Opening Remarks by His Majesty, Nnaemeka Achebe, CFR, mni, Obi of Onitsha, Agbogidi, at the opening of ‘Ambivalence’, an Endotelic Exhibition of Sculptures, Paintings and Installations by Emmah Mbanefo
Opening Remarks by His Majesty, Nnaemeka Achebe, CFR, mni, Obi of Onitsha, Agbogidi, at the opening of ‘Ambivalence’, an Endotelic Exhibition of Sculptures, Paintings and Installations by Emmah Mbanefo on Friday, April 20, 2012, at Nimbus Art Gallery, Ikoyi, Lagos.
Protocols . . . .
I am delighted that this exhibition has become a reality. Despite over two decades of active practice, Emmah Ifeanyi Mbanefo has not had a solo exhibition. In his understated manner, he has remained engrossed in his practice, constantly producing works which can be found in public places, and in private collections. All these years, he has not focused attention on staging a solo exhibition, and efforts to get him to do so have not been easy. A number of previous attempts were not successful. The works were more or less ready, but progress could not be made by the curators and sponsors, largely as a result of Mbanefo’s quiet insistence on remaining in his world. It is has been a puzzling situation; difficult to understand. Thus, the title of this exhibition, Ambivalence, may well provide a clue to what can be described as Mbanefo’s battle of emotions, as well as to his commitment to a diversity of art forms.
Over the years, he has established a reputation for creating bold and imaginative works. To say that Mbanefo is a versatile artist is stating the obvious. He is a quintessential creative mind, rolling many skills into one. He is a sculptor, painter, and designer, and is not afraid of experimenting and conquering new grounds. This he does effortlessly.
Experimentation notwithstanding, Mbanefo draws incredible inspiration from the pioneering African modernist Odigwe Professor Ben Enwonwu. Any critical observer of Mbanefo’s works cannot but notice that he has been greatly influenced by Enwonwu, not just in the ability to work in diverse media, but also in the Onitsha-centric subjects that he often explores. Incidentally, Enwonwu and Mbanefo are of the same stock, as they are both of the Daike Anyo kindred unit of the Umuezearoli royal clan in Onitsha.
The two, one from earlier times and the other from the present, are perhaps symbols of a dominant contribution from Onitsha to modern Nigerian visual
Other Onitsha indigenes have also featured prominently in the development of modern Nigerian visual art. Two of them, Professor Okechukwu Odita, and Professor Oseloka Osadebe, alongside Professor Uche
Okeke, Dr. Bruce Onobrakpeya, Demas Nwoko, Yussuf Grillo, and the late Simon Okeke, were members of the Zaria Art Society, a group that revolutionised Nigerian visual arts. Other Onitsha artists of Mbanefo’s generation, such as Chinwe Uwatse, George Olisa Nwadiogbu, George Edozie, and Arinze Ato, to mention a few, have continued in this tradition of making contributions to the growth of modern Nigerian art. They form part of the
excellence in Onitsha and should, therefore, be celebrated. In this way they serve as a catalyst spurring our people to achieve the highest standards in all they do.
Speaking of higher standards, I wish to reiterate my appeal for a greater focus on our arts and culture in order to give these the pride of place that they deserve. As I said at another event recently, there is an urgent need for the review of our National Policy on Arts and Culture and its implementation with a view to achieving greater relevance and sustainability such that our art and culture will become key development resources. The policy should provide for massive investments by the government and its agencies as well as the organized private sector, communities, and wealthy individuals. The purpose would be to entrench and popularize arts and culture in our educational institutions as well as build relevant institutions and facilities such as museums, galleries, theatres, etc, that will bring our arts and culture to the level of the common man. After all, art should not only be appreciated by the elite for its aesthetic potentials but should also be seen as a major defining element of a people’s identity.
On a final note, I pray that Mbanefo will continue to aim for the sky. By holding his first solo exhibition, it is safe to assume that he has come out of his shell, and that more solos will be forthcoming, thus bringing an end to this ambivalent posture. Incidentally, this exhibition is also the first by Nimbus Art Gallery after six years of inactivity. I hope that with its rebirth, Nimbus Art Gallery will also regain its position as a leading promoter of the visual arts.
I wish Mbanefo and Nimbus Art Gallery a successful exhibition, and a fruitful collaboration.
20 April 2012