By ECHEREOZO AUSTIN
From anywhere in the Owerri Metropolis, board a taxi to Fire Service Junction and then board a bus to Nkwo Emeke. From the junction, you take left, just about four poles away, you are in Umuocham Community in Owerri North Local Government Area of Imo State.
Umuocham is the hometown of the Special Adviser to Imo State Governor Hope Uzodimma on Arts and Culture, Sir Paddy Obinna.
The family of the Obinnas houses the famous Art Gallery that belongs to Sir Paddy. Just on opening the family gate, you will be greeted with series of art works on both sides of the vast compound. On the left side close to the adjoining wall, lie piles of painting works that depict the tradition, norms, beliefs, values and deities of the Igbo society.
There are also the ancient and contemporary Christian values and symbols. There are distinctive explanations about the potency, agility and behaviour of some of the known Igbo deities, like ‘Ala’, Ikenga, Amadioha, Igwekala, Agwuishi, Njoku, Njokuji, Anyanwu, Idemili and Ogbunabali.
Paddy Obinna affixes extracts against each deity for proper identification and relationship with the other.
The right wing of the gallery is an art rendezvous ranging from sculpture, painting, abstract and semi abstract: works that explain every stage of the human society and our virtues especially those that have immediate impact on the Igbo question.
There is an old photographed image that vividly tells the story of pre- and post-colonial Nigeria. Sir Paddy Obinna tells us that it is the historical era. We saw painted grotesque image that explains the slavery expedition between 1900 and 2000.
Stories and activities about the Nigerian civil war were told in pictures and painting. There are also sculptural monuments of the leaders of the Igbo race, the Igbo traditional institution, the influence of the Western explorers and their exploitation of the Igbo nation, nay Nigeria.
We also saw and archival picture of a white colonial master on African soil being carried shoulder high by young men to a distant land (Eze ukwu eru ala). My colleagues and I were permitted to explore the gallery, but when we eventually sat with Sir Paddy Obinna for interview, I asked him which of the sections of the gallery attracted the interest of the state government under Governor Hope Uzodimma.
Sir Paddy immediately cut in by telling us that the whole gallery is massive. He explained that every section of the gallery is of utmost importance to existence of the human society.
Recall that the current Imo state government via the Ministry of Culture and Tourism has officially opened the Art Gallery on 13th day of March 2022. The opening ceremony of the gallery indeed opened a new chapter of understanding and agreement between the state government and the proprietor of the Art Gallery. A Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) was eventually signed which explained the partnership between the duo.
Sir Paddy Obinna hinted that government should map out strategy for administering and implementing Tourism and Cultural policies. He used the opportunity to unveil some of his plans and programmes in the area of cultural exhibition for the year 2022.
He told us that plans are on top gear to carry out masquerade exhibition and carnival. Participants would be drawn from the 27 local government areas of the state.
Sir Paddy described it as a mock masquerade carnival devoid of any fetish connotation. Apart from arts, Sir Paddy who is perturbed on the plight of Nigerians and our dwindling economy stressed the need for the government to empower the Nigerian families.
He explained that government has the resources to empower every Nigerian citizen with N1,000,000 each. He stated that if a family of 5 or 6 gets N1,000,000 each from government by way of empowerment, it will go a long way to erase poverty from such family. He disclosed that such cash empowerment is much better than other forms empowerment from power-drunk politicians which do not go a long way to solving the problems of the people.
Back to the gallery, there are concepts that are amazing. We saw tree stumps that are seemingly culver by nature with vivid imagery of different interpretations, depending on the side you look at it. Sir Paddy referred to it as ‘chikpuru’ which literally means constructed by God. There were also the ‘akakpurus’. These are man-made which depict the arts and craft of its creator.