Aloysius Attah, Onitsha
Igbo-Ukwu community in Aguata, Anambra State, once again, lived up to its designation as the natural home of Igbo arts during the recent unveiling of Odenigbo Arts Gallery founded by an indigene, Prof Uchenna Nwosu.
It was an evening that evoked nostalgic feelings, as various artists, friends, politicians and art collectors gathered to celebrate the many sides of Uchenna Nwosu, a medical doctor, though a professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology, naturally endowed with several talents.
Igbo-Ukwu community was placed on the world map in the 9th century following the discovery of archeological bronze artifacts by the late Thurstan Shaw in a compound in the community. The community is also home to late Simon Okeke, a renowned artist, whose paintings have not only grossed millions of pounds and dollars in world renowned art galleries but also made history as the man who designed both the Biafran currency notes and postage stamps during the civil war.
Today, Igbo-Ukwu also hosts the National Gallery of Arts, Federal Art Museum and Anambra State Museum, while the Mbido Igbo Association also hosts the National New Yam Festival at the National Yam House, Igbo-Ukwu.
Speaking during the unveiling ceremony, Chairman of the occasion, Chief Barth Nwibe (Ugo Igbo-Ukwu), expressed excitement that people gathered to celebrate great artworks done by Prof. Uchenna Nwosu. He noted painfully that art galleries were not so popular in this part of the world, despite the fact that, in the western societies, such were well cherished.
He described Nwosu as man of many parts, “Prof Ugochukwu Nwosu is an enigma. Imagine one person, a novelist, author, Nollywood actor and producer; a nonconformist, whose background as a medical doctor and scientist yet a painter and artist, to the extent that he is now opening the Odenigbo Art Gallery. His Apex Medical Services revolutionised the way we handle the dead in Igboland, because he was the pioneer in corpse embalming down here, ” he said.
Giving a speech about his journey into the art world, Nwosu said his interest began in his childhood when he was fascinated by geometric figures, such as the star of David, the Jewish symbol emblasoned in low relief around the centre hole of the then British colonial masters.
He disclosed that his current revival of oil painting emanated from the boredom of his 2012 retirement from academic medical practice in the US, where he decided to start indulging his imaginations after buying oil paints, stretched canvas and brushes from an art shop in Atlanta. He disclosed one of his works had sold for $5000 in the US.
He expressed happiness that, with his modest start and opening of the Odenigbo Art Gallery in his hometown, Igbo-Ukwu had become another home of one of few private Art Galleries in Anambra State.
“The Odenigbo Art Gallery is intended to encourage tourism through display of not only the founder’s own works, but also those of other artists, plus reproductions of some of the excavated Igbo-Ukwu bronze works. Proceeds from the sale of the latter, less handling charges will be donated to the Shaw Institute for Cultural Art (SICA). The gallery will also serve as an outlet for selected books by Igbo–Ukwu authors and books written about Igbo-Ukwu by other authors,” he said.
Anambra State Commissioner for Diaspora Affairs, Indigenous Artworks, Culture and Tourism, Dr Christian Madubuko, regretted the balkanisation of indigenous artworks and associated materials in the state, advising that, “We need to harness what we have here. Igbo-Ukwu is regarded as the cradle of civilisation in Igboland and most of what happened in Igboland in those days is what Prof Uchenna Nwosu has replicated in the Odenigbo Art Gallery,” he said.
Obiageli Ezeife, daughter of Simon Okeke, who earlier gave a keynote speech about the man and his artistic heritage, disclosed that his father was among the famous “Zaria Rebels” who struggled to fight their British lecturers in order to project the African culture in their artworks.
Senator representing Anambra Central in the National Assembly, Uche Ekwunife, while congratulating the Founder of Odenigbo Art Gallery, said being an artist was not easy because of the high level of imagination and creativity required, even as she pleaded for government’s support for it to succeed.