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Osogbo Artists Village Inferno: ‘Our members are desperate, we need support’

OVER a week after a mysterious inferno razed the Artists Village of the Osun Osogbo Sacred Grove on March 5, the artists are still confused. They are still traumatised, wondering where to start because, for some, all their life’s investments are gone.

Artworks including paintings, sculptures, metal works and batik, estimated to be worth about N300 million, were lost to the inferno, suspected to be arsonists’ handiwork.

“We are still in shock,” began the Village’s coordinator, Ambassador Olufemi Johnson Ogundipe, in a chat with TCN. “Some of our members have not resumed since the incident because of the trauma. They collected loans to make the artworks and were expecting that they would sell and repay the money. Now, everything is gone.”

Ogundipe, who asked for the assistance of well-meaning Nigerians, said they need all the support they can get, especially in these austere times.

“We need philanthropists to come to our aid. We need material and monetary support. We need to restore the building comprising office, gallery, and store. Then, we also need support for our members now at the crossroads,” he said.

Asked the government’s reaction to the catastrophe that befell the Village UNESCO mandated to be part of the Osun Osogbo Sacred Grove for visitors to buy souvenirs, Johnson disclosed that the Tourism Commissioner, Dr Obawale Adebisi, had visited.

“Dr Adebisi was here the day after the incident for inspection. He assured us that the matter would be raised at the State Executive Council Meeting, and we are expecting their response. This is a serious matter, and I believe they won’t abandon us to our fates,” Ogundipe said.

He added that other socio-cultural groups from Osogbo had been coming to commiserate with the artists. He also expressed their resolve to bounce back soonest from the calamity he blamed squarely on arson.

According to Ogundipe, “We don’t have electricity supply in the Artists Village so it couldn’t have been from an electric spark. We also don’t work inside the building; we do everything inside. Besides, there were no traces of fire in the surrounding bushes. Only our building was burnt, so we believe it was arson.”

The Curator, National Museum, Osogbo and Site Manager, Osun Osogbo Sacred Grove, Fatai Olatunji Adekunle, also did not rule out arson.

He explained that contrary to reports that it was the second inferno at the Artists Village, it was the first and that its very nature was a puzzle.

WhatsApp Image 2021 03 15 at 1.54.30 AM
Osogbo Artists Village Inferno

“We have occasional wildfires in the Grove, but it was the first at the Artists Village, and its nature raises suspicion. Given the number of artworks in the building, you would have expected to see more ashes. But it was not so in this instance. Even officials of the state Fire Service who were mobilised to the scene commented about the little ashes. The perpetrators could have stolen the artworks and started the fire to cover their tracks because we looked around. There was no fire in the adjoining bushes. Only the building was affected.”

Adekunle, who disclosed that police investigation into the incident is ongoing, added that the Museum was also covering the theft angle.

“As Site Manager, I have sent a signal to our sister stations to be on the lookout for artworks from Osogbo. They should not issue any clearance permit for any Osogbo artwork without informing us,” he said.

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