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Arts & Travel

Why I am turning part of my palace into a museum — Obi of Onitsha

obi of onitsha, museums, the block museum of art, caravans of gold, goethe institut lagos, onitsha, Friederike Möschel
His Majesty, the Obi of Onitsha, Nnaemeka Alfred Achebe with other panelists at the Special Panel discussion organised by Goethe Institut in Lagos

His Majesty Nnaemeka Achebe, Obi of Onitsha, has revealed that parts of his palace and inner chambers are being remodelled to turn them into a lived-in museum and open them up to the public who are interested in the arts.

He said this at the special panel discussion hosted in December by the Goethe-Institut in Lagos titled “ Public Museum Vs Private Collection: Synergy or Competition?”

“By the way, [my] palace is being transformed artistically into a lived-in museum. By so doing, we are trying to create better awareness about the role of the museum in the community,” says the Obi of Onitsha, who is himself a collector. “If our experiment succeeds, people are going to see the museum as a place to go every day,”

According to Igwe Achebe, the palace was open to people who attended the just concluded trade fair in Onitsha, which held at the stadium next door to the palace.

“All of this is to build an economy based on tourism. We are also planning a 10-day carnival at christmas, the Golibe Festival, to project all forms of art–dance, street art, street music, culture and so on. The palace is practically involved in that. One way or another, we want to create a situation where everybody from the eastern part of Nigeria, can see that there is a place that they can tie their lives to, spend a day or two there and feel good.”

Also speaking during the discussion, moderated by Nneoma Ilogu (SM Contemporary Art), the Acting Director of Museums at the National Commission for Museums and Monuments (NCMM)  Edith Ekunke says museums, if well harnessed, can serve as a major source of revenue for Nigeria.

“There are many places in the world where they have used museums to draw in people; in those places, tourism drives the economy and at the heart of that economy is the museum,” she says.

The NCMM, she adds, is currently working with The Block Museum of Art in the United States for an exhibition coming up in 2019 in Chicago, titled Caravans of Gold.

“The organisers have travelled around the world to find objects for the exhibition; they came to Nigeria and found out that some of the alloys used in our antiquities here are found in some other antiquities that were created in Europe and parts of the US. The research led them to conclude that there had indeed been some contact between Africa and the West before colonialism,” Ekunke says. “And when you talk about antiquities in sub-saharan Africa, I can say proudly that Nigeria stands out. We have diverse antiquities, from stone to clay and every media you can think of.”

The director of the Goethe Institut in Lagos Friederike Möschel says conversations like this are going on across the continent and that  the institut is only too keen to provide a platform for people to engage with like-minded individuals in this way.

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