Art in The Hinterland

30 Dec 2012

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Art empowerment centre

An art empowerment centre sprung up in a dusty Ogun State-based satellite community. Okechukwu Uwaezuoke was at its recent official commissioning

From the upper most floor downwards with his camera poised, the visitor stopped in his strides. The installation, as seen from the gallery of the immediate upper floor, was simply breath-taking! Well, well, well... this had turned out much more enthralling than he previously imagined. About a week earlier, Princess Theresa Iyase-Odozi had enthused about an installation of paper houses hanging on and positioned around dry dwarf trees. This installation, she had said, would be part of an exhibition on the ground floor of the four-storey art empowerment centre. The exhibition, in turn, was part of the activities marking the centre’s official opening.

The exhibition, titled On Thy Roots We Stand, also features murals, conventional paintings and photographs of captivating scenes in the Ogun State-based community of Olambe captioned with inspirational words. 

Day: Saturday, December 22. The festive ambiance clinging to the air seemed to re-energise visitors to the venue, who defied the energy-draining early afternoon sun. Among the early arrivals were the Skye Bank chairman, Olatunde Ayeni, retired Major Unuigbe and the local chieftain of the community where the empowerment centre is located.

Called the GreenHouse Art Empowerment Centre, the recently-completed edifice is located in St. Lucy Estate in Olambe, directly opposite the GreenHouse Laundry, Book Club and Art Gallery. Also nearing completion is the residential wing of the art empowerment centre, which will host artists-in-residents in the near future.

A tour of the recently commissioned main building reveals a museum of antiquities on the top floor, an educational museum of contemporary art on the immediate lower floor and an art gallery on the two remaining lower floors. There are conference halls and lecture rooms on the upper floors with offices on the middle floors. A canteen is positioned just beside the pillared car park on the ground floor.

The first of its kind in the locality and beyond, the art empowerment centre also offers an impressive list of vocational trainings and skill-acquisition programmes. When fully operational, the centre hopes to train people is such skills as music, drawing/sketching, painting in different media, tie-and-dye, sculpture and ceramics, candle-making, crotchets, flower arrangements and soap-making, amongst a long list of others. Driven by the urge to support the lives of the less-privileged members of the society as well as to foster new artistic talents, the efforts of the centre would be complemented by the non-profit organisation known as the Iyase-Odozi Foundation.

Tourists are expected to flock in their large numbers to the venue, which is being run by an advisory board and by the effervescent Princess Iyase-Odozi. The Ogun State Government has offered to lend its logistical support by improving the access road to the centre. Its Commissioner of Commerce and Industry, Otunba Bimbo Asiru, who represented the governor, told the gathering at the opening ceremony that the rehabilitation of the road would cost N40 billion and that “the contract has been awarded. When we start doing the road, many houses would go.”

The governor had also promised to link the community to a road originating from Ota through Ijoko and Alagbado, which ended in Akute. The enthusiastic attendance of the opening ceremonies by the community members is an eloquent testimony of their endorsement of the centre. The efforts of the initiators of the GreenHouse Empowerment Centre were also acknowledged by the Ogun State governor. He had through his representative lauded them for choosing to establish the centre in Ogun State rather than in their state of origin. 

A quick cut to the present. Princess Iyase-Odozi was flitting about the ground floor with two of her aides in tow.  The commissioning tape was yet to be cut, so no one else was expected in any of the floors of the imposing building. But the visitor took the liberties as a journalist to snoop around the building. So much had been done since he last visited here. Credit goes to its CEO, Princess Iyase-Odozi, who has recently completed a masters’ degree programme in visual arts from the University of Lagos. Since her first and only solo exhibition held at the National Museum Lagos in Onikan in 2009, she has channelled all her energies towards the realisation of her art empowerment centre dreams and the successful completion of her post-graduate programme.

Supported by an art-loving husband, Victor Odozi (a one-time Central Bank of Nigeria deputy governor), she almost single-handedly saw to the completion of the project.  It is understandable, therefore, that she was intent on ensuring that the opening ceremony was hitch-free.
And also hitch-free, it was. Besides the Skye Bank’s chairman, its chairman (Kehinde Durosimi-Etti) and two of its executive directors were present. Impressed, Ayeni had recalled his first visit to Mr. Odozi, who is a director of the bank. “I was admiring the artworks and was surprised when he told me that all the paintings were done by his wife. And when he told me of this project which was then under construction, I was impressed. Most people would have gladly put this kind of edifice in city centres...This is like giving back to the community. With its establishment here, it would attract far more development which is good for the community.”

Mr. Odozi, as the empowerment centre’s chairman, hoped the centre would be more useful here than in the city. According to him, “it represents a new frontier of opportunities for the people of Olambe. “We chose to live and establish it here because our philosophy is about touching lives. Our success would not be complete if it is not linked with the success of others. Our immediate priority is to provide help for the Olambe people. This initiative has been well-received by the community and we hope it would become a worthy private economic intervention in the area.” 

Tags: Life and Style, Arts and Review, Featured, Art empowerment centre

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