Buraimoh: Osogbo is the forerunner of Nigerian art

Chief Jimoh Buraimoh

Jimoh Buraimoh, the Baale of Gbodofon in Osogbo and a product of Osogbo Art School, is a pacesetter in the visual art scene, having developed the art of bead painting in Nigeria and Africa. Chief Buraimoh systematically expanded his repertoire to include murals reminiscent of Yoruba traditional beaded cloaks, crowns, stools and staff. The master painter, who turned 75 last week, spoke to OMIKO AWA on his works, the Osogbo Art School and other issues

How do you feel at 75?
I feel delighted and grateful to the lord Almighty for sparing my life up till today. I also pray for long life to enable me serve Him the more and to continue to create lasting legacy for generations to come.

You are a notable and pioneer figure in the arts. How do you, as a traditional ruler, combine art with seeing over the affairs of your people?
Being a Baale (traditional ruler) gives me more joy, especially when I look at some of the notable works I have done in the past. I have been involved in human development and, being a traditional ruler, I am still doing it. In the arts, I feel I have done what I am supposed to do. For while some of my contemporaries were holding their works or hiding their techniques, I exposed mine to the younger ones and taught those who were ready to learn my skills. I know for sure that my works will remain a legacy, which shows I have some followers imitating me and spreading my techniques in all nooks and crannies of the world.

Today, as Baale and custodian of the arts, I sometime reflect on how many people I have trained, how many have benefitted from my knowledge and how many I can still help or need my help.

Osogbo Art School is seen as the rallying point of Yoruba art. What is the relationship between it and Ulli Beier?
Osogbo Art School cannot be separated from Ulli Beier. In fact, he was the pioneer of all the good things happening in Osogbo concerning the arts. When Beier came to Osogbo in 1959, he never knew he was going to do arts because he read English in a university in Europe. But on coming to Osogbo, he was amused by the quality of local arts on ground and had to begin from there. He was actually the person who encouraged Duro Ladipo to establish a theatre group in 1962. Beier was a poet and a writer, whose works could be dramatised on stage and on meeting Ladipo, he encouraged him (Ladipo) to change the idea of running a beer parlour to form a theatre group. Ladipo bought the idea and formed a theatre group in 1962, of which I am one of the pioneer members.

In 1964, Beier organised a workshop with his wife, Georgina, and from there, four of us – Muraina Oyelami, Adebisi Fabunmi, Taiwo Olaniyi Osuntoki (Prince Seven-Seven) and myself – were discovered. All of us were working in the studio. Beier was always organising workshops and exhibitions to promote arts. So, it is not possible to talk about Osogbo arts and its development without mentioning him. Having said this, Osogbo art is unique because of the nature of its local arts, the people and the artists themselves. Osogbo artists have a medium of their own and this can be seen in the original six – Muraina Oyelami, Adebisi Fabunmi, Taiwo Olaniyi Osuntoki (Prince Seven-Seven), Rufus Ogundele, Jacob Afolabi and myself. Each of us has a different medium – painting on yarn, cotton, inlay tiles, oil, on beads and to create mosaic plaques and others. Osogbo art is unique in Western Region and Nigeria as a whole. Our works come in different media and are not identical.

As a pioneer member in Duro Ladipo’s theatre group, one would have expected you to be a thespian, but today you are a painter. Why did you not follow through with acting?
I was in Ladipo’s theatre group from 1964 to 1968, when I was invited to University of Ife (now Obafemi Awolowo University, OAU), Ile-Ife, by Prof. Crowther, the Departmental Head of African Studies, which distracted me from theatre. While in theatre, I was playing behind the scene role, doing lighting, which is actually tasking and very important in any performance. Professor Crowther brought me to OAU to replicate what we did in the arts at Osogbo and this changed my course in life.

How did Prof. Crowther make you change your course in life?
He offered me the job of museum attendant and by this I had to be in the museum, which is another aspect of arts though different from being a dramatist. The job exposed me to other aspects of the arts and it left me with too many options to choose from; but out of all, I settled for painting. While with Duro Ladipo, I was also doing lighting for other performances, including for Akin Euba, who was teaching music. I finally settled for painting when I realised that acting, unlike painting, cannot be done by a single person. You have to involve other people and you have to be under a master who must have been in the scene for 20 to 30 years and above.

With painting, I could go solo, do it alone. Besides, before this time I had been doing my painting job and had people following me. I was beginning to be popular. However, I am grateful to God that I met Duro. For, without him I would not have known that there is anything happening at Ile-Ife. Meeting him was the turning point in my life, and hen moving from theatre to painting fully. Beier only convinced Duro to do theatre; he (Beier) never said Duro should not run his beer parlour if he chose to. Meeting him further exposed me. Although money was coming from performance, I never allowed it to distract me and today, I am happy and grateful to God for taking the decision of being a painter.

