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Oyebanji unveils plan to make Ekiti a tourist destinatination

Background The act of wood carving and metal work to create dimensional representation or abstract forms to showcase the cultural heritage of the Black race is said to be as old as creation. Africans have harnessed this means to not only artistically showcase their culture and traditions to the world, but also tell the stories of their humanity and transactions in life in a most profound manner. However, this art form especially works commissioned by kings as it was known then as most of the artistic works and the artists themselves emanated from the courtyards of the kings, is fast going into extinction while in some cases there are concerted efforts in clamouring for the return of the artworks or artefacts that were stolen from the shores of Africa and now adorn public and private museums and institutions across the world.

A clear example of this in recent time is that of the struggle by the Oba of Benin, Oba Ewuare II, to have most of the Benin artefacts, especially bronze works stolen from the palace and homes of his forebears during the British punitive expedition of 1897, repatriated to the country and his palace to be precise. Borrowing a leaf from that the Governor of Ekiti State, Biodun Oyebanji, has also evolved a scheme that is aimed at reviving the cultural tourism economy of the state and putting it on the cusp of global tourism map through the prism of the stolen artefacts of Olowe Ajalemo, who is widely known as Olowe of Ise, a renowned sculptor of Ekiti extraction, whose works adorn private and public museums across the world. Olowe of Ise Historically, the Olowe of Ise, who was originally known as Olowere Ajalemo was born in 1854 at Efon-Alaiye, in Efon Local Government Area of Ekiti State.

He died at the age of 83. Olowe reportedly lived most of his life in Ise Ekiti, now the headquarters of Ise Orun Local Government Area of Ekiti State. According to records, he worked in the palace of Arinjale Ise Ekiti, paramount ruler, as a messenger. It was at the palace that he discovered, developed and honed his skill as a sculptor as he devoted time in between his official duties to create works of art that saw him as an emerging court or palace artist and over the years, became renowned and one of the most acclaimed artists from south west Nigeria. He was a wood sculptor, with a creative talent in the African style of design. Olowe’s artistic designs are found in different museums across the world, all portraying African cultures and traditions, precisely that of the Yorubas. Olowe was described as a talented artist, who could see a tree or wood and imagine fitted artistic design; his architectural sculptural pieces at the palace of Arinjale, Ise monarch and other prominent people of that time became notable that his service was also requested by some other monarchs in Yorubaland. His fecundity, creative ferment earned wide spread fame, resulting in him being called ‘Master Sculptor’ among his contemporaries.

Prominent works Prominent among his designs is an equestrian warrior veranda post for the exterior courtyard of the king’s palace. Many of his artistic designs symbolised authority and leadership in Yoruba traditional settings, and women’s influence in societal development among others. Olowe’s great artistic prowess spread across the universe; Europe, America and other parts of the world, with many of his remarkable pieces on display in some of the most prominent and influential museums across the world. The return of artefacts The journey to repatriate the great works of Olowe Ise and the quest to use them as the platform to reset Ekiti’s cultural tourism landscape, started early this year when Governor Oyebanjo was alerted on the prominence of Olowe of Ise and his creations, which are now scattered abroad. Fully briefed on this development, the first step by the governor was to embark on a fact finding mission to Ise Ekiti, where he visited the ancestral home of Olowe of Ise, in company of some of his officials and stakeholders in the state’s cultural tourism space.

They toured his family house to view some of his extant works and also the palace of the paramount ruler for the same purpose. World class museum Following his findings from the visit, Oyebanji announced the plan to build a world class museum in honour of Olowe Ise that would house all his works. The museum, according to the governor, would promote African culture and also develop the tourism sector, apart from showcasing the works of Ekiti State-born Olowe of Ise. He noted this would also facilitate the development of Ise Ekiti community and its environs for the benefit of the people. Furthermore, the establishment of the museum would enhance the maintenance of the natural endowments of Ekiti State, especially the preservation of the valuable artefacts. The governor, who emphasised the commitment of his administration to the museum project, therefore sought the support of the residents and the community for the actualisation of this dream project, which he said would ultimately benefit the community, the state and the country at large.

Oyebanji said: “Today, as we embark on the rehabilitation of Olowe of Ise, we have the opportunity to not only preserve and celebrate his legacy, but also to bring greater awareness to his work within Nigeria.” Ise Ekiti monarch commends governor Elated by the quest of the governor and his promise to transform his domain into a tourism hub, the traditional ruler of Ise, Oba Adetunji Ajayi applauded Oyebanji and Senator Babafemi Ojudu for: “Their interest in showcasing the late carver to the world.”

