramicists exhibition Beyond Limit at Museum Gallery; and The Visuals of Okigbo’s Verses, Celebrating the 55th year of the passage of the poet, Curated by Krydz Ikwuemesi & the Christopher Okigbo Foundation).

Other sub-events included Conversation of the ‘GrandPas’ with a theme: When we were young…. Dreams and Destinationsas a conversation between Pa Theo Fasuyi & Bruce Onobrakpeya; online exhibition themed Erections are coming curated by Ayo Arigbabu & Aderemi Adegbite; and performance EJA NI, performance by Yusuf Durodola, among others.

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