Aina Onabolu’s Dr. Sapara and Reverse Appropriation

Onyema Emeni


The discourse on the development of modern painting in Nigeria, though roboust has hardly considered the ideological alternative in the attempt to locate style within its frame as a visual language. The predilection to focus only on the empirical values of form to the exclusion of a governing text or an undercurrent that shapes thoughts and actions in the production of culture from time to time therefore, inspired this paper. The focus here is to understand what is it that lies behind the visual forms of Onabolu’s age and by extrapolation every age within time/space concerned. Ideology as a latent but effective tool in the shaping of cultural action is non palpable parameter of reference. It is detectable in the way a noticed consistency in the thoughts and actions of an age have always been defined by some stylistic consistency and contextual coordinates. Ideology permits for the rearticulation of ideas from previous ages to suit those of another age hence it is usually open-ended in its ambiences of reference.  This paper attempts a history of Aina Onabolu and the theory of Reverse Appropriation, from an ideological point of view, which implicated a discourse on the nature of ideas and Onabolu’s desire to resituate, some racial prejudice and anti-African stereotypes re-inscribing the demystification of racialist notions, that no African was endowed with the mental capacities to produce an art of true picture in verisimilitude, using SAPARA a portrait considered by scholars as a master piece of the early modern Africa’s realism. The empirical values derived from Onabolu’s work point to an inclination to appropriate alien tendencies. This is what Olu Oguibe termed “reverse appropriation. The term reverse appropriation carries with it inchoate connotations that undermine the reality of intercultural ideals and negotiations. Continued appropriation is the ground in which cultural progress is won: A few rhetorics that feature in the Onabolu history have provided positions that appear to validate the hompophilia theory whereby Onabolu appropriated the western aesthetic canons in his paintings. “His intention was not to achieve validation in the eyes of the whiteman, but through reverse appropriation invalidate European assumptions upon which the civilizing missions in the colonies was founded” (Oguibe 2003:40).

Keywords: Modern Painting, Reverse Appropriation, Contemporary, colonial

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