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Wednesday, 09 September 2015 16:30 Francis Odupute Academic

Francis Odupute interviews Dr. Bruce Onobrakpeya.

The Bruce Onobrakpeya Foundation (BOF) is an artist-led non-governmental organization formed in 1989, with the mission to engender the growth of art and culture through the provision of opportunities for artists to improve themselves through skills acquisition and empowerment, to promote and develop public interest in the visual arts by creating awareness for the intrinsic values of African art and its benefits to society. The Bruce Onobrakpeya Foundation has been an enduring player in the visual arts scene since its inception in Nigeria. It organizes, among other internationally acclaimed art events, the annual Harmattan Workshop at Agbara’Otor in Delta State. In an exclusive Interview with ARTVOICES INTERNATIONAL, the founder and chairman of the foundation shared some insights into the annual creative interface in Agbara’Otor and challenges facing the proect. Excerpts:

*May we meet you sir?

Well, I’m Bruce Onobrakpeya. I am the chairman of Bruce Onobrakpeya Foundation (BOF). What you see here is a dream, a vision I had many years ago, because I have attended similar institutions, both in Nigeria and abroad, and going back to sixteen to seventeen years now, we have been coming here, sometimes once or twice a year, some times several times a year, just to practice Art in order to make sure that both professionals and beginners in the Art grew and that the Art of the country takes preeminence, takes a very, very noble place that our Art in the past has put Nigeria. So, what you see now is just an afternoon when someone from outside, from a tertiary institution, has come to interact with us who are an informal education system. So that is we and that is where we are.

*Response of people and their reactions to this workshop?

Oh well, people have been very enthusiastic, I mean very enthusiastic people; they like what they see here very much...what they do here very much. What is interesting is that we have people who have been coming here within the last eight, nine years. They have been coming here every time we have this workshop. And then we have even new people. And when you move round the entire structure here you see people working and working with all zeal, they are very much interested, and in fact when it is time for us to go, people don’t want to go, because they still want to work. So, that is this place.

*Some people feel that this workshop has not been given enough publicity through the media. What are you doing about it so that more people will be aware of this workshop?

Well, you see, what is happening is that we had some help from the Ford Foundation two years after we started. But Ford Foundation later changed their policy and right now we don’t have any financial partner. We have people who give us advice, who encourage us, but real financial partners we don’t have now. And so if we take more than we have now, it’s not possible for us to carter for because the fees they pay is heavily subsidized by BOF, and so the more people come in here the more money we have to find to subsidize them, so for us it becomes economical to keep the number down as it is now until we find partners who will be supporting us financially.

*This kind of effort is complimenting Government’s effort in empowering the youths economically. In what way do you think the government can be of help to this project?

Well, in plenty ways. …the government should give us outright subventions. Subventions; give us money to help run the place—that’s the primary thing. And then give us money also to develop the structures. For instance, you are here, this make-shift library, you will see what we called hall, but you will see the main building there and we have chalets where the people stay. Now we have acquired land on the other side; we need money to build it, to put proper workshop, to build a conference hall, to build a library and to build chalets so that we can make sure that this place as it is, can be operational for all year round. But at least, six months of the year, it’s active. If we get the money this place will be operational all the year round in artistic learning, artistic production and so on.

Although right now, this premise is open all year round. Because we have works there in the gallery that people come to see; they draw people into this town. Tourists come to see those works, schoolchildren come in when we’re not here, to see these works and other people; filmmakers, musicians and so no use our premises, Church groups, young people and so on they use the premises for picnic. So the place is useful all year round, but we want the workshop situation itself to be active all the year round.

*…You were given a national award. Many people said it was a well-deserved award. What is your feeling about it all?

First of all, I thank God, His work in my life; He’s given me talent which he has helped me to develop. And then I thank my colleagues, other artists, for whom I earned the award. I thank members of my family who have stood before me all along, helping me to work and don’t grudge me if the money we should use for family is put here [BOF]. I thank them. Also I thank the Nigerian environment, particularly the Lagos environment where I’m staying for very, very many years; and the Lagos environment has been very, very good in putting me in… not distracting me from the direction of artistic creativity. I thank the media people who have amplified what I have created and made a lot of people know about Art and have brought in new value into the Art.

*Implication of the national award to your commitment to promoting Art?

Well, the spurring is what you see now. I have a new director. The director has been working for two years and I can safely stay away now and let that director work without my coming here. But because of this award and because of the interest that I have for Art promotion in Nigeria, I still come around to make one input or the other.

At The Harmattan Workshop, Artists Advocate for Environmental Friendliness & Recycling Culture

Turning waste into wealth – this seemed to be the creative context/framework under which the 16th Harmattan Workshop in Agbarha-Otor, Delta State, made its impact penultimate weekend.

During a press visit by this reporter to the workshop before it ended its first session for 2014 penultimate weekend in Agbarha-Otor, emerging and professional artists alike, including Art students from tertiary institutions as well as foreign artists  and other researchers were grossly engaged in creative intercourse, slogging it out in their various sections, only taking breaks per time to attend to crowds of schoolchildren  from various primary and secondary schools who were led to the workshop village on educational tours/excursions.

