A NOTE IN THE DIARY OF TUNDE OLANIPEKUN’S CREATIVE CONSCIOUSNESS
Olusola Ogunfuwa, Ph.D.
There is a Yoruba adage that says, “Tomode ba subu, a wo waju; tagba ba subu, a woe yin wo.” Literally, it connotes that, When the child falls down, he looks his front; when the elderly falls he looks his back. The lesson, however, is that as we grow older, we tend to get wiser, trying always to look at our past mistakes and see how to guide against them in future. The nation—Nigeria—is replete with problems, many of which are carryover of the misdemeanours of her leaders. Several errors of past governments of Nigeria are consistently repeated by new leaders. Many of these leaders, in their attire of deceit, look back with false pretenses and misguided notions, seeking to perpetuate eternal darkness for a country with fertile and luscious ground and patient masses. But who cursed this nation? Or, where and when did we get it wrong? Can we truly salvage it? Or, can we remain a nation or split into nations or confederate?
Many people have genuinely pondered on, and discussed, these questions and several others more. Particularly when the pondering is over 50 years, the questions become more painful and thorny to answer. While we continue ponder, we many times sadly look back in retrospect. Tunde Olanipekun is one of such contemplators. At 60 years, and with this exhibition, he looks back into some deep recesses of Nigeria’s troubled state through a currency of his creative works, as those works enlivens our thoughts of a country many of us cherish.
I painstakingly assessed the works for this exhibition and came to the conclusion that the topicality of Moments in Retrospect is rested not in the dimensions of the form, style and material employed by Olanipekun in the works, but in the contextual amplification of the themes that such works addressed. It is then that Olanipekun’s creative genres will make positive, lasting impression on our minds and we would be able to phantom a possible political and socio-economic scenario of Nigeria: As it is in the past, so it is in the present. I shall now proceed to navigate us through a couple of circumstances in the journeys of our nation that warranted Tunde Olanipekun to focus on some issues in his artistic proclamations thus far. They stretch about two-score years. My interrogation of the works is not directly analytical, but chosen to be inferential and, in a wider sense, then becoming equitable to Olanipekun’s vision of artistic exploration. This essay addresses Moments in Retrospect mainly from its content’s creative historiography, with particular reference to the state of the Nigerian nation: her immediate past, contemporary present and near future. But only space and timely connection with Nigerian masses can determine a glorious future. But other levels of continuous assessment of the whole works on display can be made by viewers from their aesthetics climes and affiliations.
The works on display are diverse in their form, style, content, material and time spread. Only a few of these works will be focused on in this essay. Olanipekun became very artistically active immediately he left Yaba College of Technology, Lagos, where he bagged a Higher National Diploma in Art, specializing in Painting. He was also very mobile and involved himself in creative writing in the mid-1980s, a leisure that has earned him adoration and respect by many artists, art educators, collectors and critics. Because of this literary flair, he also began to contextualise his works, putting many of them in political and economic purview. He produced works like SAP, Conscience Bombed and Jankariwo, among others. While SAP and A begging Natio can be rationalized for its creative evolution, Jankariwo and Conscience Bombed are rather puzzling and poetic.
“Jankariwo” and “owu alantakun” are Yoruba words that emanated from the same source, that is, “alantakun” (spider). While “owu alantakun”” is the cobweb, “jankariwo” is the dirty byproduct that eventually result from the gathering of the cobwebs. Jankariwo: the play, was written in the mid-1980s by Ben Tomoloju, an ace playwright, actor and journalist. The play was performed severally, nationally and internationally. It focused on the socio-political problems of Nigeria. It started like comedy, but ended loaded with satires. This play influenced Jankariwo: the mixed media painting of Olanipekun. Both works present metaphorically morbid statuettes of the Nigerian economy—its people, environment and activities abstractly. They are both symbols subsumed in the spiritual presentation and characterisation of the cobwebs and their irritating byproducts. This can be read as a rhetoric of Nigeria seen today as continuum is struggle against itself, from all imaginable circumstances—politics, education, infrastructure, religion, youth empowerment, and many more: it has turned to a nightmare of generational collapse that pierces straight into our eyes and the blood therefrom spatter into the canvas that is our bodies, like zombies.
Jankariwo was first exhibited in 1987 during Sinsemillia Art Expo at the Sheraton Hotel, Lagos. Then, Tunde Olanipekun was 30 years. Having left Yaba College of Technology, Lagos, Nigeria in 1984, he was just sprouting as an artist in the fertile ground of Lagos creative activity. Now another 30 years after, we will wonder with Olanipekun, through the intricate windings of turmoil and web of the proverbial and metaphoric Jankariwo of that period has continued navigate and implant its toxic reins unto our wondering feet. One may further wonder why I use the all-inclusive word—our. It is because we all are engulf by these national conundrums and catastrophes: political, economical, socio-cultural, educational, religious and the list goes almost unend.
