Home » Africa: Newly Inaugurated John Randle(JK) Centre For Yoruba Culture And History To Boost In Lagos Tourism

Africa: Newly Inaugurated John Randle(JK) Centre For Yoruba Culture And History To Boost In Lagos Tourism

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John Randle Centre

Lagos added another feather to its to tourism cap with the newly inaugurated John Randle Centre for Yoruba Culture and History popular known as JK Randle which is set to drive tourism number in the state.

According to a report by Ozolua Uhakheme published in the thenationonlineng.net, the ninety-five years after it was first built as a public swimming pool, the multi-million-naira John Randle Centre for Yoruba Culture and History, Onikan Lagos, has added fresh catalyst to the vibrant and tourist friendly hub in the heart of Lagos Island.

Located between various thriving tourism facilities like Muson Centre, National Museum, Lagos Island Club, Onikan Stadium, Yoruba Club, and City Mall, the John Randle Centre for Yoruba Culture and History was recently unveiled to boost the cultural offerings in Onikan, which is tagged as the culture and tourism hotbed of Lagos.

It offers updated facilities, amid creating a centerpiece community building with a 1,000 square metre exhibiting gallery that tells the story of Yoruba history and culture. The centre, an architectural wonder, with the shape of a fractal, rising from the earth, leaning forward and reflecting the progressive nature of the Yorubas, is also part of an urban regeneration project at the heart of Lagos Island.

A guided tour of the newly inaugurated Centre reminded me of my experiences in 2021 at the four year-old National Museum of Qatar (NMoQ), Doha. The museum, which was designed by Jean Nouvel, shares many things in common with John Randle Centre for Yoruba Culture and History, especially in the area of content and vision. Apart from size, both are iconic edifices built to promote heritage and culture.

READ: Africa: Lagos State Tourism Commissioner Leads Members Of The Executives, Assembly Members On A 3-Day Tour Of The 5 Divisions

Like Qatar Museum, John Randle Centre’s dynamic architectural design echoes the geography of Lagos while evoking the history and culture of Yorubas. It also gives veritable voice to Yoruba’s rich heritage and culture, and welcomes diverse communities in the state to its vibrant and immersive space to experience Yoruba’s past, present and future.

As a one-stop shop, the centre’s facilities include an outdoor theatre, public square, space for learning programmes, art installations, live music events, a permanent exhibition, library, training and conference rooms, and a concession block for food, drinks, lounge, bleacher stand, lawn area and of course, world-class swimming pool. All these make it almost a one-stop centre for leisure and learning.

Entering the centre, its fine letterings mounted on the wall welcome every guest to the reception where artefacts such as old telephone set used by colonial administrators were displayed. Also striking to the guests is title of exhibits and directions written in Yoruba language. On the upper floor are vintage works such as the Oba of Lagos, which is strategically placed opposite the entrance. On the first floor it opens a window to the Yoruba Nation; her culture, people, feats, beliefs, among others.

The works are presented in sections, with one showing Obatala, the Yoruba creation god. The audio presentation offers visitors opportunity to understand the genealogy of the Yoruba race through the Orisha of Yoruba mythology. But one section that will catch your attention for a long time, while in the museum is the masquerade section.

Prominent among Yoruba masquerade culture is the Eyo, which is presented in different versions in the section including; Adimu, Eyo Alaketepupo, Eyo Oniko, Eyo Olegede, and Eyo Agere.

Even in death, the works of the late Afrobeat legend and human right activist Fela Anikulapo Kuti continued to be one of Nigeria’s intangible cultural heritages that attract global attention. Little wonder some of his works formed the core of the exhibits at the media section. Other successful Yoruba musicians, culture and art practitioners across many decades were also represented. The museum also takes visitors back to pre-colonial and colonial eras, with rare pictures, artifacts, buildings among others that bear witness of the eras.

In the section, colonial file cabinets and safes, gramophone, radio and telephone used by the colonial administrators are generously on display. Also of great mention in the section are the contributions of Bishop Samuel Ajayi Crowther, the Yoruba linguist, clergyman, and the first African Anglican Bishop of West Africa. Not left out in the pack is the Yoruba fashion display that features weaving looms, traditional fabrics, royal ensembles and palaces, paintings, iconic photos, a court for moonlight tales, a folksy, 3D screen depicting the place of Yoruba art and culture in the future, among others.

According to report, the concept of the centre was based on three ideas of first liberation, spiritual, mental and physical; concept of the weave as an inconspicuous but visible facet of Yoruba existence, and making the building to rise from the earth in homage to the geographical/agricultural heritage and also to look to the sky where Olodumare resides.