This is as he said that the community would gladly support the project by constituting its own committee to complement the effort of the state government, noting that, “it is going to be a landmark in the history of the community.” Board of Trustees To give immediate vent to the project, the governor on returning to Ado Ekiti, the state capital, consisted a Board of Trustees for the project, which he has tagged: ‘Olowe of Ise Art Foundation’; for the speedy actualisation of his dream of recovering the lost artefacts of Olowe, building of the museum and making Ekiti a tourism hub. The 13-members board, headed by Senator Ojudu, is made of prominent Nigerians who have in their different callings and spaces recorded enviable successes and are renowned and committed to their crafts and businesses. At the inauguration ceremony witnessed by the state Deputy Governor, Chief Monisade Afuye, Ekiti State House of Assembly Speaker, Adeoye Aribasoye and members of the House of Assembly as well as members of the state Executive Council alongside the Ewi in Council, the governor said the board would serve as the guiding force for the state’s determination to showcase her artistic heritage for global recognition.

Agenda The governor charged the board with a broad based agenda that include; driving the state’s initiative for a modern museum where the works of the world renowned carver would be housed to promote tourism. Oyebanji at the inauguration declared that the establishment of the Olowe of Ise Art Foundation was not just an act of preservation of cultural heritage, but a steadfast commitment to safeguarding the heritage, celebrating artistic contributions and presenting an enduring legacy for future generations. He added that the museum under the art foundation would serve as a testament to the remarkable craftsmanship, artistry and cultural significant of the world renowned carver and a true custodian of Yoruba artistic excellent as well as honouring the unparalleled legacy of Nigerian and the world most distinguished artist, Olowe of Ise.

The governor further stated that Olowe of Ise’s works were evident of the rich cultural heritage and artistic excellence of the state and the country, hence the importance of ensuring his contribution to nation building were properly acknowledged and celebrated. Oyebanji, who expressed confidence in the unwavering commitment, dedication and competence of the BOT members, said their foresight and passion for cultural heritage will steer the foundation towards sustaining success and global recognition: Oyebanji said: “The Olowe of Ise Museum under the stewardship of the foundation is poised to serve as a testament to the remarkable craftsmanship of history and cultural significance of the world renowned carver, a true custodian of Yoruba artistic excellence. Olowe of Ise master pieces reflect the depth of our cultural heritage, the finesse of Yoruba art and the ingenuity of our ancestors.”

He noted that: “The establishment of the museum is not simply an act of preservation, but it is a steadfast commitment to safeguarding our heritage, celebrating artistic contributions and presenting a legacy of future generations.” Board members Prominent names on the board include; Prince Yemisi Shyllon, who is the founder of the biggest museum in Africa, Shyllon Museum; Chief (Mrs) Nike Okundaye of Nike Arts Gallery; renowned artist and curator, Prince Tunde Odunlade; Mrs Abiola Adelana of Sterling Bank; Senator Olubunmi Adetunmbi and Senator Babafemi Ojudu, who is the Chairman of the BOT. Others are; former Vice Chancellor, Federal University of Technology, Akure, (FUTA), Emeritus Prof Lawrence Kolawole, state Commissioner for Finance, Mr Akintunde Oyebode, Director General, Ekiti State Bureau of Tourism Development, Ambassador Wale Ojo-Lanre, Mr Ologbon Olowe, Dr Mike Adeoye and Architect Olayinka. Commitment to tourism development A BOT member and Director General, Ekiti State Bureau of Tourism Development, Ambassador Wale OjoLanre said the inauguration of the BOT shows the commitment of Governor Oyebanji’s administration to honouring the remarkable legacy of Olowe of Ise, who was an outstanding sculptor and whose artistic brilliance has left an indelible mark on the cultural landscape of the world. He added that the significance of the event extends beyond the realm of arts and culture but also play a pivotal role in the advancement of the state, as it brings economic growth, fosters cross-cultural exchanges, and enhances the overall wellbeing of the community.

A worthy recognition The Ise Ekiti traditional ruler, Oba Adetunji Ajayi at the inauguration of the BOT for Olowe of Ise Art Foundation, said the development 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. The monarch expressed the appreciation of the people of the Ise Ekiti to the governor for the decision to cite the museum in the town. Ojudu on benefits The BOT Chairman, Senator Babafemi Ojudu, while commending Oyebanji for his interest and commitment in the project, revealed that the late carver’s artistic works were generating huge amount of money for museums in America and European countries. Ojudu added that the community and the state would benefit from the moves towards returning the works from the foreign countries, which would attract investors to Ekiti and grow the local economy. Ojudu gave the assurance that the BOT would work assiduously to ensure that Olowe’s museum is successful and becomes a conduit of cultural exchange with global communities.

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