Unveiling John Randle Centre for Yoruba Culture and History

President Mohammadu Buhari, in company of the Lagos State Governor, Babajide Sanwo-Olu, the Ooni of Ife, Oba Adeyeye Enitan Ogunwusi, Erelu Kuti IV of Lagos, Abiola Dosunmu led the culture community in Lagos to the state-of-the-art museum for preserving Yoruba’s rich cultural heritage. Yinka Olatunbosun reports

It was a whistle stop. The tightening security around the newly built John Randle Centre for Yoruba Culture and History provided a visual clue for the much-anticipated arrival of President Mohammadu Buhari. His black power salute and smile resonated with the audience who witnessed history as the nation took a remarkable step in rekindling interest in preserving history through a permanent exhibition at a repurposed space with colonial history. After the tape cutting event, President Buhari and his entourage were whisked away as the official tour of the exhibition gallery began. Culture buffs including from the international cultural institutions and indigenous artists, curators, school children as well as journalists took their turns to have a brisk walk-through the maze of installations.

The new edifice forms a part of the urban regeneration project for the heart of Lagos Island. Taking cues from Yoruba architecture and craftsmanship, the Centre serves as a watershed for a nostalgic return to public recreational experience while engaging the public through art, music, religion, fashion, language and popular culture.

A revolving centrepiece installation revives the account of creation from the Yoruba worldview accompanied by a sound installation. A smoke-filled piece, the installation symbolises the earth as the story of creation through Obatala’s point of view is recreated through a roof-bound sound system loaded with oral narration. As a whole, the exhibition celebrates deities, rituals and the Yoruba ancestry. The curatorial notes help non-Yoruba speakers to understand the history embedded in the works. There’s also the eye-catching video installation showing footage of Ogunde Theatre, a pioneering theatre art company that shaped contemporary Yoruba theatre.

To further heighten the educational function of the permanent exhibition, an interactive device built in the form of a self-service kiosk helps non-Yoruba speakers to translate from English to Yoruba. Throughout the building, there’s a conscious effort to deemphasize the use of English by putting Yoruba words in bigger fonts while the English fonts are captured in squint-worthy sizes.

John Randle Centre is created to be a place of remembrance and reconnection for Yoruba people from Cuba, Brazil, Haiti, America and the Caribbean as well as South West Nigeria as well as visitors or others who are curious about Yoruba culture.

In a brief encounter with journalists at the official commissioning of the centre, the Lagos State Commissioner for Tourism, Arts and Culture, Mrs. Umazat Akinbile-Yussuf assured the public that the dream museum turned reality by the project consultants, contractor and installation teams

“We are trying to find the best way to smooth the operation of this centre. The board is already in place and the management will be trained to make sure that this place is running efficiently. This place should be open to the public in one or two months. The entry will not be free but we hope to get grants to make it sustainable. This is the first and only board that will be chaired by the Governor himself so you can see how passionate he is about this project. He has been working from the front. On several occasions, we have to travel on several international trips to ensure that the space is well-equipped with artefacts to explain the Yoruba history and culture. This is a reminder of who we are and where we need to be. When you don’t understand your past, it will be difficult to know where you are going as a person,’’ she said.

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