* Honours Onobrakpeya, Okundaye, Nwakunor, Idabi, Nzete, others
By Godwin Okondo
FOR a sector with little or no government support, but which has charted its own path regardless, the recent maiden National Gallery of Art awards came as a surprise to many stakeholders. It was a first perhaps in the forging of a new relationship with practitioners by an agency of government superintending the visual art subsector. A senior official of NGA stated that more robust relationship with practitioners is with the offing in the harmonisation of the Establishment Act soon to be presented to the National Assembly for speedy passage and presidential assent.
A Deputy Director overseeing office of the Director, Information Services, Orji Onoko, said the maiden awards recently organised by NGA was a pointer to the direction the agency wants to go. He stated that going forward the awards would be an annual event for practitioners in the visual art subsector. Onoko said although the awards carry no monetary value, but that they are “a recognition of those who have excelled in visual arts practice, scholarship, management, packaging and marketing, galleries as well as patrons of visual arts, that is collectors, among others.”
On the absence of a national gallery yet for art in Abuja, Onoko said repealing the old Act for the Re-enactment of a new one was needed to reposition NGA as a revenue-generating agency, so it could do more for the sector and empower artists. According to him, “NGA has concluded the harmonization of its Establishment Act in collaboration with the Society of Nigerian Artists (SNA). With the inauguration of the 10th National Assembly, NGA and SNA will soon send the Harmonized Bill to the National Assembly for Repeal and Re-enactment. The expectation is that the National Assembly will give it accelerated hearing and transmit it to the president for assent. Once this happens, NGA will become a revenue-generating agency with the financial muscle to build not just a befitting gallery in Abuja but in the six geopolitical zones of Nigeria. Studio artists will equally be empowered as they will be fully engaged in providing art works for embellishment of public buildings and bridges across the country, among others.”
Director-General, National Gallery of Art, Ebeten William Ivara (right) presenting Bruce Onobrakpeya’s Lifetime Achievement award to his representative and son, Ejiro Onobrakpeya
Led by its Director-General, Ebeten William Ivara, the National Gallery of Art (NGA) recently bestowed awards on certain individuals and organisations that have brought growth and advancement to the Nigerian arts and culture sector. The awards were for their tireless and unwavering efforts in promoting the Nigerian art sector.
The awards that came in different categories were given to achievers like Prof. Bruce Onobrakpeya, who was nominated for the Lifetime Achievement Award, Mrs. Oyenike Monica Okundaye for Visual Arts Personality of the Year, Gregory Page Nwakunor for Arts Journalist of the Year, Izuchukwu Clifford Agba for Inspiring Young Artist of the Year, and Muhammad Sulaiman for Distinguished Visual Arts Leadership Award. Also, Thought Pyramid was nominated for Gallery of the Year, Helen Ogochukwu Nzete for Inspiring Young Studio Artist of the Year, Mrs. Nkwocha Patricia for Curator of the Year, and Comrade Ojo Agbor Idabi was nominated for National Gallery of Art Exemplary Staff.
Onobrakpeya is the President of Bruce Onobrakpeya Foundation, an artist-driven and art-oriented non-for-profit organization, with a mission is to engender the growth of art and culture through the provision of opportunities for artists to improve themselves through skills acquisition and empowerment. The foundation also promotes public interest in the visual arts, by creating awareness for the intrinsic values of African art and its benefits to society. Onobrakpeya received the Lifetime Achievement Award for his pioneering role in the scholarship and practice of modern art in Nigeria, as well as mentorship of several generations of visual artists in the country and around the world.
Last year, the Representatives of Georgia State Assembly, United States of America, honoured Onobrakpeya with the key to Georgia at The High Museum, Atlanta. Barely a week after on April 13th, he was equally bestowed with an Honorary Citizenship of the State of Georgia, US, for his exemplary career as artist, role model, father and teacher of many generations of Nigerian artists. This confers on him, the Goodwill Ambassadorship for the State of Georgia.
Visual Arts Personality of the Year, Oyenike Monica Okundaye, founded the Nike Art and Culture Foundation in 2007, with some eminent Nigerians as trustees, aimed at nurturing Nigerian cultural heritage. She held her first solo exhibition at the Goethe Institute in Lagos in 1968 to much acclaim. Today, Okundaye has become Nigeria’s cultural ambassador plenipotentiary, spreading the message of art across major world capitals.
