Olowe of Ise: Celebrating legacy of renowned sculptor
As members of the newly inaugurated Board of Trustees of Olowe of Ise Arts Foundation arrived Ise town in the southern part of Ekiti State, in a covoy, there was palpable excitement. Residents had trooped out to welcome them. Obviously, news had gone round about plans by the Ekiti State Governor, Mr. Biodun Oyebanji, to celebrate and immortalise an illustrious son of Ise, a renowned artist, the late Olowe of Ise, by transforming his home into a museum – The Olowe of Ise Museum – to serve “as a testament to the remarkable craftsmanship, artistry, and cultural significance of the world-renowned carver.”
The late Olowe, a renowned palace sculptor, has left an indelible mark on the art world, with his works being recognized and appreciated worldwide. Celebrated all over the art world and studied in most of the reputable art schools for his unique style of carving, his works adorn many museums and art institutions across the world, including Smithsonian Institute in Washington, DC, US. Unfortunately, he passed away without receiving due recognition in his own country. As veteran journalist, art collector, and politician, Senator Babafemi Ojudu, noted in an article, “I first encountered Olowe of Ise about 15 years ago. An American friend of mine, Kathleen Mead, who works at the Smithsonian Institute in Washington, DC, invited me to visit. She said she had a surprise for me. I arrived at the vast premises, and she led me to this fairly big space housing the works of Baba Olowe, also known as Olowe Ise. ‘Meet your statesman and his body of work,’ she said to me. My mouth was agape. I went around, looked at the works, and sought out Olowe’s profile. “I had never heard of this genius nor seen any of his works. No museum in my state, and neither in the whole of Nigeria, houses any of his works. His work and style of carving are not taught in our schools, but here we are in another man’s country, and they are putting high value on the work of the unlettered carver, celebrated all over the art world and studied in most of the reputable art schools for his unique style of carving.”
To rectify this, Ekiti State Governor, Mr. Biodun Oyebanji, initiated the establishment of a museum to preserve and protect the works of the late Olowe, and the Olowe of Ise Arts Foundation is a crucial step towards realizing this vision. The foundation aims to honour the legacy of the late Olowe and promote the appreciation of Nigerian art and culture. By establishing the Board of Trustees, Governor Oyebanji brought together a group of esteemed individuals who share a passion for art and cultural preservation. Earlier before the visit, Governor Oyebanji had while inaugurating the Board of Trustees of the Olowe of Ise Arts Foundation, last Wednesday, at a colourful ceremony held at Jibowu Hall, Governor’s Office in Ado Ekiti, Ekiti State capital, underscored the significance of the Olowe of Ise Museum, noting that Olowe of Ise is one of Nigeria’s most distinguished artists. Members of the Board of Trustees of the Olowe of Ise Arts Foundation are: Sen Babafemi Ojudu – Chair; Engr Yemisi Shyllon; Chief Nike Okundaye; Sen Olubunmi Adetunmbi; Mr Akin Oyebode; Barrister Wale Ojo-Lanre Esq; Dr Mike Adeoye; Mrs Abiola Adelana; Prince Tunde Odunlade; Prof Lawrence B Kolawole; Mr Ologbon Olowe; and Arch O A Olayinka. The Governor said that the board will be responsible for guiding the foundation’s activities, ensuring its sustainable growth, and bringing recognition to the works of the late Olowe, stressing that members of the Board have been carefully selected based on their expertise, passion, and dedication to the arts, and that their collective knowledge and experience will be invaluable in ensuring the success of the Olowe of Ise Arts Foundation. “As we gather here today, we are embarking on a journey that is rooted in preserving the rich cultural heritage of our land and honoring the unparalleled legacy of one of Nigeria’s most distinguished artists, the Olowe of Ise,” he said.
“The Olowe of Ise Museum, under the stewardship of the foundation, is poised to serve as a testament to the remarkable craftsmanship, artistry, and cultural significance of the world-renowned carver. A true custodian of Yoruba artistic excellence, Olowe of Ise’s masterpieces reflect the depth of our cultural heritage, the finesse of Yoruba art, and the ingenuity of our ancestors.” According to the governor, the establishment of the museum is not simply an act of preservation; it is a steadfast commitment to safeguarding our heritage, celebrating our artistic contributions, and presenting an enduring legacy for future generations. With the inauguration of the Board of Trustees, we are laying the foundation for this noble endeavor and calling upon you to serve as the guiding force in upholding the mission and vision of the Olowe of Ise Art Foundation. “Ekiti State, the people, and my government are lucky to be able to gather men and women of integrity and immense talent as yourselves to carry out this assignment. In our midst today is Engr. Yemisi Shyllon, Prince of Egbaland, an engineer, lawyer, and renowned collector and proprietor of the biggest private museum in Africa. Our mama, Chief Nike Okundaye, needs no introduction. Her footprints dominate the art world like a colossus. All of you, including our two senators, Babafemi Ojudu and Olu Adetunmbi, who are distinguished in your own rights and contributions not only to the art world but also to the development of this country, we cannot but also mention the Zion of the Olowe family, Mr. Ologbon Olowe, who in his own way has kept the family legacy going, and of course, the younger Turks among you, Wale Ojo Lanre, Akin Oyebode Jr., Abiola Adelana, and Dr. Mike Adeoye, who are either collectors, art aficionados, enthusiasts, or educators. May I also specially recognize Prince Tunde Odunlade, an artist and curator who has been on this journey with us? Thank you, Arc Olayinka, for your labor of love since you heard about this project and for your architectural and design expertise. “Emeritus Professor of Physics, former Vice Chancellor, and a chronicler of sorts on Olowe of Ise, having himself been born and raised in IseEkiti, Professor Lawrence Kolawole is representing the Ise community on the Board.”
