Religion is killing our arts development in Nigeria —Buraimoh
Chief Jimoh Buraimoh, the Baale of Gbodofon community in Osogbo, Osun State and a bead painting artist, in this interview with OLUWOLE IGE speaks about the economic potentials of the nation’s tourism sub-sector, Osun Osogbo groove, contemporary issues in the arts industry, among other issues.
My name is Jimoh Ibrahimon Baale Gbodofon Osogbo, one of Osogbo axis communities. The emergence of Osogbo art has brought a big revolution to arts in Nigeria. We were just few people when we started here. We were just like Picaso of our own time. Picaso was not liked in his country because the kind of arts he was doing was quite different from what they used to see. The same thing happened to Osogbo artists. When we started, we grew up through the theatre and most of us -actors and actresses – were from where a workshop was conducted by Georgina Bier organised by Ulli Bier. He organised the workshop for about three or four times before some of us were picked. Four major artists were discovered, including me, Twins 77 of blessed memory, Adebisi Fabunmi and Chief Murainana Oyelami. All of us forged ahead, moving in different directions. The beauty of Osogbo arts is that every artist is unique. So if you see 10 Osogbo artists, it means that you are going to see 10 different works. But when we started most of those in academia did not like it because they thought we took a shortcut into the arts world; but today it has turned almost every artist in Nigeria into abstract artists.
We used to be invited while they were not but eventually most of them turned to abstract art either in University of Nigeria, Nsukka or Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife. It means Osogbo art is a very successful experiment because it was created from our own minds; we were not forced to create anything, we were not taught to create anything they simply asked us to do whatever comes from our mind and that time we came out with what came out from our mind. So we didn’t bother whether it was good or not, but eventually they found it more interesting and that was how Osogbo art was formed.
What is the link between Osogbo as an ancient town synonymous with creative arts and UNESCO
Concerning UNESCO, they came in 1970. Susan Wenger had been writing a lot because she had been doing a lot of work at the groove. So, we were into different kinds of art, while we left Susan Wenger to continue doing her own thing at the groove.
What was she working on then?
She was into sculptures. She loved sculptures and that was her major work. She was into renovation and restoration of Osun Osogbo groove which became so beautiful that the whole world began to come visiting, but eventually when they went to compete for UNESCO in 2005 Osogbo groove happened to be the only one designated as one of the world heritage centres in Nigeria.
So what are the benefits attached to being designated as one of World’s heritage centres.
The benefit was the publicity that we were going to get. Nothing more than that. The benefit is that they make sure that it is on world map, it is well advertised to make important personalities to visit Osogbo. So, those are the things we get from UNESCO, nothing more.
Are they supposed to give money to Osogbo or the groove?
Well, we don’t know, but we can use the name to request for sponsorship, but no money directly from UNESCO. We can use the name or the acronym of UNESCO to advertise and at the same time request for sponsorship from different companies.
As one of the major stakeholders in the arts industry, particularly the sustenance of Osun Osogbo groove, what changes have you noticed since the designation as world heritage site?
The way it is done is that the National Museum happened to be the parastatal looking after the groove because in most towns National Museum used to have a place where they show some sculptures and other things but for Osogbo groove there is a need for renovation if need be but so far Osogbo township has been in the forefront of renovation of the groove in conjunction with the National Museum and Monuments. They also have security and staff looking after the groove.
Are you happy with this kind of development?
Happy? We are not happy with that. We have written several letters to the federal government but they continue to promise and nothing comes out of it. We believe that there should be some stipend earmarked for the Osun Osogbo festival, but up till now we receive nothing.
Some stakeholders have high expectations that tourist sites in Nigeria should be explored by the government as a kind of money spinner to shore up the nation’s revenue base. What is your take on this viz a viz the economic potentials of tourist attraction sites like the Osun Osogbo groove?
The federal government has been getting it wrong by not tapping into tourism. It is a major aspect in most other countries such as South Africa, Ghana, even Kenya where they don’t have oil, maybe just of recent they have oil. What they did was to uplift tourist sites and encouraged people to come but the problem we are facing in Nigeria is not far-fetched. It is religion. We are not used to relaxation or traveling to sites to relax. There was the Obudu cattle ranch in the olden days where people go to relax but that wasn’t encouraged. So I think the federal government need to encourage every worker and the people to visit sites and move round and see other towns. When you don’t to go to other states or towns, you don’t know what is going on there.
Nigerians can travel from here to Ghana because of birthday and other parties, forgetting that there are a lot of places they can travel to that will give them good memories. We cannot equate ourselves with Rivers, where they are doing fishing, building their houses on water and do boats regatta festivals. The laws of those areas must be different from our own laws. So, when you don’t go there, you don’t know the problems and challenges they are facing. That is why it is important for us to move round Nigeria.
Is that what we are lacking in Nigeria?
Nobody cares. Maybe the man in charge is a Muslim or Christian who has been carried away by religion, because all these things they call them fetish, but culture had been existing before the religion came to Nigeria. This why I love Igbo people, they don›t forget their culture. They teach their children their dialects. You go to Europe; most of our children can›t speak Yoruba, even in Nigeria. These are the areas Nigeria needs to look at to renew and revamp our cultural heritage.
You are one of Nigeria’s greatest exports when it comes to painting. What really triggered your interest in painting?
Painting is one of the easiest ways to express myself because that is what I love. I studied sculpture when I was in ABU, but I major in painting because I love painting and that is why I develop a technique in using beads which is quite different from other artists. I use beads to illustrate my own arts and to teach even when I travel outside the country. I often receive invitations from different people and organisations to teach fine arts in several countries. So, I think it is one of the best ways for me to communicate.
Are you fulfilled in that area?
I am fulfilled in that regard because people envied me in that aspect than other artists. If the only thing to do for Nigeria is to contribute that kind of art into contemporary arts, I think I have done enough to develop arts in the country. People know me for bead painting; so, that identification and recognition is enough for me.
How old are you now?
I am a young man of 75-years-old.
What is the different between you and the crop of the artists we now have?
The difference is a bit wide because in our own time we were not eager to sell arts. We needed to get our work ready for exhibition purposes, not selling it like now, but nevertheless some of their works are good while some are not as good as people think. When we started, we never knew art is for sale but in their own time they believe in selling art work which is quite different; when we started we suffered so much.
What is your relationship with the late Duro Ladipo?
I was the manager of Duro Ladipo National theatre and it was from there we had the opportunity to attend world cup competition that changed our lives from drama to contemporary arts. Duro Ladipo was a composer, a talented dramatist and play director. We pursued different kinds of drama on our arts so both the drama and the art works were useful for our creative exploits. Duro National Theatre can’t be forgotten. We often carried out a research before producing any play. I remember before we produced Oba Koso, we had to go to Oyo to meet Oba Oladigbolu who gave us the story of Oyo and we also went to Ile-Ife to meet the then Ooni, Oba Adesoji Aderemi who introduced us to his palace drummer. We also went to the Obi of Agbor and he even gave us people to join us in our play to make it very unique. I think Duro Ladipo was a traditionalist who loved research unlike now where they put together anything they like without any research and if you look at their play sometimes, it has meaning and sometimes it doesn’t have meaning. Anything we do in those days had meaning.
Do you have any of your children taking after you in art?
I have two of them taking after me, using beads for their creations. One is in Nigeria while the other is in the United States who is doing very well in bead painting. He used to receive several awards because his own style is different from mine; so that is the beauty of it. Anybody can use bead, but you have to be unique. What sells in art is the identity.