I am awed and greatly thrilled by the sheer idea of the ‘Living Legends’ project, especially the just concluded outing in November this year. For four hours General Yakubu Gowon (rtd) sat as a model before a mix of Nigerian artists – young, old and renowned, in one of the meeting rooms of the famous Transcorp Hilton Hotel, Abuja. This portrait session was the fourth in the episodes of ‘Living Legends’ – a series of live portrait sessions in honour of some of Nigeria’s outstanding living personalities especially having to do with the art(s). It first took off in 2008 and is fast aiming to become a global project someday soon.
This recent outing was in keeping with the high standards the organisers have always maintained since its inception; it was also apart from honouring the former military head of state for his outstanding statesmanship, and patronage and support for the arts, at the same time to celebrate the General at eighty. This awesome event was perfectly put together by the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) in collaboration with Olu Ajayi Studios who are the initiators of this laudable project, and managed by Eki Eboigbe.
The past ‘legends’ to whom this kind of honour has been done include – the erudite Prof Bruce Onobrakpeya, Prof Yusuf Grillo, Omo N’Oba Nedo Uku Akpolokpolo, Erediauwa - the Oba of Benin, Prof Wole Soyinka, and Prof John Pepper Clark Bekederemo. And from the ten artists who turned up, a sizeable number of portraits in drawings and paintings were churned out while the retired General posed. In the midst of it classical and cool jazz music filtered through from a live bandstand led by Ayo Bankole at the background to soothe the atmosphere, calming the nerves of both model and artists alike.
Leading the pack of equally 'honoured' artists was the amazing octogenarian himself at 83, Professor Bruce Onobrakpeya; sometimes he stood, at other times he was on the floor enjoying himself as he worked his model in this rare feast of the masters. Other artists who were on call at this event included – Kolade Oshinowo, Olu Ajayi, Nsikak Essien, Emmanuel Ikoro, Emmanuel Irokanulo, Tunde Soyinka, Dr. Sylvester Ebipaha, Bolaji Ogunwo, and Omonigho Udenta (photographer), while Prof Frank Ogiomoh, a historian at the University of Port-Harcourt was there to observe the goings on. Even the legendary J P Clark was not left out as he was a part of the on-looking audience that came out for this noble creative retreat on that weekend at the hotel. In all, about seventeen finished portraits were done and set for framing, and the crew of Art World was on hand to do just that, ready for an immediate exhibition.
By Morgan Nwanguma