He expressed confidence in the competence, dedication, and unwavering commitment of the esteemed trustees appointed to oversee this monumental task. “Your collective expertise, foresight, and passion for our cultural heritage will undoubtedly steer the foundation towards sustained success and global recognition. I thank you all for accepting to give of your knowledge, experience, and time. “Some have asked, Why such an important and monumental project in Ise and not Ado-Ekiti, the state capital? We are deliberate in our decision because we want to ensure that every nook and cranny of this state has one thing or another that will attract and take people there so that development and growth will be even. In no time, other communities in this state will have institutions that will ignite recognition and reckoning, as Ise is experiencing today with this initiative. “May the Olowe of Ise Museum stand as a beacon of cultural pride, excellence, and artistic heritage, serving as a repository of knowledge and inspiration for present and future generations. Let us ensure that the legacy of Olowe of Ise resonates far and wide, not just for its historical significance but for its enduring impact on the narrative of Yoruba art, history, and tradition. “Together, we will celebrate, honor, and preserve the artistic ingenuity of the Olowe of Ise and uplift the rich cultural tapestry of our heritage.” Earlier in his opening remarks, the Director-General of Ekiti State Bureau of Tourism Development, and member of the Board of Trustees of the Olowe of Ise Arts Foundation, Wale Ojo Lanre, said the inauguration of the BOT shows the commitment of the Biodun Oyebanji administration to honouring the remarkable and enduring legacy of Olowe of Ise as an outstanding sculptor whose artistic brilliance has left an indelible mark on the cultural landscape of our world. He noted that the Olowe of Ise, despite leaving this earthly realm unrecognised, has achieved global acclaim through his awe-inspiring works of art. “From the halls of Europe’s renowned museums to the hearts of art enthusiasts, his sculptures have transcended time and space, reflecting the essence of our heritage and captivating audiences with their sheer beauty and intricacy. “Today, as we gather here, we also proudly acknowledge the visionary leadership and foresight of the Governor of Ekiti State, who has graciously pledged to build a museum in Ise Ekiti, bearing the name of Olowe of Ise. This museum will serve as a sanctuary where the treasures of our cultural heritage will be preserved, cherished, and shared with the world, for generations to come. “I am delighted to announce that the Board of Trustees of the Olowe of Ise Arts Foundation is comprised of eminent stakeholders – individuals who possess immense knowledge, expertise, and a deep passion for the arts. Their presence here today is a testament to their unwavering commitment in furthering the cause of cultural preservation and heritage promotion. Together, we embark on a collective journey to ensure that the remarkable artistic genius of Olowe of Ise is celebrated and cherished, not only within the confines of our state but throughout the world,” he said. A c – cording to Ojo-Lanre, “the significance of this event extends beyond the realms of art and culture. Cultural tourism plays a pivotal role in the advancement of our state, as it brings economic growth, fosters cross-cultural exchange, and enhances the overall well-being of our communities.
The Olowe of Ise Arts Foundation, under the guidance of the Board of Trustees, holds the key to unlocking the immense potential of cultural tourism in Ekiti State, bridging the past with the present, and paving the way for a prosperous future. “With their collective wisdom and expertise, the Board of Trustees will lead the way in preserving the legacy of Olowe of Ise, nurturing artistic talent, and crafting an environment that supports and encourages the growth of our cultural heritage. Through their efforts, we will showcase the rich tapestry of our history, inspiring both locals and visitors alike to appreciate and celebrate the immense beauty and significance of our cultural identity. “I express my heartfelt appreciation to each and every member of the Board of Trustees for accepting this noble responsibility. Your commitment to this cause fuels our collective aspiration to establish Ekiti State as a beacon of cultural pride and a haven for artistic expression. “Together, let us embrace this new chapter with optimism and enthusiasm, confident that our efforts will truly honor the legacy of Olowe of Ise, uplift our communities, and shape our shared cultural narrative for generations to come.” Responding on behalf of members of the trustees, the Chairman of the Board of Trustees (BOT), Senator Ojudu said the BOT would work diligently to ensure that Olowe’s Museum is successful. He thanked the Governor for giving them the opportunity to serve the good people of Ekiti State, and assured the Governor that members of the board would embrace roles with dedication and sense of responsibility by fostering an environment of collaboration, innovation and diversity to ensure that the museum becomes a center of artistic dialogue and cultural enrichment.
In his remark, the Arinjale of Ise-Ekiti, Oba Ayodele Ajayi, expressed the appreciation of the people of Ise-Ekiti to the Governor for the decision to cite the museum in the town. He said the event was a dream come true, adding that he never believed that the realisation of the dream of a museum and recognition for the renowned carver would come so soon.