MEMORIES OF AN ART HISTORIAN IN (OF) NSUKKA; written for an exhibition of works from the private collection of Professor Ola Oloidi, explaining the man.
In three hours flat, I have been asked the same question by two persons- You know something about the Man?” To the first, a student of Nsukka (presumably) I spoke of Oloidi’s eloquence, and to the second, Oskijo (Chijioke Onuorah), I told that Oloidi got my full attention when he taught us Art Appreciation.
I cannot easily forget, nor be forgiven if I say I do not remember the Man. At about 5feet, 6inches tall, he was of a small frame, but his demeanor belied the stature. His mien was that of an intoxicated elephant, his gait that of a lion overlooking his pride. Professor Ola Oloidi is first and foremost a great lion, married to a stunning woman and father to two sons.
Professor Oloidi became head of the Fine and Applied Arts department, having taught classes in Aesthetics and Art Criticism for decades before my arrival at the school in the early nineties. His delivery of lectures was authoritative, fluid, with an interlacing of carefully chosen, and of course pronounced words. His word craft was supreme in the eyes of the students. “Use your lips,”Oloidi would say to students when they speak. In the whole Faculty of Arts, there was arguably no better known, and loved lecturer. It was clear for all to see that Oloidi loved his job. The man had found his niche, and gladly shared his knowledge with the students. We all loved him and were used to his crude jokes and watching him chase pretty girl-students down the corridors of the faculty.
The man had a profound joie d’vive. He fell into a deep and contemplative silence when asked to critic a student’s work, understanding the effect a review would have on the developing artist. One felt appreciated and accepted how seriously he took the task of criticism. He used to write articles for the Art section of a newspaper in those days and would paste cutouts in the departmental board.
Prof twisted the names of students, and rechristened them- Linda Izundu became Linda Azu-ndu; Ogamanya was Oga-Palmwine. The word around was that Oloidi was a staunch member of the Kegites club. He personified the Baale in the play, The Lion and the Jewel. Of Nsukka it shall be said, that this man was in there.
When Chijioke Onuorah, my mentor and dear friend spoke of organizing an exhibition at the Ana Gallery in honor of Professor Oloidi on April 28th, I was tempted to hit the road to Nsukka. The works date to as far back as the early seventies. Most of the artists featured in the show were students of Oloidi’s at some point in Nsukka. The importance of the show, and its strength lies in the fact that it makes public, hitherto unknown works created in the developmental stage of these artists lives who have moved on to be internationally acclaimed art critics, professors in universities, art historians, artists who have excelled in their chosen professions. The exhibition of works from Oloidi’s private collection will feature the early works of Abayomi Barber, Olu Oguibe, Gbugbemi Amas, Charles Adeyan, Sylvester Ogbechie, Egbukuka, Enya Ima, among others. Most of these men were taught by Oloidi. It will take personal encounters and confessions to properly validate his influence on these artists, but to his credit, we will enjoy this excellent collection of some of the best artists who passed through Nsukka. Professor Ola Oloidi is a father, friend, colleague, lecturer, albatross of his profession who gave his all in the field of education-we must celebrate such a man. I add a few words.
Anthony Nsofor, Graduate, Fine and Applied Arts, Class of 96 painting student, Ajah, Lagos, April 11th, 2011.