Okundaye established one of the biggest and most sought-after art galleries in the country in the highbrow Lekki, Lagos, which today houses no less than 7,000 art works. She recently opened another magnificent gallery on Airport Road, Abuja. Earlier in 1983, she established the Nike Centre for Arts and Culture, Osogbo, which offers free training to all Nigerians, especially young women, in various forms of arts. It began with 20 underprivileged girls, but has over the years graduated more than 3,000. Today, many African countries send their citizens to study textile art at the centre. The centre also admits undergraduates from Nigerian universities for their industrial training programmes in textile design, as well as students from Europe, Canada and the US.
Arts Journalist of the Year, Gregory Nwakunor, started his journalism career at The Week magazine in 2001, where he was a nominee of Red Ribbon Award for HIV/AIDS Report in 2002. The same year, he was nominated for the Diamond Award for Media Excellence (DAME Award) in the Sports category. Before joining The Week magazine, he had practiced as a freelance journalist at Financial Standard newspapers, and was at different times contributor to the Art pages of ThisDay newspaper. He joined The Guardian newspapers in 2003, where he worked as Senior Production Sub-Editor, Head, Editorial with The Guardian Life magazine and Production Editor between 2016 and 2018. In 2005, he was winner of the Peter Badejo Prize of Dance Guild of Nigeria as Journalist of the Year. He has also been nominated for the Nigeria Breweries-Sponsored Golden Pen Award in 2011 and 2013, as well as winner of the Nigeria Media Merit Award (NMMA) Environment Reporter of the Year 2020.
Gregory has attended several workshops on media training and management. He was appointed Deputy Editor of The Guardian in 2021, overseeing the arts. He has over 25 years’ experience in print journalism and content writing, with a knack for learning new things about the global cultural landscape. He is currently a member of Cohort 3 of Oxford Climate Journalism Network.
Inspiring Young Artist of the Year, Izuchukwu Clifford Agba, is a graduate of Fine and Applied Arts from Nnamdi Azikiwe University, Awka, Anambra State. He plunged into studio practice soon after his National Youth Service. He founded the Cliff Agba Art Studio in Nyanya, a suburb of Abuja. He has been consistent in his practice as a young professional artist.
His expressive images attest to the activities of human nature, mentality, emotions and the traditional ways of life in the society he finds himself. In his paintings, his subjects are combined with objects in a stage pose, leaving them staring confidently from his canvas, and forming characters full of emotions on the mind of his audience. Oil and acrylic on canvas are his favourite. He uses rich, bright tones from both media to give his art works very strong characters. These characters are modified by his eloquent skills at rendering unfinished figures, leaving the rest to the imagination of viewers. He explores other media like water colour, pastels, charcoal and gouache. He is also an illustrator and lover of digital images. His art works exhibit high proficiency in draughtsmanship.
He is a committed member of Society of Nigerian Artists (SNA) and once served as Assistant Secretary (SNA), FCT Chapter. This young, talented artist has participated in several art exhibitions, and has been recognized as an Honourary Member of the Drawing Academy, US.
Distinguished Visual Arts Leadership Award, Muhammad Sulaiman, is the President of Society of Nigerian Artists (SNA) as well as President, China Alumni Association of Nigeria. Before now, he served out two terms as chairman, SNA, Abuja chapter. Significantly, as president of Abuja International Open Art Expo, he initiated the art event that draws amazing talents worldwide into the city of Abuja to connect with wider audiences. Sulaiman’s impact and contributions to the arts have won him coveted laurels from organizations, both at home and abroad. These include the Distinguished Ambassador of Nigerian Art in 2011, Distinguished Painter of the Nanjing Painting and Calligraphy Academy in China in June 2012, China Award for Cultural Exchange in 2013 and Distinguished Fellows Award by SNA in July 2014.
Besides his several art exhibitions in Nigeria, Sulaiman has exhibited his works in major cities across the globe. During his tenure as President, Rotary Club of Asokoro, Abuja, 2008, he contributed immensely to enduring community projects and upscaling talents in the field of art.
Director-General, National Gallery of Art (NGA), Ebeten Ivara presenting the Visual Arts Personality of the Year award to Chief (Mrs.) Nike Okundaye; a representative of the Permanent Secretary, Federal Ministry of Information & Culture and Director, Entertainment and Creative Services, Ugo Akudo Nwosu and the representative of the Comptroller-General, Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps, FCT Command, Dr. Peter Maigari at the recent NGA Mast Festival and Awards ceremony in Abuja
GALLERY of the Year, Thought Pyramid, was founded in 2007 by a Nigerian curator and gallerist, Jeff Ajueshi. Over the years, the gallery has become a creative space that focuses on the interplay between visual arts and culture. In response to the need for a purpose-built space for artists and art lovers to interact, Ajueshi, in 2014, completed the construction of a new home for Thought Pyramid Art Centre. This building, which houses a gallery, space for dialogue sessions, arts and craft shop and lounge/restaurant is located in the highbrow Wuse 2 Area of Abuja. The centre has become a rendezvous for art lovers, writers, poets and policy wonks, who meet under various platforms to discuss how to advance the socio-cultural, economic and political future of Nigeria. Thought Pyramid Art Centre has curated over 100 exhibitions.
