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A King’s Passion, new book on Obi of Onitsha, opens Lagos art season

A King’s Passion, new book on Obi of Onitsha, opens Lagos art season

…as Access Bank supports launch

The much anticipated Lagos art calendar has commenced to the delight of the art community and the larger creative sector.

Excitedly, the art season began with launch of the 588-page book, A King’s Passion: A 21st Century Patron of African Art at the Access Bank headquarters in Lagos on Thursday, November 2, 2023. The publication, which was sponsored by Access Bank and the Ford Foundation, is a comprehensive exploration of the exceptional masterpieces of modern and contemporary African art in the collection of Nnaemeka Alfred Achebe, the Obi of Onitsha.

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Over a period of forty years, passion, intellectual curiosity and intuition inspired the Obi of Onitsha to collect more than 4000 artworks, of which over 300 are featured in the book. His art collection will be housed at the Chimedie Museum in Onitsha, due to be completed in 2025. The publication addresses the emerging role of art patron-ship in Africa and how indigenous collectors are expanding narratives on the art of the African continent.

Lavishly illustrated in full colour, A King’s Passion was edited by SMO Contemporary Art and features 120 artists and carefully selected modern and contemporary masterpieces, including works by Ben Enwonwu, Uche Okeke, Amon Kotei, El Anatsui, Ablade Glover, Twins Seven Seven, Ndidi Dike, Godfried Donkor, Midy, Mxolisi Dolla Sapeta, Kofi Agorsor, Frew Kebede Gemech, Tizta Berhanu and many more. The publication includes critical essays by some of the finest scholars and experts on African art including Sylvester Ogbechie, Frank Ugiomoh, Edwin Bodjawah, Babacar Mbow, Krdyz Ikwuemesi, Jerry Buhari, Bernard Akoi-Jackson, Chike Nwagbogu and Oliver Enwonwu.

“We are delighted to sponsor A King’s Passion: A 21st Century Patron of African Art, which strategically shows how art can contribute to developing our continent and telling a fresh story with ancient roots,” said Herbert Wigwe, CEO of Access Holdings, who hosted the event. “The impact of HM Nnaemeka Alfred Achebe’s exquisite art collection and his strategic art patronage for over 40 years nurturing African talent, is a beautiful example of how creativity can create wealth from the grass roots all the way up through society, and create important paradigm shifts about our identity, our culture, and our history.”

The book is dedicated to late Innocent Chukwuma, a celebrated social justice activist and former Ford Foundation Representative of West Africa, who supported the publication with a seed grant.

“The Obi of Onitsha did not establish the museum for the love of art only, but also because of his understanding of the importance of owning one’s own story and narrative and passing it down in a cultural context that is true to its original meaning,” commented Chichi Anyiagolu-Okoye, director for West Africa, Ford Foundation. “The Chimedie museum will help teach, inspire and connect communities, especially at this time when the discourse on the return of African artifacts from Europe to its rightful owners is taking centre stage.”

The book launch included a critical book review by art curator and architect, Jess Castelotte, and a vibrant panel discussion by leading experts in the African art market including Hannah O’Leary, senior director of Sotheby’s auction house; Kelechi Amadi-Obi, award winning photographer; Femi Akinsanya, leading African art collector and philanthropist, and Tokini Peterside-Schwebig, founder, ART X Lagos art fair. The discussion was moderated by Titi Ogufere, convener of Design Week Lagos.

The launch was attended by a large audience of local and international art collectors and art enthusiasts, many of whom are visiting Lagos for the first time, to attend the ART X Lagos art fair.

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“We are excited to share under-reported stories of how African collectors and especially African royalty, dating back to the Ife and Benin kingdoms, have nurtured artists and projected African creativity to a global audience for hundreds of years,” said Sandra Mbanefo Obiago, the book’s editor, founder and artistic director, SMO Contemporary Art.

“The Chimedie Museum will be an important repository of my art collection as well as photographs, music and video recordings, royal regalia including costumes, jewelry, hats, ornaments, and historic documents and research materials, including the digital copies of the entire academic socio-anthropological study of Onitsha,” explained Nnaemeka Alfred Achebe, the royal majesty, at the event. “The book fulfils its primary objective to foster research into modern and contemporary art in Africa by challenging the existing canon and helping to raise funds for the Chimedie Museum.”

The book is published by 5 Continents Publishers in Milan, Italy, and is available in local and international bookstores.