Some of us have tried so hard not to participate in this dreadful orgy, but some have also managed to be cleansed and healed of their psychological mutilations. Many of these people survived through the weapon of the arts—literary and visual, because the arts is the most latently surviving weapon used by man for human and animal freedom: it is also proven to be among those strongest missiles used by culturally literate and enlightened individuals against human retroactive actions.
Interestingly, it is against this premise that the arts could be used against itself, when the conscience is bombed in him that is a fighter for the masses, a fighter for justice. This is the paradox with Dele Giwa’s elimination. Giwa, a seasoned and fearless editor Newswatch magazine, was assassinated through the explosion of a mail bomb he received on the 19th of October 1986. He was aged 39 years. As a journalist with the ears to the ground and bold with a passion, he was cut up in the web of military dictatorship, oppression and suppression. Olanipekun celebrated a conscience the follow year when Giwa would have been 40 years old. The action of his assassination became an equation that was even out on the scale of measurement through deceit and the dark veil of pretense. The development of mail bomb, we would admit, was a beautiful craft of war and death. Its impact on victim is gruesome in effect, but enjoyed by its user. Evidences abound that the art of science and technology has consistently being employed as lather deterministic weapon to silence, and many times control, the venomous art of political visual and literary commentaries. The commentary of Olanipekun’s Conscience Bombed addresses the instrumentality of the human silencer against the silenced man, on the one hand; and the practical dynamics of vengeance, conscience and weapons of war, on the other. Ordinarily perceived, the painting is simple in its form, but when keenly study beyond this and its essence captured, its context is loaded with imagery of archetypal significance.
He could be likened to a natured flower that was cut off when it just began to blossom. As such, Giwa has logically been used as the archetypal for a conscience destroyed. Conscience now plays that pivotal symbol of judging aright and being fair in all circumstances. The Conscience Bombed symbolism actually rests on a refrain I put as “Bold and fair, in the mind, the pen retains with the bold”. It is surprising that Olanipekun’s Conscience Bombed, with two others of his paintings—Oodun Festival and Olojo Festival, are now part of the national collections in the archives of National Council for Arts and Culture (NCAC), Abuja.
Olanipekun’s flair for writing was rekindled in the mid-1980s. As he continued to query the political stances of Nigeria (SAP), its cultural dynamics “Heal this ravaged land” environmental carelessness in his paintings and drawings, he was literarily enriching the artistic periscope of Lagos and its environs. As he complemented his artistic effort with his writing on the arts, his ratings soared among art lovers, artists, art critics, journalists and aficionados. His artistic engineering ignited further scholarship in the visual arts. When he gained admission into the University of Benin to study Master of Fine Art in Painting, he had to narrow his visual scope in order to advance some particular themes. That was when he produced many of his beaded crown and the king’s paraphernalia serie paraphernalia and Koronkoso. It was also at this stage that phenomenological awareness blossomed in his creative focus. Nature became paramount, the environment turned his daily concern: preserving the eco-system was the gospel he preached; art became his working tool to achieve his aim ” The big trees have gone and Monstar). He organised several group exhibitions and workshops on how artists and school pupils can creatively assist in the combat of ecological degradation. Discourse on the “Greenhouse effect” was prevalent at the peak of the 1990s through the new millennium period. Olanipekun keyed into and began to reconcile his visual and literary presentations with this global circumstance.
As a probing artist and art writer, Olanipekun’s zeal and assiduity did not wean as he grew older; in fact, his focus and search expanded, yet creating luminous paths in the directions of his avocations and range of influence. His Christian life intermittently involve his creative drive and writings (Life Everlasting and Death Swallowed up in victory” But as he said, “Winning souls to Christ Jesus require been creatively and spiritually motivated to effortlessly achieve such lofty height of divine blessedness.” As his Christian ministerial assignment took more of his time, he finds solace in travelling to Agbara Otor to engage himself in creative nourishment. The annual “Harmattan Workshop” provide him and a diverse range of artists that creative succor and opportunity to re-enliven friendship, cross-fertilise ideas to create aesthetically pleasing montages of art works. On some of such occasions, Olanipekun tried to birth new ideas. Some of the outcome of these are the African Architecture series rendered in plastograph, the environment series (Ravaged Waters, Colours in the Mangrove and Bush Burning) and the Couple and Royalty series. Olanipekun had to emphasise that, “The Harmattan Workshops was one of the best things that happened to me and, by extension, the Nigerian contemporary art.” He said further: “The workshops allowed me an opportunity to reintegrate with art practice, which was increasingly becoming too difficult for me to cope with….”
Proudly, Olanipekun has positively contributed his quota to the development of art and arts practice in Nigeria.