As part of his commitment to the growth of art in Nigeria, Ajueshi has established the Foundation for Arts and Creative Talents (FACT), an artists and writers residency programme in Oghara, Delta State. Through this programme, he aims to positively impact the unemployed youths in the Niger Delta to dissuade them from restiveness and militancy. In the same vein, he has completed another gallery in Benin City.
Also, Inspiring Young Studio Artist of the Year, Helen Ogochukwu Nzete, majored in Sculpture from the Department of Fine and Applied Arts, Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria. Her signature mixed media paintings are a blend of paintings influenced by her background in sculpture. As a multimedia artist, she is passionate about leveraging on the power of art as a tool for social change. Her works investigate the conflicts caused by society and individual realities. Her pieces are synonymous with elements that are part and parcel of daily life such as beads, coins, newspapers, etc. This signature mix-mash elements of nature, emotions, environments and some form of rebellion all come together to symbolize the power of expression in a plethora of forms.
Nzete has won laurels which include Social Media Award for Visual Arts Competition by the Embassy of Spain 2018, Wotisart Art Magazine, UK February and August editions 2019, and Visual Arts Competition 2021 by the Embassy of Spain in Abuja. She has worked as an art teacher, art club instructor and lead coordinator, and is founder and art instructor of Kids in Arts Workshop since 2014. She works in her studio in Abuja, where she focuses on inspiring the younger generation through arts.
Curator of the Year, Mrs. Patricia Nkwocha, studied Fine and Applied Art at Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, where she majored in textiles. She to venture into the production of batiks, tie&dye and paintings in Enugu. Her creative works in textile design later caught the attention of the National Gallery of Art (NGA), Abuja, where she eventually got employed in 2003 as Visual Arts Officer.
As Curator of NGA in Enugu, she introduced innovative programmes in collaboration with other organizations and the private sector such as Women Equality Day Art exhibition, sponsored by Nigerian Breweries Plc, Art Exhibition on Credible Elections in collaboration with Society of Nigerian Artists (SNA) and Children Work Show, in partnership with Alliance Francaise, Enugu, among others. Through her efforts, the Enugu State Government recently allocated a plot of land to NGA to build its permanent structure in the state.
Nkwocha combines her administrative job as a public servant with her studio practice as a visual artist. She has exhibited her art works within the country and outside, including in Senegal (2010) and US (2018). Her ability to balance both aspects of her professional career has brought her recognition from different quarters. These include the award of recognition for invaluable contribution to the growth of Association of Heads of Federal Establishments, Rivers State chapter on December 5, 2012, Global Leadership Hero Peace award on June 17, 2019 and Director-General, NGA’s Letter of Commendation in October 2022, in recognition of her productivity, work ethics, dedication to duty and astuteness.
For National Gallery of Art Exemplary Staff, Comrade Ojo Agbor Idabi, his career started in the office of the Special Assistant on Public Affairs to the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria from 2005 to 2006 and later Personal Assistant to the Honourable Minister of Culture, Tourism and National Orientation between 2006 to 2007. His career came to full bloom when he joined the services of National Gallery of Art (NGA). After attending critical professional courses, Idabor has held and still holds the following key positions: Head of Manpower Planning and Budgeting (2017 to date), Head of Integrated Personnel Payroll Information System (IPPIS), Human Resources (2013 to date), Head of NGA Staff Nominal Roll (2010 to date) and Head of Statistics Unit, NGA (2022 to date).
In all his roles, Idabi is at heart a unionist, a mass mobiliser and dogged fighter for better staff welfare. It was no surprise therefore that after spending barely one year at NGA, he contested and won election as Assistant Secretary, Radio, Television, Theatre and Arts Workers Union of Nigeria (RATTAWU), NGA Chapter. Moving up the ladder, he became Acting Secretary and then vice chairman before finally becoming Chairman of RATTAWU, NGA Chapter, a position he held for two years (2017-2019).