Boosting Ofala Festival With Art Content
Among very few yearly cultural gatherings in Nigeria that have space for creative and intellectual content is Ofala Festival in Onitsha, Anambra State, so suggests the 2015 edition, which had sculptures unveiled and a group art exhibition on display.
The 20 busts in honour of departed kings of Onitsha and a group exhibition titled Oreze III were not just flavours to the Ofala Festival 2015, but what appeared like the main attractions and creative content of the event. More often, every edition of festivals in Nigeria and other parts of Africa bores you with the same features and rituals that have been repeated without innovation over the decades or centuries.
For Ofala, however, one is not surprised as he viewed the festival activities on screen at a post-event gathering in Lagos: the current custodian of the people’s culture, His Majesty, Obi of Onitsha, Igwe Alfred Nnaemeka Achebe, is a passionate art enthusiast and collector.
The screen unfolds, showing the Obi leading some titled chiefs to the spot where the busts were mounted just as the red gele of the odu women in the background add colours to the unveiling by complementing the red caps of the titled chiefs. Said to have been donated by a Dallas, U.S-based native, Dinyeludo Doris Okey Akpon Omezele, the busts, according to sources, “are made of cement” and by “palace artists.”
The art exhibition part of the festival, curated by George Edozie and sponsored by Globacom, featured diverse artists from Nigeria and the Diaspora. “About 150 works of artists from across the world were exhibited at Ofala,” so stated Edozie during the post event review. He attributed the large gathering of artists to the fact that “the Obi has been supporting many artists for decades”.
In fact, Edozie noted that such artists who have benefited from the patronage of the Obi cut across countries such as “Germany, Belgium, U.K., France, Ghana, Benin Republic, Togo and the U.S. who sent in their works because of the support the Obi has given to Nigerian artists and others from all over the world”.
Some of the artists included Abdulrasaq Ahmed, Abraham Uyovbisere, Chinwe Uwatse, Ato Arinze, Bimbo Adenugba, Dr. Peju Layiwola, Emeka Nwagbara, Godfrey Williams Okorodu, Joe Amenechi among others.
In the catalogue of the exhibition, the Obi confirmed the widening scope of the exhibition, stating that “a growing number of non-Nigerian artists are participating in the exhibition, including several first time entrants and a Cuban.”
Strengthening the visual arts contents of the Ofala Festival as well as the Onitsha people at large appeared to be the king’s priority. He disclosed of a plan, currently ongoing “to establish a museum and art gallery in the kingdom.” The planning, he explained, affected what could have been expansive activities for the exhibition, which was originally scheduled to include “a lecture, symposium and workshop.”
Outside Onitsha, the Obi’s support for artists, even in Lagos, is well known. For example, three years ago, a group of artists, known in Nigerian art circle as Onitsha Artists, got the support of the monarch for the exhibition of paintings and sculptures under the title Orakwue (Let the Whole World Talk), held at Alexis Galleries, Victoria Island, Lagos. The artists included Afam Okwudili, George Nwadiogbu, Arinze, Uwatse, Osaji Dubem, Gaby Emengo, Frank Anamah, Onyeoma Mbanefo and Edozie. They were joined by guest artists from Nigeria, Republic of Benin and Ghana such as Abiodun Olaku, Alex Nwokolo, Tola Wewe, Gbenga Ofor, Duke Asidere, Agorsor Kofi, Fidelis Odogwu and Domonique Zinkpe.
Special guest at Oreze III, Prof. Ola Oloidi of University of Nigeria, Nsukka, who declared the exhibition open, argued that “Onitsha has been internationalised because of the king’s effort.”
Oloidi, a professor of Art History, noted that quite a number of other efforts of the Obi that have boosted the popularity of Onitsha and the festival, adding, “Igwe has brought innovation to Onitsha,” perhaps such that no Igwe in the history of the people ever did and added, “No Igwe has traveled as much as Nnaemeka Achebe, and no art exhibition as big has happened in any kingdom in West Africa.”
Celebrated every October, Ofala Festival, according history, ‘symbolises a period of re-emergence of the Obi, after a mandatory isolation in community mourning. For the people, the festival ‘marks the beginning of a new year.’
For the Oreze art exhibition, it’s a journey that started in 2013 and it is expected to grow stronger, Edozie assured. “More foreign artists are joining the exhibition next year”.