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60x60x60: Ife Art School commemorates OAU’s diamond jubilee

Preamble

THE Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife was60 years old in June, 2021. Its 60 years of existence has promoted top-rated academic accomplishments thus deserving of commemoration and celebration. There have been series of celebrations facilitated by the Alumni Association; and this involves various departments within the university doing justice to celebration in their own various ways. The Department of Fine and Applied Arts has chosen to bring artistic colouration into the festivities with an exhibition of works by its graduates. The exhibition is slated to hold in the university from October 20 to December 18, 2021. It is titled 60x60x60.

What is 60x60x60?

The epochal exhibition, one of its kind, will feature 60 artists that will cut across all generations of graduates from the Department of Fine and Applied Arts. It will run for 60 days to provide adequate time for the public to enjoy the works and feel the impacts of the great Ife Art School. These efforts are selflessly geared towards 60 years of the existence of the Obafemi Awolowo University. The metaphor, the myth, the reality and the philosophical foibles of the multiple 60s berthed the theme of the exhibition: 60x60x60.  

In the Beginning

Since the inception of this great institution in 1961, it has gone through different levels of physical and nomenclatural developments. In 1961, it was named the University of Ife. It quickly established itself as one of the indigenous universities founded between 1961 and 1962. Although the decision was as a result of a report submitted to the Federal Government in September 1960 by a Commission it appointed in April 1959 under the Chairmanship of Sir. Eric Ashby, Master of Clare College, Cambridge University, to “survey the needs for post-secondary and higher education in Nigeria over the next twenty years.” Like other new universities of the time, Ife bore the celebration and challenges of a post-Independence gains to Nigeria. In 1962, the institution admitted its first 244 students at the old facilities of the former College of Arts and Sciences in Ibadan. The College had by now moved to Zaria.

In 1987, the University of Ife was renamed Obafemi Awolowo University in honour of one of its founding fathers, Chief Obafemi Awolowo — eminent lawyer, nationalist and ideological politician who was also former Premier of the Western Region. According to THE (timeshighereducation.com), today, the university is located in Ile-Ife, an ancient Yoruba city in Osun State, southwestern Nigeria. Ile-Ife is considered a holy city and it is thought to be the legendary birth place of humankind by the Yoruba people. It is thought that the city is named after the god of divination, Ifa. Ile-Ife is known around the world for its ancient and naturalistic bronze, stones and terracotta sculptures which dates back to the  13th century.

Ife Art School

The Ife Art School is formerly known as the Department of Fine Arts until it became in 2007 the Department of Fine and Applied Arts. However, the department itself was a child of evolution as it emanated from the Institute of Cultural Studies. The institute had from inception such units as Fine Arts, Drama, Music and Yoruba. It was at the Institute in 1966 that the Fine Arts Unit started operating until it evolved into the Department of Fine Arts in 1975. Other sections also evolved into full-fledged departments.

Evolution

The Fine Arts Department had run some skeletal academic exercises until it went all out in 1975. Prior to this time, the Fine Arts Unit under the Institute of Cultural Studies had trained students from the Department of Education. This accounts for the reason students like Moyo Okediji and his set graduated in 1974. The full-fledged department, which took off in 1975, therefore, graduated its first set of students in 1979. Since then the Art School has produced outstanding graduates whose art and scholarly works are of international standard. Indeed, this ideological Art school has worked tirelessly to produce great practising artists and art scholars who ply their trades in Nigeria and in the Diasporas. In their individual rights, they have contributed immensely to the development of contemporary art and scholarship in and outside Nigeria.     

Developments: Onaism

In 1989, some old graduates of the department namely Kunle Filani, Tola Wewe, Moyo Okediji, Bolaji Campbell and Tunde Nasiru, worked together to berth what later became popular known as Onaism. Ona is a Yoruba root word that stands for many things in one: Yoruba patterns, motifs, designs, ornamentation, and many more. These are usually found on traditional art such as wood sculpture, carved calabash, leatherwork, etc. Such patterns are extracted and incorporated into paintings, sculptures, textiles, ceramics, and graphics. Onaism soon became a unique signature for the Ife Art School. Although there was a raging controversy as to who created the art patterns and founded the Ona Movement, the joy of the invention is that all the five individuals listed above graduated from the Ife Art School. So, Onaism belongs to the school.

Best of Ife

In 1993, some members of the Ona Movement and other graduates of the Art School emerged with new theory and nomenclature; they formed a body that brings all graduates of the school together at an exhibition in Lagos. It was called Best Of Ife: A Group of Outstanding Graduates of the University of Ife/Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife. The second edition of the group’s show occurred in 1995 and was rested until Victor Ekpuk, assisted by Mufu Onifade, curated the 1997 edition. For the years 2000 (National Museum, Lagos), 2002 (Goethe-Institute, Lagos), 2003 (Quintessence Gallery, Lagos) and 2005 (Nimbus Art Gallery, Ikoyi, Lagos). Mufu Onifade effectively packaged and curated the exhibitions until the group ran out of energy.

Araism

In 1989, Mufu Onifade began a 7-year art experiment that resulted in the evolution of the Araism painting technique in 1996. He spent 1997 and early part of 1998 to produce works for his first solo exhibition and the launch of the Araism painting technique held at the German Cultural Centre, Victoria Island, Lagos. Thus began the journey of the technique. Having trained many artists who had now imbibed the technique, Onifade established and launched the Araism Movement in 2006. His early disciples include Niyi Omojuwa, Abiola Mautin Akande (Oldskool), Dotun Popoola, Tope Oguntuase (who graduated from the Lagos State Polytechnic) and Jonathan Ikpoza (who finished from Auchi Polytechnic). Since then, the Movement’s membership has grown into more than 80 artists who have been featured in its 17 group exhibitions including one international show held in Florida, USA. Suffice to say that Araism Movement has a reputation for being the most consistent exhibiting group in Nigeria today.  

Old participants

Between the Ona Movement, the Best of Ife and the Araism Movement, artists who have participated in their many exhibitions include, but not limited to the following: Kunle Filani, Moyo Okediji, Tola Wewe, Bolaji Campbell, Tunde Nasiru, C.S.A. Akran. Victor Ekpuk, Don Akatakpo, Weyinmi Atigbi, Mufu Onifade, Rasheed Amodu, Stephen Folaranmi, Segun Ajiboye, Tayo Ijishakin, Nanashaitu Umoru-Oke, Ayoola Mudasiru, Segun Fajuyigbe, Tolulope Sobowale, Abiola Mautin Akande, Dotun Popoola, George Egunjobi and more. Apart from these there have been more artists from the school, holding their own at exhibition arenas in and outside Nigeria.

Commemoration

As the great Obafemi Awolowo University celebrates its 60th anniversary, the Department of Fine and Applied Arts is fully on ground to employ an array of artworks to propagate and commemorate the school’s frontiers of knowledge and culture with a view to making the celebration a remarkable and memorable one.

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