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Tunde Odunlade And The Evolution Of Nigeria’s Contemporary Art Scene



Dele Jegede In Conversation With Prince Yemisi Shyllon

Tunde Odunlade And The Evolution Of Nigeria’s Contemporary Art Scene


A  Conversation With Tunde Odunlade, Artist And Humanist (1)


Toyin Falola

Nigeria boasts of a considerably old and long history of art tradition–painting, sculpture, carving, weaving and poetry—with some, like the famous Nok culture (1500 BC), reaching back thousands of years. Other established antique art cultures from Nigeria include those of Igbo-Ukwu (900AD), Ife (1100-1450AD), Benin (1440AD), Esie (1200-1500AD) and Owo (1500AD). Together, these art cultures have inspired the creative energies of several generations of Nigerian artists and contributed to establishing Nigeria, and indeed Africa, as a center of ancient and sophisticated indigenous art traditions.

Tunde Odunlade And The Evolution Of Nigeria’s Contemporary Art Scene

Photo: Tunde Odunlade Arts Gallery, Ibadan.

Notwithstanding the antiquity of Nigeria’s art cultures, they only came into prominence in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries when more discoveries and excavations were made of buried artefacts from various regions around the country, sometimes by accident. These discoveries occasioned a growing interest, especially amongst European anthropologists and archaeologists, in the artistic traditions of the peoples of the area, initially to ascertain their level of cultural sophistication. Notable amongst the crop of expatriate personnel at the forefront of this activity, who incidentally also set up early institutions for the study of Nigerian art, were Kenneth Murray, Bernard and William Fagg, and Thurstan Shaw. The activities of this group led to the establishment of a Nigeria Antiquities Service in 1943 and the founding of the Nigerian Museum in Lagos in 1957, which provided an early avenue to showcase Nigeria’s rich and sophisticated art traditions.

Tunde Odunlade And The Evolution Of Nigeria’s Contemporary Art Scene

Photo: Toyin Falola, Tunde Kelani and Alao Adedayo at the Tunde Odunlade Arts Museum in Ibadan, on November 20, 2021

Nigerian art has come a long way from the days of ground-breaking archaeological discoveries and excavations and has grown to occupy an esteemed position in the world of arts. This outcome is owed to the contributions of generations of Nigerian artists and art enthusiasts— Aina Onabolu, Ben Enwonwu, Yusuf Grillo, Uche Okeke, Bruce Onobrakpeya, Dele Jegede, Jimoh Buraimoh, Twins Seven-Seven, Prince Taiwo Olaniyi and Rufus Ogundele, Samuel Ojo, among others—who are considered the fathers of modern Nigerian art. Building on successive achievements, these artists drew from various indigenous art traditions, combining traditional art forms with other modern influences to create a sophisticated Nigerian contemporary art culture that commands extensive international appeal and acclaim.

READ ALSO: Toyin Falola Interviews Holds Conversation With Attahiru Jega

Particularly central to Nigeria’s contemporary art development is a tradition known as the Osogbo School. The Osogbo School of Art was an offshoot of the Mbari Mbayo Club of Ibadan, which was established in 1961 by a cluster of young writers with the assistance of a Jewish-German teacher at the University of Ibadan, Ulli Beier, and his wife, Suzanne Wenger. Its objective was to provide a platform for African artists, writers, and musicians to develop and showcase their skills to a more vast audience. Soon after, this concept was transferred to Osogbo, where the club expanded beyond its intended purview to accommodate “unemployed primary-school dropouts.”

Tunde Odunlade And The Evolution Of Nigeria’s Contemporary Art Scene

Photo: Prominent elite, Dr. Samson Ijaola and his wife, Dr. Yemi Ijaola, at the Tunde Odunlade Arts Gallery, Ibadan

In 1962, workshops were held in Osogbo to train local artists who were also encouraged, through local patronage, to remain committed to their indigenous art traditions to prevent the indigenous art culture from degenerating, especially in the face of the attractions of an accessible tourist market. The success of this endeavor, in the long run, not only saw to a thriving local art scene, but it also provided the Nigerian contemporary art with consistent international appeal.

