Saturday, August 21, 2010

Tributes for Dr. Sanders (Daily Compass Newspaper)

Gallery of tributes for so ‘arty’ Sanders
Friday, 20 August 2010 00:08
Emmanuel Agozino

LAST days of the active, dreadlocked, Robin Sanders, the United States of America (USA) Ambassador in Nigeria is proving very eventful, even more than her usual busy schedule.

Recently, the showing of a documentary film, Welcome to Shelbyville, in the Cyprian Ekwensi Cultural Centre, Area 10, Garki, Abuja offered a big audience an ample chance to fete her with remarkable valedictory tributes. But penultimate Sunday in Lagos, the ever-warm art community made her have an unforgetable taste of Nigeria’s hospitality.

It was at the Nike Art Gallery, Lekki Phase II, Lagos. The event was an evening of performances in her honour. And the gathering of artists, art enthusiasts, friends and well wishers flushed her with thrill and encomium.

The send-off event was aptly tagged, You Are Part of Us. It was put together by the artist, Mrs. Nike Okundaye in collaboration with a collective of artists. Held in Chief Okundaye’s lavish two-floor art gallery, on the guests’ rollcall was an array of high caliber personalities including celebrities, art patrons, top-ranking members of the diplomatic corps. It was a special date for Ambassador Sanders, whom many artists at the event called “the culture-loving Ambassador.” And it was served as an art cornucopia.

Among the major beats of the occasion were, art exhibition and unveiling of winners of a painting competition for young and up-and-coming artists and a dance performance. In one of the performances, a group of male dancers regaled the audience with random drum sessions that culminated into a rhythm and energetic dancing. The dancers reenacted memories of the acrobatic Atilogwu dance regime of Igbo land. It was a spectacular display and visitors applauded as flashes popped from several cameras.

Another group, served memorials of the Lagos’ Eyo masquerade culture in a remarkable dance drama performance which explored the rich cultural heritage of former capital city of Nigeria. The performance served, replete with original masquarading chants in very indigenous language, held the attention of the audience as the campere interpreted what every display and words meant. Rhytmic float of movements was created on air by the choreographic waves of the multiple-symbol-inscribed long sticks held atop the bowler hats dorned by each of the dancing masquerades. On ground, the long overflowing white costumes of the masquerades made waves of draped cloth on the floor. Oluwasheyi Awoyomi, one of Okundaye’s daughters further spiced up the night with her contemporary dance performance.

For the pictures, apart from the painting competition, the host gallery threw open its permanent exhibition and the diplomat and her guests went through large display in all the floors. President of Art Gallery Association of Nigeria (AGAN) Chief Frank Okonta, sculptor Olu Amoda, Lagos based painter, Rom Isichie, Chairman of African Artists Foundation (AAF) Azubuike Nwagbogu, painters Chike Onuorah, Joreal Okwum, Emmanuel Inua, Emenike Ogwo, photographer Kelechi Amadi Obi, Oyebola Madarika, Dr.Lamidi Akinwumi Salami and members of Osogbo group of artists, were among the artists and groups that were part of the event. Also among the collaborators were, Kalejaiye Seun, Sokenu Abayomi, Dagold Michael, Badejo Abiodun, Adeleke Akeem, Agbazim Dele George, Fabunmi Nina, Banjo Oluwami, Chinonye Gloria, Famakinwa Afolake, Omolara Adenike and Adeyemi Uthman.

In his speech titled A Friend in Need, Mr. Ruben Okundaye, on behalf of Nike Art Gallery expressed the is need for envoys to emulate Sanders. Okundaye who described the day as a sweet moment not only for himself and the gallery described the African American diplomat’s coming to Nigeria as a mission that has touched all Nigerians and won the affection of the arts community. In the ten-minute speech Okundaye noted that he was emotionally overwhelmed to say a farewell to a lady who has become a friend and inspirational figure to artists in Nigeria. He therefore submitted that the day’s event “may be a farewell, but not a goodbye,” because Nigeria will never leave Sanders, adding that though her tenure has come to an end, she still has much of her cultural roots attached to the country.

Excerpt from Okundaye’s presentation: “Please allow me to celebrate a wonderful woman, a lady with a dignity, whose fateful path to reach Nigeria was told to me by the King of Ogidi Ijumu, ever before she became Ambassador to Nigeria. He told me that she was coming back ‘in a big way’ before I learned she was coming as the first female African American Ambassador of the United States of America to Nigeria. But how could we not become friends. Beyond being a lover of arts, she is in fact an artist of her own right. She already understood the poetic nature of arts. How sad it is that she is temporarily departing at a time we need her most.”

Though emphasising the lanky diplomat’s passion for arts, Okundaye remarked that Sanders did not let her interest hinder her impact in other sectors. She helped to initiate various US grants which were given for the development of many Nigerian communities. This grants and opportunities, according to Okundaye included the Uli Craft Training centre in Enugu, Nigerian National Union of the Blind Jalingo, Ugo Development Group, Anambra State, Ohoroho Community Intiative, Akwa Ibom, Rural Women’s Farmers Association (Umuohoma Community, Anambra State, Comfort for Women and Orphan Initiative, (Kurmin, Kaduna State), Fabur East Women and Youth Development, Jos, a cultural development project at Agbhara community, Agbhara-Otor, Ugheli Delta State, among others.

But even as she even did more in the other frontiers of her mission her characteristic spirit kept radiating the artistic touch which made Nigeria atists accept her wholy.

“She is an example to everyone. I can tell you that Dr. Robin Sanders is a person to honour and emulate for her legacy. Therefore, it is with a certain tinge of pain that I say farewell to our dear friend, the Queen Mother of Ogidi Ijumu land. We know you were coming before you came, and we know that in your leaving Nigeria, you carry our hearts with you. So never a goodbye but until we meet again “ Okundaye enthused.

In his own appraisal, Okonta, who was upbeat throughout the event said that Nigeria will continue to remember the ambassador’s tenure as a good one. “She was an inspiration to the art community. She will not be forgotten easily because we need people like her,” Okonta said. In her response, Sanders used the occasion to explain her admiration for Nigeria’s rich artistic heritage, adding that what attracts her intrest most about the country’s artists is the energy and passion they exude. She also noted an abundance of individual talents. She listed her yearly Ambassador’s Special Self Help Program as one of the projects she has desgined to assist Nigerians. While revealing that she will never forget the country and the artists. the Ambassador who said that her stay in the country began in 2007, added that Nigeria will ever remain a home for her. She described the country as a great bastion of the arts. According to her, beyond an interest in Nigerian contemporary artists, she loves the country’s sculptures as well as her traditional arts.

Sanders said: “The art community in Nigeria is very vibrant. One of the memories that I will never forget about the artists here is the energy of the people. There is so much energy and innovativeness towards creativity. It is very interesting to see all these level of creativity all these years.”

She praised the event’s host, Mrs. Okundaye, for setting a pace with her arts. “Nike has demonstrated incredible spirit. She, by far, is one of the most talented artists.”

Sanders, a career member of the United State’s Senior Foreign Service, arrived in Nigeria in December 2007. Before coming, she had served as international adviser and deputy commandant at the industrial college of Armed forces in Washington, D.C. Prior to that position, she had equally served as the U.S. Ambassador to the Republic of Congo and as the director of public diplomacy for Africa for the State Department. She served, on two occasions, as the Director for Africa at the US’ National Security Council (NSC) at the White House, and was the special assistant for Latin America, Africa and International crime for the Undersecretetary for political affairs at the State Department.