Tola Wewe battles to regain his lost-but-found painting


Tola Wewe battles to regain his lost-but-found painting


Wewe, The work

Arthouse: “Chief Tola, hope this finds you well. The attached work has been submitted for our coming auction. We kindly request your assistance with the following information: title, medium and artist’s statement. We look forward to hearing from you.”

Tola Wewe: “The painting is mine. I have the title and the story that inspired it. I am very pleased to discover this painting is still living because I have been looking for it since the late 80s. I will be glad to know who the collector is, and probably agree on some terms before giving you further details on the work. Thank you for your quick response.”

Ordinarily, seasoned visual artist, Tola Wewe, is supposed to be in a joyous mood now.  The reason is that he has got a reliable hint that one of his works stolen around 1990 has been found in a dramatic way. But he cannot yet sing Uhuru as he has not been able to reclaim the work titled Iye Bo a Bo, as he and ArtHouse Contemporary Ltd., through which he found it, have not been able to perfect how to get it back. It is one of the works that the arts company had slated for its upcoming auction in Lagos.

Iye Bo a Bo is, according to Wewe, one of the about 30 works of his that were stolen in the house of a fellow artist, Moyo Okediji, a few years after he (Okediji) left Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife, as a lecturer. The products were stolen alongside those of Okediji himself, Kunle Filani, Tunde Nasir and one or two other artists. That was after Okediji had sojourned abroad.

Since then, a lot of water has passed under the bridge – as the cliché goes. Wewe, Okediji and their other colleagues have moved on and not only become famous but have also earned quality life from their careers. But none of them knew whatever the burglar had done with the works.

Succour, however, seemed to have come the way of Wewe, early this month when one of the officials of ArtHouse, Nana Sonoiki, called him and requested he authenticate one of the works that a collector brought to the company for its upcoming auction. This is the normal professional practice since theft is real in the art industry. Apart from the fact that the official fondly called Nana in the industry forwarded the work to Wewe’s whatsapp, the dialogue at the beginning of this story is the content of the emails the two exchanged.

“I have done a lot of authentication for them. But immediately I saw this one, I know it is one of the works I have been looking for,” the artist noted in Lagos on Thursday.

Wewe added that he expected further conversation, being eager to meet the collector for him or her to give details of how the painting was acquired. When this did not seem to be forthcoming, he said, he initiated the whatsapp message. He is unhappy that ArtHouse, to which he noted he was grateful for being the institution through which he found the work, had neither revealed the collector nor facilitated the meeting with the person.

But Nana told our correspondent on the phone on Thursday that ArtHouse had been duly cooperating with the artist. She noted that she had immediately forwarded the correspondence she had with Wewe to the collector. According to her, the collector is ill and work schedule has prevented her from getting back to him or her. The company just opened an exhibition in Lagos on Thursday.

Yet, Wewe is desirous of quick details. He said, “Art is my life, my soul, and everything. It is what I have labored for years. Even when I was earning N500 a month, I spent everything on art. For someone to now steal my work, that is not acceptable. I need to know who the collector is; this may provide a link to where the other works are. I need to reclaim the painting.”

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