Today, Tunde Odunlade, a second-generation artist of the school, continuing in the tradition of the Osogbo School, has succeeded in reinforcing the esteemed place of Nigerian art in global rankings and breathing a new life into a neglected and struggling industry by displaying uncommon initiative, resourcefulness, and creativity. Through his numerous achievements, he has shown the endless possibilities available to young aspiring generations. A master in his rights, Tunde Odunlade draws from a rich Yoruba culture and history, combined with extracts from modern-day Nigerian experiences to create dynamic pieces. He has also displayed versatility with his craft, excelling as an actor, teacher, musician, and artist.

READ ALSO: Alaafin Of Oyo, Oba Lamidi Adeyemi III: On History, His Kingdom, And The Yoruba

Odunlade, who creates textile and graphic arts, is especially renowned for his batik art tapestry and for developing a unique batik application process that he calls “flotograph,” which combines different textile print techniques—calligraphy, marbling and batik—to create organic abstractions. A believer in making “art with a purpose,” the artist has shown a laudable commitment to using art to bridge the gap between cultures and peoples and raise awareness amongst the people at home and in the international community about Nigeria’s plight and potential. In this regard, he founded a non-profit organization, the International Campaign for Better Arts and Cultural Awareness (ICBACA), and a for-profit gallery, the Tunde Odunlade Artists’ Cooperative Gallery in Ibadan. He co-founded the Toki Memorial Art Centre in Ibadan, which has been instrumental in the discovery and nurturing of artists who have gone on to achieve international acclaim. He has also coordinated many workshops and exhibitions at home and abroad, engaging young people, adults, and fellow artists (colleagues). His 2001 art exhibition, “Together We Rebuild a Nation,” addressed the severity of the implications of Nigeria’s external debt and contributed to the Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala debt-relief campaign that resulted in Nigeria’s debt cancellation.

As a testament to the quality of Odunlade’s craft, his works have featured in numerous prestigious art shows and are displayed in many reputable institutions around the world, including the headquarters of the World Bank in Washington D.C; the Victoria and Albert Museum London; the Museum of Fine Arts, St. Pete, Florida, USA; the Detroit Institute of Arts Museum (DIA); the Northern Illinois University Museum (NIU); and the State House in Lagos, Nigeria. Some of his works have also made their way into the personal collections of many private individuals in Europe, North America, and, of course, at home in Nigeria.

READ ALSO: Musa Adedayo And Alaroye: The Future Of Yoruba Language

Tunde Odunlade is a visiting lecturer and artist-in-residence at several universities in America, including the Iowa State University, Ames, Iowa; the University of California in Los Angeles (UCLA); and the Michigan State University. He is a member of the Visual Artists Network (VAN) of the United States and the National Conference of Artists, New York State Chapter. He is a recipient of numerous awards and recognitions, including the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation Award, Carnegie Foundation, Ford Foundations, Rockefeller foundations MacArthur Foundation, New York University NYC, and several other national, state and counties endowment for the arts.

As a result, there is no denying that Tunde Odunlade, like the great names before him, has rendered invaluable service to the development and sustenance of Nigeria’s contemporary art culture.

Falola is a Nigerian historian and professor of African Studies. He is currently the Jacob and Frances Sanger Mossiker Chair in the Humanities at the University of Texas at Austin.


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Interview With Beautiful Nubia



Beautiful Nubia

Please join us for a conversation with the renowned Nigerian Songwriter, Music Composer, and Band Leader, Olusegun Akinlolu (Beautiful Nubia).

Sunday, March 19, 2023

5:00 PM Nigeria // 4:00 PM GMT // 11:00 AM Austin CST

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Toyin Falola Interviews Holds Conversation With Kunle Afolayan



A  renowned Nigerian Actor, Producer, and Director, Kunle Afolayan will on Sunday, March 5, 2023 have an interview with the Toyin Falola Interviews at 5:00 PM Nigeria // 4:00 PM GMT // 10:00 AM Austin CST.


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Touching Base With Dr Abiola Akiyode-Afolabi’s Perspectives On Nigeria’s 2023 Elections



Professor Ademola Dasylva At 70: A Labourer In The Vineyard
Prof. Toyin Falola

By Toyin Falola

Dr Abiola Akiyode-Afolabi is a well-versed law professor, international relations activist, and commentator. It was delightful to have her join us, alongside Miriam Oke, Chido Onumah, and Jibrin Hussaini, at the last edition of the Toyin Falola Interviews, where we discussed Nigeria’s 2023 elections.

