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Kongi@80: UNILAG Celebrate Soyinka’s 80th Birthday with Art Exhibition

Written by Elvis Boniface

The 80th birthday of the nobel  prize for literature laureate have been greeted with celebrations, awards, seminars, symposiums and encomium from all parts of the world. We at the University of Lagos are not left out. Under the auspice of the Soyinka International Conference, “Calibrating Kongi at 80: The Art Exhibition, curated by Peju Layiwola and Sola Ogunfuwa is to run between 10th – 30th July, 2014 at the JP Clark centre, Faculty of Arts, University of Lagos in commemoration of the literature icon’s 80th birthday.

The event was declared opened by renowned poet and writer, Professor JP Clark, joined by top members of management of the University of Lagos. In the crew were the Vice-Chancellor, Professor R. A. Bello, Deputy Vice-chancellors, Professors Duro Oni (Management services) and Babajide Alo (Academics and Research, Registrar, Dr (Mrs) Taiwo Folashde Ipaye, Bursar, Mr. Lateef A. Odekunle, Liberian, Dr (Mrs) Olukemi Adebimpe Fadehan and other top officers. General members of the public and those from the media also turned out in large number to grace the opening of the exhibition.

Featuring artists are Bruce Onobrakpeya, Jelili Atiku, Tola Wewe, Bolaji Ogunwo, Sheriff Ojetunde, David Ikelewve, Taye Erawele, Peju Layiwola, Greg Odiakose and several other artists.

In the curator’s, Peju Layiwola welcome address, she said Wole Soyinka (aka Kongi) has become like a motif and is indeed, an international motif referenced from different parts of the globe. To the artist, he possesses the character of line, shape and texture captured in terracotta, photography, performance, prints, painting and metal. The artists celebrate Soyinka, a passionate collector of art and one who once made an attempt to recapture one of Nigeria’s most treasure iconic images, the Ori Olokun head from Ife. Hence his 80th birthday cannot go unrecognized without a feast of exhibitions in his honour.

As part of the Soyinka International Conference 2014, Calibrating Kongi at 80 brings together several generations of Nigerian artists – from the very distinguished artists to students of art drawn from various tertiary Institutions in Nigeria for this unique exhibition – the first public exhibition to hold in the newly opened JP Clark Centre at the University of Lagos. Bruce Onobrakpeya, best described as ‘father to many artists’ and great mentor to all the artists represented in this exhibition, has for over a decade, through his Harmattan workshop series inspired artists, lecturers and students who have come directly under his tutelage. His workshop captures the spirit of togetherness, sharing and dissemination of knowledge as well as celebrating the diverse talents and cultures of Nigeria a vision shared by the Mbari Mbayo workshop initiated by Wole Soyinka and Ulli Bier in 1960.

Onobrakpeya’s prints and illustrations of Wole Soyinka’s writings of the 1960s, establish the close relationship between literature and the Visual arts since independence. The collaboration between performance artists, literary and visual artists during the Mbari years brought about a healthy and conducive atmosphere for producing some of the classics Nigeria is known for today. The historical works of Onobrakpeya set the pace for the exhibition establishing a long history of artistic production that continues to inspire and provoke thoughts.

Unlike most other exhibitions celebrating the life of this icon, this show deemphasises the visual representation of the artists. It takes a more intellectual approach to visualizing and giving form to the ideas Soyinka captures in his numerous articles and books. However, the temptation to depict his woolly hair and his often stern look, enhanced by the numerous photographs captured on the internet is overwhelming. Bolaji Ogunwo, a great portrait artist and a host of other artists fall prey to this. An avalanche of poster representations of Soyinka’s plays in this show provides a rich repository for playwrights to draw from in several years to come.

Tola Wewe’s very picturesque depiction of ‘Protest’ is inspired by Soyinka’s saying, ‘The Man dies in all who keep quiet in the face of Tyranny’. Soyinka’s comparison of Ogun and Dionysus in his celebrated 1967 essay, ‘The Fourth Stage: Through the Mysteries of Ogun to the Origin of Yoruba Tragedy’ crystallises in Peju Layiwola’s ‘Conversation of the Gods’, which brings together the Greek and Yoruba pantheon of Gods. Both Layiwola and David Ikyeleve attempt producing in concrete form a metal staff for ‘Brother Jero’. Finally we have Jelili Atiku, an alumnus of the University of Lagos and an artist with a high profile in performance art, to spice up the opening of this exhibition with his performance entitled: ‘I am Abiku’.

I welcome you to Soyinka International Conference and to ‘Calibrating Kongi at 80’ and I wish you a happy viewing.

Again, the exhibition will run till 30th July, 2014 at JP Clark centre, Faculty of Arts, University. Go view!

Edugist brings you exclusive pictures of the exhibition.

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About the author

Elvis Boniface

Ordained Evangelist of the Education Ministry. Learning is my lifestyle, credo and religion. On a mission to disrupt and redirect Africa's Education conversation using Technology and Media. We can do it. Open to discuss any Education initiative and idea. #peace

Speedy reach: +2348185787349 & elvis@edugist.org

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