But, the principal consultant to the Centre, Rowland Abiodun, John C. Newton Professor of African Art at Amherst College, and formerly Professor at the University of Ife (now Obafemi Awolowo University) hinted that his book, Yoruba Art and Language: Seeking the African in African Art provided the basis upon which the John Randle Centre has been organised.

According to him, the Centre offers new insights into Yoruba art and material culture by examining them within the context of Yoruba civilisation’s cultural norms and values and, above all the Yoruba language.

“Literally and idiomatically, the presentation and display of Yoruba works should benefit from their rich oral and philosophical traditions. A gallery devoted to the elucidation (and even the dramatisation) of the Yoruba concepts of orí, àse, aso, osun and the “beginning” of the world using the oríkì paradigm.This is where mythology, archaeology and history meet and could set the stage for the understanding of Yoruba culture and history. The guiding philosophy in the presentation of all works should be to attract and secure the interest of Yoruba culture bearers and not just the occasional non-Yoruba visitors/audience who expect to see a replica of the exhibitions they are accustomed to in Western museums,” he said.

The renowned author noted that “The centre attempts to do this by establishing the importance of the concepts of oríkì, the verbal and visual performances that animate ritual and domestic objects, such as cloth, sculpture, and dance; and àc¹, the energy that structures existence and transforms and controls the physical world. Both concepts have served as the guiding principles of Yoruba artistic production. Through the display of representative works, the centre demonstrates how material culture expresses the key philosophical notions at the heart of Yoruba worldview.”

Prof Abiodun added that the centre is conceived to be the place for both a celebration and the preservation of the àsà of Yorùbá culture. ‘Àsà broadly translated, means customs, traditions, and styles, expressed in àsà àtijo (old and ancient customs, traditions, and, styles), àsà àtìrandíran (traditions, customs, and styles passed from one generation to the next), and àsà tuntun (new traditions, customs, and styles), as distinct from àsàkasà (a discordant style, a disjunction, or disorder in tradition) – a matrix of possibilities mapping both existential and normative relationships between change and continuity.’

He disclosed that in sourcing the exhibits, not much of challenges were encountered because museums and private collections in Nigeria and overseas were most generous in supporting the project. He added that in particular, the British Museum supported the development of the centre since its inception.

Commenting on how strategic the centre is to tourism in the state, Prof Abiodun said: “For Principal Architect Oluseun Oduwole, the centre should provide a deeply interactive experience at the levels of the dynamic and the contemplative. So, the design would dramatise an understanding of art, culture, and history as operating through the mutuality of relationship with human beings. The architecture and the artistic work in the centre will thus be understood as being itself an agentive identity open to interaction with its human interlocutors, rather simply a monument to be gazed upon in admiration.

“Architect Oduwole tackles the question: Why have Western-style art museums not always generated as much interest as they should among local Yorùbá audiences? Could it be because of the origins, history, culture, structure, and meaning of the museum in the West? The J Randle Centre would bridge this chasm through both in-house innovations and educational programmes reaching beyond the centre itself, catalysing the understanding of a Yoruba way of experiencing artistic and cultural forms as they are inspired by àsà àtijo (old and ancient customs, traditions and, styles) transposed into new spaces, filtering through the organic nature of the constructed-ness of àsà tuntun (new traditions, customs, and styles).”

Continuing he said: “Oduwole’s design concept work alerts us to the new possibilities of re-animating the artistic impulse of structures whose origins have long disappeared. He pieces together successfully the very fabric of art, architecture, history, aesthetics, and rituals in all their constituent parts through oríkì (citation poetry), narratives, places, and events for which there are no written records.

J Randle Centre is, therefore, a work not only characterised by a thoughtful innovative approach, imagination, and painstaking research but also debunks all the erroneous conceptions about African architecture and aesthetics. This project promises to serve as a model for the kind of interdisciplinary approach that is now necessary for the construction of museums and cultural institutions in Africa and beyond.”

Lagos State government, the initiator and sponsor of the centre, didn’t hide its excitement about the project which has translated from mere idea to reality.

According to Babajide Sanwo-Olu, Governor of Lagos State at the recent unveiling, “The John Randle Centre is the first of many initiatives aimed at the preservation of the heritage of the Yoruba through the celebration and preservation of history and culture, the regeneration of decades old public green space, public recreation facilities, and the restoration of civic pride.”

However, issues of preservation, restoration, storage of collection and the hiring of professional museum technocrats to run the centre must be given priority attention in order for the centre to make the desired impact.

 

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