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The OSHOGBO Experiment

Born in Germany in 1922, the late Ulli Beier came to Nigeria in company of Austrian artist, Susanne Wenger in 1950. He joined the Extra Mural Studies Department at the then University College, Ibadan and later travelled to several Yoruba towns and villages organising classes for students. After staying in Ede and Ilobu, Ulli and Wenger later settled in Osogbo around 1958.

Widely reputed for his passion for Yoruba Arts and Culture, Ulli Beier published many books on festivals and religion. In the process, he co-founded the famous Mbari-Mbayo Artists and Writers Club with the late Duro Ladipo, better known as Oba Koso. Beier also helped to facilitate the Osogbo Arts School, together with Georgina Beier, his second spouse after he separated from Susanne Wenger. Georgina Beier actually conducted the second phase of the experimental art workshop in August 1964 at Osogbo.

The Osogbo art workshop experiment originated form a series of creativity-development exercises in Ibadan, Ede and Osogbo The art school is widely known for its creative outputs that rouse the viewer’s curiosity. And it originated serendipitously from Ulli Beier’s prompting and encouragement to the late Duro Ladipo to convert his popular recreation centre and bar located on the ground floor of his house to the Mbari club house.

As disclosed by Chief Jimoh Buraimoh, (one of the original benefiters of the Mbari Club) in an independent interview, the changing of the popular Duro Ladipo bar to Mbari Mbayo paved the way for the Ladipo’s National Theatre which opened in 1962. From then onward, Mbari Club (later known as Mbari Mbayo Club) became an important art hub where emerging playwrights, actors, musicians and artists were discovered through regular workshops exhibitions and stage drama performances. The workshops were held in Ibadan and in Ladipo’s native town, Osogbo, Osun state. Some of the discovered young natives neither had any previous idea that they were artistic nor were aware that art was a profession. However, through the down-to-earth regime of exposure by Beier and his former partner Sussane Wenger, and also the leadership style of Ladipo, many natives informally discovered their talents and got their voices in the early years of post-Independence Nigeria.

The first group of students that participated in the Mbari workshop (Ibadan) conducted by Beier comprised the late Jacob Afolabi, late Rufus Ogundele, Chief Muraina Oyelami, Yinka Adeyemi, Ademola Onibokuta, Adebisi Fabunmi, late Tijani Mayakiri Jire and Alake Buraimoh (nee Ajibola).

On the second run of the workshop that was conducted by Georgina Beier in Osogbo in 1964. Chief Buriamoh in the same interview informed that well over 30 participants attended – comprising both members of the theatre company and others. At the end of that exercise, four major artists: Chief Taiwo Olaniyi (aka Twins Seven Seven), Oyelami, Adebisi Fabunmi and himself (Jimoh Buraimoh) emerged from the lot – all who are now internationally renowned studio artists. Incidentally, none of them had gone to a college before attending the workshop, neither were they previously involved in the arts.

It is without doubt that Ulli and Georgina Beier alongside the inputs of Susanne Wenger all contributed significantly to the growth of Osogbo town and the informal art school that evolved from there. They helped launched Osogbo art to worldwide recognition.

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