By Francis Odupute

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Dr Theresa Osaigbovo delivering the lecture.

The awareness is building up nation-wide. Everywhere you go to today in Nigeria, you hear of capacity building training here and there deployed as strategies to increase fiscal productivity and encourage industry, self-reliance, economic empowerment, especially among our teeming population of unemployed youths and women.

The Nigerian creative sector continues to lead the way in the efforts of the Federal Government and some State governments to reposition the economy and welfare of Nigerian citizens through sustainable job creation driven by entrepreneurship cum micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs). And some patriotic Nigerian creative are keying into the Government’s job-creation agenda. One of such was Dr. (Mrs.) Theresa Osaigbovo, a professional textile designer and lecturer with the Department of Fine and Applied Arts, University of Benin (UNIBEN), who held a solo textile art exhibition in Benin City, between 27th of June and 1st July, 2018, strategically titled “Iwinaobomwen 1”.

The artist and textile design teacher gave a pensive advice on the dignity of labour to a crowd of inquisitive participants at the occasion, including university students, lecturers, art collectors, fashion designers and the media, who graced the riveting textile exhibition. Excerpts:

“What I am here to tell everybody is that there is dignity in labour, hard work doesn’t kill; instead hard work makes you a very strong person and makes you a very responsible and makes you a wealthy person, if you’re really hard-working. Because…everybody, everyone that God has created has been endowed with one skill or the other, and it’s so painful today seeing young men, young women carrying about their certificates- some do not even have certificates- they’re there looking for a white collar job, looking for a white collar job when actually you have some skills that if these white collar job is not coming forth you’ll be able to make use of your hands to do something for yourself, so you become self-reliant; and if possible, if you’re really, really hardworking, you will be able to employ other people.

“And I’m so happy being in the midst of big men and women that I know, I’m proud to say that they’re very skillful; they’re very skillful because there’s no aspect of visual arts that has no skill. So we live in a goldmine in Fine and Applied arts that we really need to tell people, we really need to tell the public to join us to explore this goldmine we have in Fine and applied arts. I don’t want to sound selfish; I don’t want anybody to see me as a very selfish person, that I am saying that the skills must be acquired in the area of Fine and Applied arts. That’s not what I’m saying; I’m saying that we have more than enough skills to be acquired for those of them that will be interested to acquire skills in the area of Fine and Applied Arts. I’m also saying that we have other skills, endless limitless skills all over, and that people need to really go and acquire skills so they will make themselves relevant in the society. Because if you are there –if you like you’re a P.H.D holder – and you’re not doing anything, you’re not contributing anything, it would seem as if that person is not relevant, is not relevant in the society.

“So the title of this exhibition that says Iwinaobomwen, I thought over it and I said how do take this exhibition to the grassroots? Because it is really the grassroots that matters that we really have to talk to. So many of us here, we’re skilful people but we have our own families all over. If we take the message of this solo exhibition to our different families, that in Fine and Applied arts today somebody held an exhibition titled Iwinaobomwen”, which means “The works of my hands”, I believe that so many people will have a rethink. Even sending their children to this place; you know, some students are here, when you ask them, why are you not doing your assignment? … “I’m not doing my assignment, ma, because I didn’t choose to come here, I chose to go to Mass Com, I chose to go to Law, and I found myself here, that is why I’m not  happy being here, and my parents are not happy with me”.

“You see, that wrong mindset is there; so we that know the value of what we’re doing, we really need to sensitize people, we really need to tell the whole world that what we’re doing here, that an average artist is intelligent, because it takes intelligence to be able to create. So this “Iwinaobomwen” is a message I’m appealing to everybody to take it to different places; take it to our families and go and encourage our children. Some of us we have our children, even before the age of three, they’re already scribbling something; they’re already gathering materials to assemble one thing or the other. But because they have made up their minds that, “…my son must be a medical doctor; my son must be an engineer”, you’ll discover that they will ensure that they frustrate that child, saying “What are you doing with art? What are you doing? …skill acquisition… they feel an artist is “ehnn…anything can go, so if there is no other option they can go for art.” It is really not so. That is what I want to correct with this exhibition today – that we have our hands to work and we should really harness the potentials inherent in our hands so we’ll be able to do something.

