The American owner of the African Heritage House, Alan Donovan, has offered as “blessing” his home (which serves as a Pan-African workmanship exhibition hall) to previous US president Barack Obama Junior and his wife, Michelle.
Donovan disclosed to the Saturday Nation not long after his arrival from the US that he had contemplated how to guarantee the conservation of his home and the African craftsmanship, materials and gems in it. So when he heard that the Obamas were searching for a suitable place to build up the Obama Library, he reviewed the “fantasy” that previous Kenyan Vice President Joseph Murumbi had imparted to him in a matter of seconds before the two men helped to establish the African Heritage Pan-African Gallery in 1972.
The African Heritage House covers the gallery side of Murumbi’s dream, as it contains art and artifacts that Donovan collected while travelling around the region for AH Gallery. But if anyone could understand the need to establish a Pan-African art institution, it would be the former US president, also the first African-American to ascend to that high office.
So while he was recently in the US, Donovan travelled to Washington, DC, and met with members of the Obama Foundation, who, he said, told him that Obama would be delighted with Donovan’s ‘gift’.
“They said (Obama) had read everything he could find about African Heritage House and plans to come to Kenya with Michelle next June especially to see the house,” said Donovan, whose home has been described as “the most photographed house in Africa.”
The house, both the edifice and the interior, is unique as it reflects the past 50 years of Donovan’s life in Africa. He will officially be celebrating that half-century milestone from October 1, which coincidentally will be Nigeria’s National Day. On that day, he will not only launch his second Nigerian Festival — the first was in 1972 — an event anticipated to be a cultural extravaganza the kind for which African Heritage has historically been recognised for at home and abroad.
The occasion will also be used to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Nigeria’s renowned Oshogbo artists’ community, which was founded back in 1967 by the German Africanists, Ulli and Georgina Beier, and Austrian artist Suzanne Wenger, together with Nigerian artists like the late Twins Seven Seven, Jimoh Buraimoh and Nike Seven Seven Davies Okundaye, who at the time was Twins’ third wife.
Oshogbo has been recognised globally as one of the central seats of Nigerian and specifically Yoruba culture ever since then. It’s a place that has spawned not only visual artists but poets, playwrights, dancers, acrobats and Adire cloth quilt-makers.
Oshogbo is also where Nike has a workshop where artisans are busy reviving cultural traditions which were otherwise threatened by Western culturally homogenising trends that have destroyed so many other rich African traditions.
It is from her workshop as well as from her vast Centre for Arts and Culture in Lagos that Nike sent Donovan more than 100 works of art from Oshogbo artists, all of which will be on display during the festival. Other venues that will host the festival are the National Museums of Kenya, the Nairobi Gallery and Alliance Francaise.
At the same time, another award-winning Nigerian artist, Bruce Onobrakpeya, will also be present for the festival opening. Bruce is acclaimed for his print-making, painting and sculpture and has exhibited in such diverse venues as the Tate Modern in London and the National Museum of African Art in Washington, DC. He also took part in the 44th Venice Biennale and the National Gallery of Modern Art in Lagos.
Donovan has kept in touch with all of these artists whose works he got to know while working for USAID in Biafra in the late 60s during the secessionist war that claimed over two million lives in three years.