Why did you choose beads to express yourself out of the many art media?
I decided to use beads because they are ornaments for kings and royalty. I chose beads because I had to be different from others. I also paid dearly for it because sometimes when I could not get the exact colours I wanted in beads, I would go and buy chinaware that has the colour I needed and I’d break it to get my colours. I did this for many years before I overcame the challenge.

How were you able to use this medium to project Yoruba art idiom to the outside world?
My motif is quite different from others’ motifs. They illustrate the Yoruba beliefs and tradition. We have different festivals and from there I got the opportunity to identify the kinds of drawings and paintings to put up. Some people saw the paintings and liked them, but I decided to push the ante higher by turning the skill into contemporary artform, which is now the mosaic art. Every artist has a peculiar medium; I love mosaic, either by painting on plywood or hanging on the wall.

How does it feel having many of your followers deviating to other media?
Why some people do not want to go into it is something I do not know, but I must say I chose the medium because I wanted to be different. I love tasking jobs and mosaic art is one. I created it to make a difference. There was nobody doing it before me, which is the reason it is credited to me all over the world. Other people learnt it from me, to bring out different art works and they are even improvising it. Looking back, I see it as a great achievement for me to have gone into the medium when I did.

How creative do you think today’s young people are? Do they impress you with their works?
When we started, we never thought of money; we were rather driven by our passion, which latter brought us fame and money. But today, you seen them bringing out different works. Though some are good, while a good number of them are not up to the expected standard. Many of our youths are too much in a hurry to be rich. They do not have deep thoughts about the works they produce. Their works are rather repetitive of one another, which is the reason one keeps on seeing the same type of works in the town, even though they are done by different artists. Despite our decay, I believe there is a bright future for the Nigerian artists. We still have young and talented artists, who know what they are doing and are ready to take the Nigerian art to the next level.

You represented Nigeria at the First All African Trade Fair in Kenya. If given the opportunity again, would you still do it? Besides, what does Nigeria have to offer the world?
Nigeria has a lot to offer the world in arts and other aspects of life. And if I will still represent the country if called upon to do so, I will say ‘ye,’ because I believe in the Nigerian project and it is only a man who believes in his country who can represent it.

Osogbo Groove is linked to you. As a Christian and Baale, how do you marry both extremes?
Christianity is not a rigid religion as people think. Once you know what you are to do and do it, you will be in good standing with God. As a Baale, I do not go fetish; I believe in anything good for humanity and a better society.

We have Nsukka arts, Zaira arts and also Osgbo arts. What makes each school unique?
When Pablo Picasso started his arts, people insulted him because they did not understand what he was doing. This was exactly what happened to most of us in the arts at the early years. Zaira, in those days, used to be known for photographic art, but the students always found it difficult to find their footing when they left school because they were not trained to be original. Prof. Bruce Onobrakpeya is one of them. What he is currently doing is not what he learnt at Zaira. Rather, he came to Osogbo after leaving Zaria to learn other aspect of art, which now informed what he is doing today. When Osogbo Art School started turning out students, critics were insulting them, calling them all manner of names, deriding them as people with no university education and others. But despite this, we were excelling, though I later went to ABU, Zaira, for my first degree. Before then, I had started my own art and had a lot of following.

Osogbo arts gave birth to Ife arts and impacted greatly on Nsukka arts. Osogbo arts made all the institution in the country to have an area of specialisation.

Nsukka arts was known for wall decorations and other related artforms, but after seeing how Osogbo had metamorphosed it turned its type of art into contemporary arts. Ife that believed in olokun (river goddess) also did the same. They were all influenced by Osogbo arts, which was good for the country because it made each school to have an identity of the type of art they want. In fact, Osogbo art is the forerunner of Nigerian art.

Is Osogbo still playing this role?
Yes, it is. If you go round the state, you will see that the state is still playing that role, as you will see diverse artforms being displayed, which are also done by the people.

Your works have multiple concepts and are difficult to be given a general interpretation. Why did you choose such complexity?
I just want everyone to have a feel of any work I put up, think of what the work is to him or her and give his or her own interpretations. So, a piece of work may mean so many things to different people.

How can the arts be used to boost tourism in the country?
It is by not making our works so repetitive and also by making sure that our cities – Lagos, Ibadan, Osogbo, Benin City – and others are adorned with works that can attractive tourists. This would not only make tourists to visit these places, but would also bring out the beauty of the cities, their culture, the uniqueness of the people and, of course, boost local economy. Nigeria is a beautiful country with diverse cultures; we need to showcase it through our works.

What advise you give to the youths?
Let them pay attention to skill development, develop their passion and see money as a secondary item to pursue. This is because with the right skills and well-developed passion, money will surely come.

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