Chief Aino Oni-Okpaku: Quintessentially Nigerian (Jan. 2, 1939 – Jan. 4, 2020)

I heard about the passing of Chief Aino Oni-Okpaku through social media in the early hours of January 4th, a day after our daughter Amara went to Quintessence to buy gifts before departing Nigeria. She called me, visibly upset that our go-to-­place for unique and affordable Nigerian and African objets d’art, books, textiles, music curios, clothes and accessories, and so much more, was closed.

A few hours later I was deeply saddened to learn that Auntie Aino, as I fondly called her, had passed away after a full and beautiful life of quiet love, excellence, and service.

Auntie Aino left a powerful legacy of what it means to truly “re-script the African narrative.” Through her gifted and trained artistic eye, and her deep commitment to create a platform that documents, showcases, and celebrates the best of traditional, modern, and contemporary African creativity, she left an indelible mark on the growth and development of our arts and culture landscape.

For years we enjoyed the powerful intimate events at Quintessence, including book readings and reviews, poetry, music, discussions, exhibitions on experimental artistic practice, as well as showcases of rare works by master artists like David Dale, Ben Osawe, Bruce Onobrakpeya, the Oshogbo school, and many solo and group shows of rising talent within the Nigerian and African art-scape. But her influence was much deeper than the cultural arena. She worked and breathed life into generations of disadvantaged children with disabilities, giving them a new lease of life through her Ebunoluwe Foundation.

Our son Dante raised funds for these beautiful children through his high school volunteer project years ago, and returned from visiting the kids in Ijebu with his schoolmates, totally elated and also deeply touched by the transformational power of the foundation’s activities.

Auntie Aino exemplified a life of service, quiet resoluteness, confidence and commitment, despite huge personal loss and challenges. I never heard her complain or lament about the tough, unforgiving Nigerian quotidian. She showed us how to keep a creative enterprise going despite a harsh business environment. She inspired the heartbeat of a whole generation of artists, art practitioners, intellectuals, writers, and cultural enthusiasts and ambassadors, with graceful, stoic enlightenment and mentoring. Her work chairing the board of the Ben Enwonwu Foundation continues to bear fruit.

My husband and I, and our family, join the artistic community in celebrating the life and amazing contributions of Auntie Aino, as we also mourn her passing. Her legacy lives on in the hundreds of children she loved and nurtured, and in the global artistic community she enriched through her grassroots activities in Nigeria, empowering and showcasing the real, vibrant, rich, colourful, deep, historic and complex creative spirit of Africa.


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Aino Oni-Okpaku
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