August 22 Following Nike
Following Nike is usually and adventure and today is no exception. We leave the Guest House at Offa Tedo in the morning with a simple mission – to buy white cloth for the chieftaincy ceremony being held that afternoon. The Ambassadors from France and Holland are in Osogbo to receive the honors and Nike is concerned that all should go well. The Oba conferring the titles is her cousin and they are staying at her Guest House. As it happens we don't return until 3 a.m.
No, we do come back for 5 minutes so that I can change into something more appropriate for the Governor's dinner than the T shirt and trousers I left home wearing. But I digress …
A session of the Trade, Investment & Culture Conference is being held sponsored by the Osun State Government. Nike is on the program representing the Oshogbo artists along with Jimoh Buraimoh and Muraina Oyelami. I am keen to attend. We arrive at the Centre for Black Culture and International Understanding, a complex of buildings situated on a hilltop overlooking the city. The view is magnificent and a pleasant breeze is blowing. We enter the building and take our seats in the front row.
Muraina will not be attending as his daughter is getting married tomorrow, but he has sent a representative. It appears that Nike has double-booked herself. She informs me that she has to go look after the Ambassadors and she asks me to "represent" her. How do I do that?!! "Say a few words," she says. "How many?" I ask. About twenty minutes or so, she says. She adds, "someone will pick you up after the program", and she leaves.
The talks are informative, practical, and in English. Useful from my perspective is a talk on "Product Development and the Tourism Economy by Mrs. Femi Olayebi. She designs, produces and markets a line of handsome handbags constructed using local materials. She describes her whole creative process from start to finish. Dr. Sheridan Booker is a young African/American who speaks with appealing passion about bringing young people home to the Motherland.
At intervals and low points, I am busily making notes to myself about what I am going to say on Nike's behalf. Lacking any direction from her, I decide to give a brief description of my mission for the Museum of International Folk Art and then talk about the Osogbo Artists' Village project that Isaac Ojo Fajana introduced me to a few days ago.
The "Cultural Roundtable" starts at 3, after a lunch break. I am not hungry so I decide to forgo pounded yam in favor of spiritual sustenance. An art exhibition has been installed in a tent behind the conference hall and I go to check it out. The first person I meet is David Osevwe, an artist and friend from earlier days. I continue to move happily through the exhibit enjoying the work and and chatting with young artists. Half way through, I meet Isaac with some of his students. He is showing a fine recent example of his embroidered wall hangings.
It is time to return to the Conference Hall. As I enter, I am told that the organizers are accepting no substitutes. I am off the hook! Muraina's representative is also rejected. Four senior Oshogbo artists were on the program billed as "Cultural Icons". Nike and Muraina are no-shows leaving Jimoh Buraimoh and Kasali Akangbe to speak for the artists along with oral historian Chief Ifayemi Elubuibon.
Chairs onstage are embarrassingly empty; organizers are panicking. An announcement is made that "Nike is on her way" which I am quite sure is not the case. I decide to act. I take one of the organizers aside and tell him that Isaac Ojo Fajana, another one of the originators of the Osogbo movement is outside the Hall with the exhibitors. He tells me to go and fetch him, which I do. Isaac takes his seat onstage and the "Cultural Roundtable; Conversations with Cultural Icons" begins, in Yoruba. My understanding of the language is minimal at best so it becomes a long afternoon. The general format of the Roundtable is introduction of each artist followed by recounting his own experience of the beginnings of Osogbo Art. Isaac has an opportunity to introduce the Artists' Village project.
As the Roundtable nears its conclusion, drums are heard approaching. Nike and the two Ambassadors are drummed into the hall; Nike takes her seat onstage. The lady knows how to make an entrance.