If anything, the primaries being organised in the nation’s two most influential parties, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and the All Progressives Congress, are pointers to what should be expected of the 2023 Nigerian elections. As is customary, the primaries have been rife with electoral malpractices, vote-buying, and unscrupulous voting figures, and there is a shocking video posted on Twitter by Bashir Ahmad, former Personal Assistant to President Muhammadu Buhari on New Media, who lost his bid to secure the ticket of the APC to contest for a seat in the House of Representatives primaries in his home state of Kano. The video shows how supposed delegates are handed pre-ticked ballot boxes and are asked to put them in the ballot box without even batting an eyelid at the malpractice.

The ball is being set in motion. Atiku Abubakar is the People’s Democratic Party flag bearer for the presidential seat. The All Progressives Congress has recently screened its presidential hopefuls and will soon appoint its flagbearer. Peter Obi, who defected from the People’s Democratic Party to the Labour Party and has since been elected as the party’s flagbearer for the presidential seat, is a seeming third wheel in the routine two-dominant-party multi-party system practised in the country. The stage is set. Or is it?

This piece is not much of a sequel to the one on Chido Onumah’s perspectives on the 2023 elections because Dr Akiyode-Afolabi had her unique views on the questions asked. Nonetheless, it will follow a similar pattern, where we will examine points touched on by Dr Akiyode-Afolabi during the interview.

Electoral Violence and Nigeria’s 2023 Elections

Sad as it may seem, electoral violence is an immemorial issue rocking the Nigerian state. Throughout all its republics, Nigeria has witnessed killings and maiming during election periods — whether at the polling booths on election day or among political rivals setting targets on each other’s backs. Nigeria’s electoral process is peculiar, involving the recruitment of violent electoral mercenaries, often branded as party thugs. These thugs sign off their loyalty to a political party and wreak havoc on the party’s behalf — from ballot snatching to intimidating voters to bow to their party’s will.

In the Nigerian political scene, these party thugs sit with political kings. They are deemed crucial to the electoral process and candidates’ success. The recruitment and payment of these party thugs consume huge financial resources. However, political leaders and public officeholders fail to consider the expected uselessness of the party thugs within the governance period of three to four years that separate pre-election and election years. Having tasted ill-gotten wealth that far surpasses what they could have earned honestly, and without any honest and paying job, these party thugs resort to all sorts of vice to pay their bills and keep themselves in shape. Thus, it is not uncommon to find that party thugs become robbers, kidnappers, bandits, and street-terrorising thugs who incessantly cut holes through the state’s peace, security, and quiet.

In most cases, we would rather relate the incessant kidnappings and unrest to unknown gunmen or herdsmen-bandits rather than the true perpetrators of the evil — anarchical party thugs with weapons they were equipped with during the election period. Thus, the rivalry for power and politicians’ insatiable desire for control, regardless of the extent they go to get it, could be strongly linked to the violent crises that have rocked the country for a while now.

READ ALSO: Dele Jegede In Conversation With Prince Yemisi Shyllon

For Dr Akiyode-Afolabi, violent political mercenaries in Nigeria and the political aspirants and parties who are their enablers act out of an abundant enjoyment of sheer impunity — the knowledge that they can do and undo, wreak whatever havoc they want to, without bearing the consequences. Although several of the perpetrators of this electoral violence are known, nothing is done to bring them to justice, further reinforcing the need to carry out their vice during the next election. Over the years, electoral violence has become a norm in Nigeria, and nothing is being done to curb the menace, especially in punishing the perpetrators. Thus, the electorate have joined the camp of political aspirants and political thugs who see electoral violence as part of the electioneering process in Nigeria. For members of the electorate who have difficulty processing electoral violence as a part of the electioneering process, the option of apathy kicks to the surface — especially among women and the youth who earnestly believe politics in Nigeria is a dirty game, and electoral violence is inevitable. Thus, it is not surprising that Nigeria has had a low voter turnout over the years.

The case of electoral violence and the state’s reaction to it is like several other policies in Nigeria. While the Electoral Act was proactively drafted to cover electoral violence and how to punish offenders and culprits, there has not been any action to make that part of the Act functional. It is akin to the numerous nation-improving policies whose existence has never gone beyond the paper. If we were to dig to the roots of why the aspect of the Nigerian Electoral Act that punishes electoral violence has not been enforced, we would be quick to find out that the average Nigerian politician is either directly or indirectly complicit. Thus, those at the helm and those willing to take over from them are all involved, making them reluctant to enforce the punishment for electoral violence, that is, if they consider punishing the crime at all.

