Wednesday, March 14, 2012

I Remember Gani Odutokun

Gani Odutokun was one of the most talented, prolific and inspiring artists to come out of Nigeria this century. Gani was my lecturer and a great inspirer and motivator that had an unending strong influence on many of us who were privileged to have had training under him. His untimely death in a car crash in February of 1995 meant the loss of one of Nigeria's pioneers of Modern African art. Could it be just an irony of fate – Gani loved ‘accidents’? Thus his latter works were results of happenstance, and 'happy' accidents, from which he derived his unique liquidized oil painting technique. 

'Dry earth'  - liquidized (oil) painting by Gani Odutokun

And afterwards - five years down the line, in an apt glowing tribute, ‘Accident and Design: Gani Odutokun and his influence’, an exhibition of the artist's works, was staged at the Brunei Gallery, University of London in March 2000. It was a well deserved testimonial to his genius, and to the art and artists that he inspired across Nigeria, but particularly at my alma mater, Ahmadu Bello University in Zaria, Northern Nigeria where he taught and practised for most of his career.

Gani is celebrated in his paintings, drawings, architectural designs, writings and sculptural works within and outside Africa, and this has shown why so many in the Nigerian art scene saw him as an inspirational figure. Gani's influence is traceable unmistakably in the works of his peers and in many younger artists who trained in Zaria. His philosophy of "accident inducing design…" is not only an apt description of his life and death, but also of the works of numerous artists whose lives he touched, and so many of us who saw him as our mentor.

Painting by Gani Odutokun

(excerpts of poem by the author)
'Brushstrokes in the sky':

… An Iroko amidst thickets
Standing aloft, humbly beckoning …
Rearing - with the cracking rupture
Of blooming petals at first light
And to be plucked before his evening,
Turning sour a happy sweet palette, and
A canvas buckles from dripping hot tears.

Morgan Chima Nwanguma

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