By Sandra Mbanefo Obiago
Quintessence, our cultural icon which sits just off the famous Falomo roundabout in Ikoyi, is moving to a new home today (Friday, May 17). After 38 years, the large Q hanging over dusty Awolowo Road, will no longer beckon culture-seekers to escape the traffic and enjoy browsing through always updated collections of art, music, jewellery, arte-facts, toys, leather, antique and modern fabric, fashion and of course, the latest books! We will have to drive down the tarmac-like highway bursting through the once tree lined old Ikoyi neighbourhood, to visit their new location at the entrance of Parkview Estate.
I grew up in Enugu in the early 1970’s, and always looked forward to stopping by at Quintessence in Lagos, on our way abroad, to buy original, quirky and colourful gifts, proudly made in Nigeria. I remember in 1985 my mother and I got stranded in a small village at nightfall, driving back from Kaduna to Enugu, because we had spent too much time browsing and shopping at the Jacaranda Pottery and at Quintessence in Kaduna! We spent the night in a bush motel somewhere past Lokoja, and since we had spent all our money at Quintessence, we had to beg the amused hotel owner to give us a free room, and we would send the driver back the following day with the cash. We were offered the best suite in the hotel (which was a dive) but were totally happy with our purchases, and never for a moment, regretted our embarrassing predicament.
So, my family and I have been loyal clients of Quintessence for many years, always intrigued by their great selection, always welcomed by their excellent staff, and always relieved to purchase high quality, made-in-Nigeria gifts.
Quintessence needs to be celebrated for a number of reasons. The most obvious is that they have stayed the test of time, and have kept their focus. Many arts and culture SMEs have folded over the years. The landscape is just a bit too tough. And many have reverted to selling things predominantly made in east or southern Africa. Many have moved from one location to another, never being able to “settle” and connect with old clientele. But Quintessence has continued to innovate, continued to present a broad selection of antique and contemporary Nigerian and African art, and continued to be a very important platform for the creative industry.
The Quintessence team is led by inspiring Chief Aino Oni-Okpaku, a Swedish textile specialist who married and settled in Nigeria, and has done so much to celebrate, showcase, and also develop local Nigerian talent. Oni-Okpaku, who has both an eye for quality and also a deep commitment to excellence, has invested in and strengthened Nigerian artists together with long-time curator, Moses Ohiomokhare, and a team of dedicated staff. Quintessence is one of the rare places you can still buy precious old aso-oke and akwete fabric, kente cloth, and bakuba strips. Over the years, they have organised many innovative workshops and exhibitions such as creating a platform for Nigerians to co-create with Scandinavia and Latin America artists, developing fusion art in ceramics and weaving. Recently, they organized a fascinating exhibition of wool carpets bearing the motifs and images of famous Nigerian artists including Chief Nike Okundaye, Prof. Bruce Onobrakpaeya, and Sam Ovraiti.
Proceeds from Quintessence help to support the Ebun Oluwa Foundation for children with learning disabilities that has given life and a bright future to so many orphans and abandoned kids.
Last week, my husband and I stopped by Quintessence and found some amazing treasures: exquisite bronze sculptures by Ben Osawe, an old bronze head from Benin, wonderful wood sculptures from Oshogbo, an old Igbo door from eastern Nigeria, and an amazing collection of textiles. So as we celebrate their milestone move with a weekend of special activities including a book presentation by one of Nigeria’s largest collectors, Prince Yemisi Shyllon, we wish Quintessence many more happy and prosperous years as one of our cultural “tall trees”. May you continue to support and showcase the best of Nigerian creativity.
––This article by Mrs Obiago was intended for the opening of the new location of Quintessence at the Ikoyi, Lagos-based Parkview Estate’s entrance.