Tunde’s Baffles Art Gallery organized and packaged “The Artists Now” to mark Lagos SNA 10th Anniversary in 1981, presumably the largest exhibition after Festac. which became the platform on which the yearly “October Rain ” Now falls.
His contribution should not go unnoticed as he retires from teaching and government work this year. This exhibition, Moments in Retrospect, which is staged in honour of his meritorious contribution to the world of art, should therefore be seen as a registration of Olanipekun’s commentary in nostalgia, a contextual paradoxes of the Nigerian nation relayed in retrospect—a visual drama he has watched and actively participated in for over 30 years. But a question that we should continually ask ourselves is: What value can I contribute to the development of Nigeria and particularly to the arts? While many of us will be eager to dismiss this question, Olanipekun has done his beat and this exhibition is a testimony of his effort in visual thoughts. His literary thoughts are personal testimonies in many of the exhibiting artists of the mid-1980s to the early 2000s in Lagos and its environs.
Having started this essay as a note from Tunde Olanipekun’s creative consciousness, I shall fill fulfilled to end it with a poem from my diary, which I wrote on the 16th of November 2007, ten days short of 10 years—a mystical coincidence that can occur in time and space of artists’ creative consciousness. It is titled Sorrow. In retrospect, when I look at Nigeria, I repine in moments of sorrow:
Life becomes distorted the more;
even reasoning retires fast.
The dark side of day bleeds
and its reds linger all night
at the sad corner of my being.
Who leans across the path to graceful eternity,
cracking the sanctum of my righteousness
after distilling my blurs
at this age of my being?
Pretentious old folks
requests I surrender—
my thoughts, my melancholies—
for the sake of my mother
who becomes asunder
since my reasoning seized.
Strange birds, again, now opaque that path
with bellows that taint fecundity.
O, you precursors of the bright land, come!
Forgive; let I breed—
for the sake of our mother.
But this sacrifice… still bleeds.
Olusola Ogunfuwa teaches Visual Arts in the Department of Creative Arts, University of Lagos, Nigeria. email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org
Baffles Art Gallery – who we are and what we represent.
Baffles Art Gallery is a division of Baffles Ent.,founded in 1987 by Tunde Olanipekun in answer to the Boom in Nigeria Arts in the 80’s to meet the need of budding Nigerian Artists who queue to be exhibited at the few Galleries available at that time. This was a period when artists increase in numbers, so was the numbers of exhibitions that span through out the year in the few Government cultural Arms, foreign cultural centers and very few private galleries.
Baffles Art Gallery is motivated to support and promote Artists especially young artists over the difficult years between graduating from school and establishing themselves.
Baffles Art Gallery is committed to promoting and propagation of Nigerian and African Artists and Arts through Art Exhibitions, seminar/workshops and book publications and articles in the media.
Baffles Art Gallery is passionate in developing entrepreneurial skills amongst children, youth and women through art and craft workshops.
ABOUT THE DIRECTOR
Tunde Olanipekun was born in 1957 in Iyin Ekiti, in Ekiti State, Nigeria. He had his early education at Christ’s School, Ado Ekiti. He went to Yaba College of Technology and University of Benin where he bagged his HND and Master Degrees in Fine Art respectively.
He has been a great connoisseur of the arts, more especially in Nigeria, for over two decades.
Having participated in so many art exhibitions in Nigeria and overseas, he has extensively been propagating and promoting Nigeria Art as gallery owner, curator and art critic. His passion and love for nature has largely endeared him to the painting of and on the Nigerian ecological and aquatic environment.
Presently, he teaches Art and organizes Art Shows and Exhibitions on Environment.
He believes that the visual appeal and the power of art could be explored to fight environmental degradation and arouse people’s consciousness on the need to “CARE FOR OUR LIVING SPACE – THE EARTH WHERE ALL BELONG TO”
Among many exhibitions/seminars/workshops he has organized on environment are:
- Unity of Art and Environment Expressed NEST Ibadan 1992
- Living Space, Friedrich Ebert Foundation Lagos, 1992
- Trends and Themes in Environment:Implication on the Art and the Art Teacher. F.E.F. Lagos 1993
- Living Space II. Art Exhibition F.E.F. Lagos 1994
- Beauty from waste-seminar/workshop and exhibition F.E.F. Lagos 1994
- Covenant Treasures – Children Art Exhibition, Covenant School,Lagos 1993
- Muse from the mountains, an exhibition of paintings by Ayodele Ojo, National Museum, June 23rd – 29th, 2018.
- Art Workshop/Seminar for Youth at RCCG Lagos Province 60. 2019
He has written extensively on Art and Cultural Issues in the Guardian Newspaper and other National dailies and magazines.
Presently, he teaches Art and Organizes Christian Art Shows and Art Seminars, Workshop/Exhibitions on Environment.