Dr Kazeem Oyetunde Ekeolu is the current Acting Head of Department (HOD), Veterinary Anatomy, University of Benin. In this in interview with Adewale Oshodi, the lecturer who is also an artist, poet and prose writer, explains how he combines his academic endeavours with his love for the arts. Excerpts:
Your passion lies in the arts, but how has it been combining it with your profession as an academic?
The art is in-born; it is part of me, and it is who I am. I just discovered I grew up with it, right from my primary and secondary school days at the Command Children’s School, Mokola, Ibadan, and Command Secondary School, where I was exposed to advance arts, particularly by one of my Fine Arts teachers, Mr Philip Fadipe, who took us to various exhibitions. I also love academics, so combining both is easy because they make me who I am.
I want to say that I am also a prose writer and I am currently working on my first novel, Lovers on The Moon. I hope to publish it later this year.
On my paintings, I use oil, acrylic on canvas, and I also do sculpture..
In most advanced countries of the world, it is possible to survive only on painting and poetry, but here you are combining arts with academics, would you say it is difficult to survive on arts only in Nigeria?
It is possible to survive on arts only in Nigeria. In fact, one will not only survive, but also flourish and thrive on just one aspect of art. While I was a student at the University of Ibadan, I thrived on every aspect of art. I sponsored myself through school with the proceeds from arts. I qualified as a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine (DVM) and even obtained my Masters degree in Veterinary Anatomy with what I made from arts. My paintings are everywhere at the University of Ibadan, where I painted university icons like Kenneth Mellanby, Kenneth Dike, Gamaliel Onosode, Professor Bamiro and many more, particularly during the UI@60 celebrations. Professor Akenova and myself re-edited the university logo, while I designed the university flag. I have friends who are just into arts alone in Nigeria and are flourishing.
With your experience as an artist, do you think Nigerians really appreciate arts?
Nigerians appreciate arts, but the government needs to do more. Government should invest more arts generally, visual arts, performing arts, and other forms of arts. The Nigerian government can make more money promoting arts than what we make from oil if this is done in the right way. A good example is Igun in Benin city, where Bronze works are made. Tourists come from all over the world to see this place, so you can imagine what it will bring to government coffers if the place is well packaged and promoted. The truth is that arts can boost healthy living. One can relax simply by look at artworks or paintings, and Nigerians know this. In fact, I am yet to see any Nigerian who doesn’t love artworks.
You also do biomedical illustration. Can you explain what this is all about?
Biomedical illustration is an aspect of medicine as well as arts where structures are put down in drawings and colours, in order to describe the structures, or explain the phenomena as simple as possible so that students can understand what they are being taught. So this is one area through which my academic career is benefiting from my passion as an artist.
How would you say being an artist and a scientist at the same time has positively impacted your life?
Arts help me to think more philosophically, while science helps me to answer philosophical questions. Also, arts has taken me to places where ‘kings’ dine, while science has helped to improve my intelligence, ruggedness, and hard work. I have, through arts, met many great people nationally and internationally. I have done several works for Professor Toyin Falola of the History Department, University of Texas at Austin. In 2003, my work was published by the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) Focus on Africa with my painting, among several other paintings which have made it to the international stage.
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