Chief Aina Onabolu was born at Ijebu Ode in the year 1882. He is a pioneer Nigerian modern Arts teacher and painter who was an important figure in the introduction of arts into the curriculum of Secondary schools in the country. He had no formal training in art at the beginning of his career.
He started to practice art in 1890 during which he mastered the subjects of painting landscapes and portraits. In 1920, he went to England and Paris to study art and returned with more knowledge of painting. At the completion of his training, he was awarded a diploma in Fine arts. He was the first Nigerian trained artist to teach art in school.
Onabolu was an accomplished portraitist and he was the one who produced the portrait of Rt. Rev. O. Oluwole who was clad in dark-blue red and white vestment putting his right hand on the Bible. Onabolu’s philosophical belief was that art as a universal human language which goes beyond ethnic and cultural barriers. Chief Aina Onabolu died in 1963.
Onabolu had contempt for traditional art forms because he saw them as primitive. At a time when his contemporaries, like Picasso, were being influenced by the simplicity of West African art, Onabolu rejected this style for the more realist depictions of figures in more traditional Western art. In his book, A Short Discource on Art, published in Nigeria in 1920, Onabolu writes:
What have we done to promote Art and Science? Our Geledes, Alapafajas, the Ibejis (sculptures) and our drawings are still crude destitute of Art and Science; our canoes remain as they were since the day, when first they came into use without the slightest improvement. Why! Are there not among us young men, or men of brain capable of improving our condition and surroundings? There are, I say emphatically a good number of young men among us with fine brain, but for want of self application and perseverance they cannot bring themselves forward, and therefore, remain unknown.
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