The workshop main theme was NIGERIA CENTENARY CELEBRATION, with workshop sections ranging from painting, sculpture/installations, metal constructions, textile fabric designs, leather crafts, bead making, to photography, mixed media, drawing, graphic design, etc. Unconsciously or so,  everybody had something to say on the state of Nigerian environment and seemed to agree that there is an environmental crisis in Nigeria and that everyone had a duty to do something proactive to arrest the situation. For these artists at the 16th Harmattan workshop in Agbarho-otor, Art can provide the answer to the environment question, and the workshop was a great platform to explore, innovate and share insights that would result in making the best out of the worst situation in our society.

A brief interaction with some of the busy participants at the workshop was all-revealing. Tejuosho Olanrewaju, an environmental artist, was deeply engaged an installation project he titled Centenary Nigeria.  The installation in progress comprised  mainly of found objects from the immediate environment, including cut-to-size coconut tree branches wrapped in newspapers and magazines; discarded ‘pure water’ sachets; provision wrappers and other waste materials. The artist said, “…we’re talking about centenary Nigeria now, and as an environmental artist, I’m using the materials in my environment to create my work. The materials you’re seeing here are taken from this Agbarho-Otor environment. So, I want to turn them to artworks, I want to discuss the issues of the centenary—Nigeria’s hundred years of amalgamation.”

Asked what his motivation was for embarking on the project, Teju said, “I said earlier that I am an environmental artist. I talk about the environment; the materials in the environment are what inspire my work. I want to reduce the problem of our environment…” On how he intends to change public opinion and environmental habits just by exhibiting artworks and ‘wastes’, Teju said, pointing at a heap of tied water sachets and beverage wrappers, etc on the floor, “If you know the number of such water sachets and other materials littering the streets and impacting on our health and the environment everyday… it doesn’t augur well for our health. By this work, I seek to reduce waste problem and use this Art medium to advocate for environmental protection in Nigeria’s hundred years journey together as one nation.”

Midahuen Yves (a.k.a Midy) an artist from Benin Republic, said “…my first time coming here was 2005.  When you come to this place the spirit of inspiration catches you and you cannot leave this place without thinking of coming back again. Since 2005, this is my 7th time coming”. Midy was busy splattering hues onto a conceptual mixed media work and when asked what he was up to the Beniniose replied, “I am a painter. This is one of my works; I’m still working on it. It’s a mixed media. You can feel that blessing is coming from heaven, so people are ready to keep it in their pocket [pointing to a gummed jean pocket on the canvas]…Don’t let the blessing pass by, keep it!” on why he chose his medium of expression, Midy said “I use jean, wasted jean. It’s like taking wasted things and giving it a life…from waste to something useful.”

On his experience with other participants at the Harmattan workshop, Midy said, “…we learn from each other. What I do people like it, I can teach them…what some people do, I fell in love with it, they taught me. So, it’s like shared experiences that can help your art to grow up.”

Another interesting conceptual painter at the workshop was Ayeva Medjeva from Togo. A man of ‘few was’ because of poor communication in English language,  Ayeva worked on a mixed media entitled CONTRAST, and he defended his work saying, “ I’m working on “Contrast”. Contrast means day and night, good and badness I can say…er…white and black…” Attending the workshop for the third time now, Ayeva admitted, “I enjoy the place and try to create something that is unique and share with other people their experiences. I am happy to be here.”

For Mrs. Mary Young, an art History student from the University of Benin, Benin City, attending the Harmattan workshop was “awesome. When I came, initially I went to painting section, but… I had to come over to leather craft section. If you look at the products displayed on the table I happen to produce one of the bags – the black one…”

The facilitator of the leather craft section at the workshop, Shade Thomson, a multi-talented professional designer/artist from Yaba College of Technology, Lagos and  the Amadu Bello University, Zaria, respectively, shed some light on how she succeeds in enthusing her workshop students in innovative hand crafted leather works and  imposing jewelry  making  through a strategic recycling culture. “…this technique is called the Emburse Technique; basically the whole areas we have looked at in this workshop is hand-crafted leather work and we have used lasing, embursing, punching and weaving as various ways of producing leather goods. This applied the emburse technique on it; for this piece we applied the weaving technique, and if you look closely what we have done is to use recycled products and mix them with leather.  In between the woven piece you would find aluminum cans- aluminum from canned drinks - that has been woven into the leather to create the design that you see.”

Displaying the leather works and other items, shade continued, “Also we have used plastic bottles from your usual drinking water bottle to create the jewelry that you find here. So we have recycled products that we have used and discarded, now mixed with leather to make beautiful products that we can use on a daily basis. We also have earrings made from the same things…” On what was the drive for all the efforts, Shade averred “Well, it’s more of recycling culture… encouraging recycling culture.  You know, we keep having a lot of wastes…our country becoming a dumping ground for all kinds of second hand goods and all of that. The purpose is to see beyond just producing plenty waste what we can do with the wastes we have to create things that we can use on an everyday basis so that the waste does continue to accumulate.”

The annual Harmattan Workshop in Agbarho-Otor is organized by the Bruce Onobrakpeya Foundation (BOF). The second segment of the annual artistic retreat comes up in August every year. According to the new director of the workshop, Mr. Sam Ovraiti, the August retreat is meant for professional artists only and promises greater results. More information about the Harmattan Workshop Agbarho-Otor can be accessed at the BOF website:

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