*Martha Udom Emmanuel
Last Sunday witnessed the official opening of a modern Art Gallery built by wife of the Akwa Ibom State governor, Mrs. Martha Udom Emmanuel and siblings in the main campus of University of Uyo to immortalise their late mother, Professor Mrs. Stella Bernard Idiong.
Martha Udom Emmanuel Stella Idiong who was the first female professor of Fine and Industrial Art in Nigeria departed on January 28, 2008. The befitting Art Gallery was inaugurated and opened at about 6.00 pm on Sunday by the Governor, Mr. Udom Emmanuel.
The commissioning of the Art Gallery was preceded by a thanksgiving service to mark nine and 10 years memorial anniversary for both parents of the First Lady, Obong Bernard Idiong and Prof. Mrs Stella Idiong which held at the Ibom Hall Grounds Uyo.
Both events attracted Akwa ‘Ibomites’ and outsiders from all walks of life to Uyo who came to rejoice with the Governor’s wife and family.
They included the Southern Governors’ Wives Forum aka “Sisters beyond Boundaries” led by their President and wife of Imo State Governor, Dr. Nkechi Rochas Okorocha.
Prominent politicians in attendance were former Governor of Akwa Ibom State and Senate Minority Leader, Senator Godswill Akpabio and wife, Senator Anietie Okon, Ambassador Assam Assam, Chief Nduese Essien, Air Commodore Idongesit Nkanga, Speaker of the State House of Assembly, Mr. Onofiok Luke and wife and others.
Members of the Academia from University of Uyo and from outside the state who attended the events were former Vice-Chancellor, UNIUYO, Prof. (Mrs.) Comfort Ekpo; Oliver Enwonwu; Jerry Buhari (ABU) Zaria; Prof. Joseph Uyanga, Dean, Faculty of Environmental Studies, UNIUYO, and Vice-Chancellor, UNIUYO, Professor Enefiok Essien.
Some of them who spoke during the event said the late Stella Idiong deserved to be immortalised with such a befitting gallery considering her passion and contributions to art exhibitions.
Africa’s renowned artist, Professor Bruce Onobrakpeya, while commending the family of late Stella Idiong for the magnanimous gift of an Art Gallery, donated one of his art works which he named Thanksgiving.
According to Onobrakpeya, Thanksgiving was to thank God for Stella Idiong’s contributions to humanity.
He said he was happy to be part of the process of immortalising Stella Idiong “because she was one of our own and a great teacher with a vision.
“She knew the important role that art galleries play in the education of artists and actually established the Gallery of Art in the Department of Fine and Industrial Arts here in the University of Uyo in order to encourage art exhibitions.
“Her participation and innovation in print-making during several workshops she attended had been of great inspiration to us.
“The University of Uyo should be proud to be one of the very few universities in Nigeria to establish their own art gallery.
“And I hope in the future, this gallery which is being commissioned today, will be made a full-fledged department with its own director. We pray that the legacy of Stella Idiong as teacher, lecturer, educationist and fine artist may last forever.”
Similarly, the Vice-Chancellor of University of Uyo, Professor Enefiok Essien (SAN), noted that the late iconic artist initiated so many programmes in the Department of Fine and Industrial Arts where she held sway.
Essien said, “From available records in the university, the late Stella Idiong was one of the foundation staff of the Department of Fine and Industrial Art here in University of Uyo.
“She won many distinctions and awards in the field of arts. She taught and propagated arts in all levels of education within and outside Nigeria.
“”For her numerous contributions to Akwa Ibom State and Nigeria as a whole, it is laudable that this art gallery has been created to immortalise her.
“I assure the donors of this art gallery and the university community that we shall continue to improve the quality and content of this gallery.
“We believe that in future, visual arts exhibited in this gallery will attain a global height; thus uplifting the University of Uyo. It is hoped that the memories you immortalise today will forever remain a treasure.”
In his remarks, Governor Udom Emmanuel thanked God that the late Stella Idiong family and relatives are smiling today for the legacies she left behind.
“I thank the Governing Council of this university for this honour done to a great woman who touched lives and meant so much to a lot of people who are still living and who can bear testimony to the quality of life that she lived.
“My administration will continue to support this university in other ways. In memory of the first ever female Professor of Fine and Industrial Arts in this country and the first ever female Dean of the Faculty of Environmental Studies, University of Uyo, the late Prof. Mrs. Stella Idiong, I commission this Arts Gallery to the glory of God the Father, and I pray this will serve as a resource centre for industrial arts.”
Wife of the governor and donor of the gallery, Martha Udom Emmanuel, could not appreciate enough those who supported the family to ensure the project was completed.
Describing her late mother as an art icon and hardworking, loving and a woman who stood out in a male-dominated field, she expressed the hope that the gallery will facilitate collaboration between the teachers and students.
“By establishing this art gallery, we have established an enabling environment for the development of painting and sculpture as well as developing the graphics of this department for social and economic gains.
“I therefore urge that this gallery should be taken good care of. I want to appreciate the V.C, and Head of Department of Fine and Industrial Art for granting us the permission and space to build this gallery.”
Her other colleagues in the Art, including Jerry Buhari of Ahmadu Bello University Zaria, and President of Female Arts Association of Nigeria, Mrs. Rosemary Akinde, underscored the significance of the art gallery while commending the donors.
Professor Rosemary Akinde could not hide her happiness that for the first time, a First Lady in Nigeria built and donated such a magnificent art gallery. For her, it is a mark of great honour done not only in memorial of the late mother but also an encouragement to female artists in the country.
To cap it all, 17,782,000 pencils produced by the Akwa Ibom Pencils Factory located in Etinan was donated to the new art gallery as contribution from Akwa Ibom Entrepreneurial Empowerment Scheme, AKEES.