Thursday, 28 September 2017



By Margaretta wa Gacheru (posted September 28, 2017)

Nigeria’s National Day of Independence is this coming Sunday, October 1st. According to Paulina Otieno, it will be a day of fabulous celebrations, “much like what we have back home,” says the Nigeria-born fashion designer and entrepreneur.

Paulina promises that from noon on Sundayat the Nairobi Gallery, the celebrations will feature everything from Nigerian food and fashion to live Nigerian music and dancing by several professional West African bands and dancers.

Coincidentally, Sunday is also the day the 2nd Nigerian Arts Festival opens at Nairobi Gallery where the Grand Opening will officially begin from 2pm. The Kenyan Cabinet Secretary of Culture, Arts and Sports Dr. Hassan Wario has promised to be on hand as will the new Nigerian High Commission.

Pauline has had a hand in organizing the Grand Opening of the Festival. But she has worked closely with the curator of the Gallery, Alan Donovan who staged the 1st Nigerian Cultural Festival exactly 50 years ago, in 1967 at the now defunct Studio Arts 68.

Back then, Mr Donovan, who is also the CEO and founder of African Heritage House, had recently come from Nigeria where he had worked for USAID during the dark days of the Biafran war.

It was in Nigeria that Donovan discovered the beauty of West African art up close. He had actually studied it as a graduate student at UCLA in the States several years earlier. But his first purchases of African art were in Lagos and Oshogbo, the famous art city, where he met many active artists and gave his heart to collecting and showcasing African textiles, arts, fashions, jewelry and crafts.

“This 2nd Nigerian Cultural Festival is meant to commemorate 50 years since I dedicated myself to African art,” says the co-founder, with Kenya’s former Vice President Joseph Murumbi, of the African Heritage Pan-African Gallery. The two men launched that gallery in the early 1970s; it became world renowned up until its demise in the early 21st century.

One of the special features of African Heritage over the years was the Gala Night which will be revived this coming October 18th. The same day, Nike is scheduled to speak on Nigerian batik art. And in the evening, the Kenyan musician Papillon will launch his new album ‘Heart of Africa’ with his mentor Ayub Ogada.

But from the 1st, three of Nairobi’s leading CBD cultural venues will join hands to celebrate Nigerian culture. Together with Nairobi Gallery, the Festival will be happening at the Nairobi National Museum and Alliance Francaise.

At all three venues, the visual artworks of more than 20 Nigerian artists will be on display, including those of two of the country’s internationally acclaimed artists: Bruce Onobrakpiya and Nike Seven Seven Okunfaye who is best known as a batik artist but is so much more than that.

Most of the rest of the artists who will be represented over the month are closely connected with Nike who has both the biggest art and cultural centre in Lagos. She also owns the largest craft and community centre at Oshogbo, a village originally started by Germans, Ulli Beier and Suzanne Wenger. Subsequently, countless artists of all kinds have come and created at Oshogbo. It’s been a thriving community for poets, painters, playwrights and traditional textile designers like Nike who won’t be coming to Kenya until later on this month. But her colorful batik art will be here along with the art works of other well-known Nigerian artists.

On October 9th, Alliance Francaise will launch an exhibition of ‘The Vanishing Textiles of Africa.’ They’ll be textiles that Mr Donovan collected during his half century of travels around the region and are now permanently resident at the African Heritage House.

Historically, the African Heritage Gala Nights have been extravaganzas that are most memorable. This 50th anniversary of the Gala Nights is bound to be special as well as it will feature both Kenyan and Nigerian bands and dancers plus original African fashions, all of which are made with textiles, many of which are now rare or have vanished altogether. So the Festival is bound to be an excellent way to take one’s mind off national issues and enjoy the ways that West Africans celebrate and create.

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