“I want to use this opportunity to appreciate what the Federal Government is doing; some individuals are also doing, the Federal Government, the State Government  …because for some time now I’ve really been observing… I realize that the ITF… because I have somebody that also benefitted from what they’re doing in the area of trying to get youths all over and send them to master craftsmen and women to teach them, which means they have realized that there is need for young men and women to be able to really acquire a skill irrespective of the area you are. You may be a medical doctor, it doesn’t really matter. If you have your skill it is an added advantage.

“I also appreciate what the ITF is doing, the State Governor…they’re doing so many things, trying to collaborate with ITF to train young men and women to be able to acquire skills. And the Governor’s wife is also doing something that I also want to bring to our knowledge, because I saw a big bill board showing young children that she calls… It’s a club- after school club – that I saw young children doing jewelries and doing some other skills acquisition-related things. So, I really, really want to appreciate every one of us that are skilful people, and I want to encourage those of us that have not acquired any skills to please try and acquire one.”

Among the many dignitaries who graced the occasion were the following respondents who shared vital insights about the exhibition:

Prof. Sweet Ebeigbe (Professor of Ceramics and Art History, UNIBEN):

“…gone are the days when people think that it is only the dropout that must read Fine Art; but the knowledgeable person knows that there’s actually nothing you can do without the visual arts. So, if you are lucky to be here in the Department of Fine and Applied Arts, and which other area of the visual arts you’re specializing in, you should take it seriously because, without the artist there can be no technology.

“The Visual arts and Visual artists can be mobilized fully and productively for the purpose of re-directing and re-educating Nigerians towards cultivating a positive approach to life. For example, the visual can serve as a veritable tool for engendering the development of Nigerian youths in the area of self-reliance, self-confidence, social integration, as well as sensitizing them against the menace of anti-social behavior.

“The youth of Nigeria generally are not financially empowered sufficiently. The acquisition of skills in the visual arts would adequately empower Nigerian youths economically and financially. The potential of the visual arts as a catalyst for stemming unemployment in Nigeria is amply underscored in the outstanding works on display in this fourth solo exhibition by Dr. (Mrs) Theresa Uvbi Osaigbovo, which she has designated: ‘Iwinaobomwen 1’…”

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Prof. Manasseh Imonikebe (Professor of Painting/Art Education, UNIBEN): 

“…In this exhibition, the artist has successfully expressed her passion for skill acquisition of all kinds, for children and youths in Nigeria. Dr. Osaigbovo, who laments the pitiable condition of most unemployed youths in this nation, has called for a moment of rethink and looking inward. According to the artist, the average Nigerian youth is endowed with inherent potentials in his hands… this natural endowment, if well harnessed by all and sundry could liberate the individual from the present state of lamentation and frustration to a state of gainful employment and becoming an employer of labour.

“The exhibition therefore, invites all stakeholders and the general public to reflect on the virtues in the skill acquisition and the benefits accruable from prestigious earnings from one’s handiwork irrespective of the field of endeavour. As a result, making oneself a skilful person becomes so advantageous when the individual eventually secures a white collar job.”

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Prof. Austin Asagba, (Department of theatre Arts and Mass Communication, UNIBEN):

“…basically we are seeing creativity at its best. We are seeing the works of an indigenous person, not just a researcher but somebody who has a lot of experience in respect to what we’re seeing today; you can see the various colours, the textile fabrics, the looms… it shows that University of Benin is still the best place to come when you want to look at indigenous artworks and modern sensibilities. So with the textile things we’ve seen today I suspect that if we encourage this lady and her team the University will be able to be in the fore front of textile business. With what people like the late Irene Nwangboje did, I’m sure there’s innovation, in terms of people who are producing now. So the University is doing well; I’m happy with what I’ve seen now.”