Nigeria’s Three-faced Need and the Importance of a Long-term Agenda

The need for a long-term agenda should not be misconstrued as supporting the cabalistic unending Northern presidency agenda or any other agenda that does not mean well for Nigeria as a nation. Rather, it represents Dr Akiyode-Afolabi’s thoughts on what is truly needed to get Nigeria out of its current quagmire. The international relations activist considers the 2023 elections in Nigeria a big issue for the country, particularly because there are more people interested in the presidential position than we have had in quite a while. Nonetheless, most of these aspirants are people who have either held a political position or currently hold one. They are people we know so well. Given their deeds while in office, it will be difficult to convince any right-thinking Nigerian that there is hope for the country if any of the candidates being paraded were elected as president.

The double tragedy that is Buhari’s eight years in office has seen the country go from bad to worse. The country’s debts keep piling up, with no way of repaying them year after year. The people are impoverished, and the currency continually suffers a blow of worthlessness and devaluation, inflation, and the unemployment rate keeps rising. To make matters worse are the rife killings, banditry, and the near state of anarchy that the country has been thrown into. Has any of the numerous candidates aspiring for the presidential seat shown they are the visionary yet pragmatic leaders that can help Nigeria realise a remarkable positive change?

Careful consideration of the likeliest players at the 2023 polls, vis-à-vis the criterion above, would show that Nigeria is not prepared for an election. Dr Akiyode-Afolabi proposed a three-aspect strategy to help us discover a new Nigeria. These are aspects that cannot be fully realised within a four-year term. Thus, there is the need for Nigerian politicians, regardless of their differences—although there are no marked differences in Nigerian politics—to consider government as a continuum and treat it as such. This will help ensure that even if power falls to the opposition camp, the remarkable and change-focused plans that have been kicked into action by the previous government will continue to be nurtured by the new government. This is the only way we can fully realise the three-dimensional solution proposed by Dr Akiyode-Afolabi.

Dr Akiyode-Afolabi’s first proposed dimension is the need for an empowered political class. The Nigerian political field is riddled with whimsical people who are of the anything-goes breed as long as they get elected to office. That is why serial defection is nothing to them, and they can shamelessly befriend a foe today and betray a friend tomorrow. They are overly selfish lot who constantly put personal needs and gains before national needs and expected gains. The Nigerian political class needs to be empowered enough to engage the electorate in an ideological and issue-based manner. A look at the pre-campaign clamouring in the camps of the presidential aspirants will show that they think so little of Nigerians that they believe not much is needed in the way of plans and strategies to convince the people. It is also why Nyensom Wike, who lost his party’s presidential ticket, deemed it fit to incessantly chant, “give me power… power!” To him, that was enough to get him the ticket to become Nigeria’s next president.

The coming months will show us lamentable political campaigns with no depth, so shallow that every reasonable Nigerian would be too ashamed to identify with a country where such gimmicks pass as enough campaign to convince the people to vote for someone. There is a need to empower citizens and help kick structures in place to organise Nigerians and help them truly understand what they want. Nigeria has so much suffered from poor governance that asking the average electorate what they expect from the aspirants — what they look forward to hearing that could convince them to vote for an aspirant — would most likely render them stammering.

In Nigeria, constitutional reformation is of great necessity. The Nigerian Constitution has outlived its essence. What use is a constitution if it does not amply meet the state’s needs nor adequately answer its citizens’ burning questions? The systems of the constitution no longer effectively serve us as a nation, which is why there have been agitations and clamouring for secession, restructuring, regionalisation, and central policing, among other issues raised. In the end, until Nigeria intentionally kicks these three dimensions into action, and until there are successive tenures that consider the government as a continuum and reach a knowing agreement to nurture and not impede the realisation of the three-dimensional issue, a new and positive Nigeria will be anything but reality.

  1. *** This is the third and final report on the interview held on May 22, 2022, on the 2023 elections in Nigeria. The views of our distinguished panelists have traveled wide and have been reported in several newspapers.

For the transcript, see:




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