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Prof. John Ogene, ( H.O.D, Department of Fine and Applied Arts, UNIBEN):

“…it’s quite an elaborate show. You can see that the various stages involved in the production of any fabric that we utilize today is quite elaborate. Like the artist was able to take us through the pre-production stages where you had the yarn, you had the materials that she kept for the production of these particular designs. Thereafter she took us to the technology behind it – the production loom from where she produced the fabrics that she utilized to make different clothing; then again she took us to another level where she showed us the embellishments she had to do on the surfaces of some of those fabrics and, of course, we know that the usage of the tie dye and the batik techniques also helped in the production of those fabrics. Of course, she showed us the finished product in forms of accessory and manipulation of fabric and combination, to give what the end user will actually appreciate.

“…of course, from the attendance you can see that a lot of students showed up;  and they’re very happy, they’re very impressed and they’re challenged equally because, certainly the child, in African tradition, is supposed to be better than the father. So those that are understudying her currently certainly will be better than she is.

“In the aspect of textile technology which is currently not a specializing unit of the Department, for now the students travel to do their industrial attachment with a particular professional from Ghana. With time we certainly will develop the unit of textile technology to empower students here to be able to produce the machines that are used for these fabric constructions.

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Prof. Efemena Ononomen (Professor of Fine and applied Arts, UNIBEN):

“….today’s exhibition is great. The exhibitor has shown us that there are lot of things that one can do with one’s hands and that there is no need for us to depend on white collar jobs or blue collar jobs, that with our hands, if we’re diligent, if we’re hardworking in the area of the arts, name it, you can be self-reliant and so on; and there we saw a lot of things that the exhibitor produced, ranging from tie and dye, batik and woven fabrics. So she has shown us that there is dignity in labour.

“On the exhibitor’s lamentations about lack of adequate tools and textile technology for effective teaching and practice…this is a clarion call for the Department and the University to ensure that technologists are employed in the area of weaving and, in fact, in all the areas, so that they can  enhance the quality of works that we produce, so that when students leave the school, they graduate, they’ll be able to fit into the society, be employers of labour, establish their own small scale industries, SMEs and so on; and that is what the Federal Government is really trying to encourage now, and the Edo State Government as well. So, the exhibition is right on point.”

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Wendy Ufuoma Alakpodia, MFA student:

“…Dr. Osaigbovo is my lecturer and my supervisor. I want to say that this whole exhibition was a complete success because she put in so much time, efforts and resources to make it a success. If you go round all the works that she has done, she touched every bit of textile design, from Adire Eleko, batik, tie and dye, weaving, etc. I think it’s the most largely-attended exhibition I have ever witnessed organized by any lecture in this school. She had a large population attending this exhibition…The main inspiration I’m taking from here is her arrangement. I’ve also had my exhibition, and my arrangement wasn’t like this. But the way she arranged it you’re able to see every work that she has done and every design; it’s very obvious, and she didn’t put so much and you’re able to go round. So the whole process was a success and we’re proud of our lecturer.”

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Mabel Oluwaserun Ojo, MFA student:

“…I’m an MFA student and, luckily for me, the exhibitor is my supervisor, my lecturer, a mother and a friend; as you can see this is the first of its kind that you can see this population drawn together to exhibition like this…people hardly turn up but because of her kind of person, everybody has taken out their time to come celebrate with her.

“There is a slogan we used to say that “I wish to be like you when I grow up”; she’s one person I’ve always wished to grow to be like… if possible, I want to be more than her when I grow up.  She’s homely, she’s friendly; when I say she’s a mother, I mean a mother – someone who, regardless of your background, she takes you as if she has known you from Adam. She takes her time, you know she’s this person…she’s easily accessible –someone you can just walk to her office and she will put all protocol pending to attend to you. That’s why we love her so much.

“Yes, she’s my supervisor…I am working on the traditional woven fabrics, to reduce the weight of Igara traditional woven fabrics; my project is something like this her work, but unlike this which belongs to the Delta people, I am working on the one that belongs to the Igara people of Akoko Edo Local Government Area of Edo State;… one of the contributions to knowledge is, unlike the Aso-Oke of the Yoruba people which is very vital and common,  that of the Igara people is not common because of the weight .  So, the contribution to knowledge is, if I am able to work on the reduction of the weight, then I will be able to inculcate it into our modern fashion… ”