The narrative of Ibadan that has travelled the farthest is communicated in J.P. Clark’s poem, Ibadan.
running splash of rust
and gold-flung, and scattered
among seven hills like broken
china in the sun.”
While that narrative remains valid, there remain other untold stories of Ibadan, and at the vanguard of revealing these alternative narrative is Ibadan City Info – a lifestyle magazine that focuses on the city of Ibadan. Through its glossy pages, it showcases the city through simple, and (often) small things that carry huge significance. The brilliance of the magazine and the result that it has achieved in redefining the cultural outlook of the old city wouldn’t have been possible without the brilliance of its art director – Bukunmi Owopetu.
Standing at 5.11″, chiseled face, dark skinned and a thick beard that frames his face, Kunmi is always busy – organizing photoshoots, making critical assessments of graphics for the IbCity Info project. Though he did not study Creative Arts, he has always had arts in his blood. “Arts runs in the family,” he says to me and he explains, “I grew up around Arts. Dad is a graphic artist, always drawing. Magazines and the sort always. I guess other people grew up around such things and ended up as physicians.” He chuckles. “I’ve always been creating things – I have always loved images. It was what was most natural to me, I guess.” Bukunmi studied Classics at the University of Ibadan.
Before Ibadan City Info
In his days at the University of Ibadan, Kunmi did extensive digital graphics while on campus, then in his final year, he began to experiment with photography. Kunmi left Ibadan after graduation to develop his craft. He cut his teeth on events photography, landscape pictures and portraits. He returned to the city in 2014 to commence a photo-documentary on the city. Through this project, he opened up fresh perspectives of Ibadan. Ibadan is the city of firsts so pictures of Cocoa House, the first skyscraper in West Africa; the Ivory Tower of the University of Ibadan, the first University in Nigeria; and even the array of roofs covered with rust as depicted by J.P. Clark.
Kunmi produced a series of graphic designs meant for use on BBM and Whatsapp. It was themed #Red. The project picked iconic things/people/places, cast them in a hue of red and in the shortest forms described what they stood for. For example, the Ivory tower of the University of Ibadan and Cocoa House (the first skyscraper) where created as display pictures useable on Instant Messaging apps to depict leading and pace setting. The plate number of Oyo State (whose capital is Ibadan) carries a rider ‘The Pace-Setter state”. Hence, the idea of projecting those things that have made the city earn its title.
With Ibadan City Info
IbCity Info had its first issue in December 2014 and since then, till now, they have produced three editions. “I coordinate the creative work at the company, deciding what direction to go with projects that we have on our hands,” Bukunmi says of his role as the Art Director at the Ibadan City Info. Of ‘creative works’ he says: “one and the most important is the production of the magazine. The fourth edition is currently in production. Photography and graphic design.”
Photography has been at the heart of Kunmi’s work before and since he came on board as Arts Director of the project. The depiction of the city as a rustic inhabitation has been beautifully contrasted with its emerging metropolitan outlook. He has made sure that under his watch, the magazine projects the city for what it is – a cultural landscape where you get a balance of two seemingly contradicting cultures. You can savour the beauty of the contrast and develop a true appreciation for the transition that the city has undergone.
“Ibadan is an emerging metropolis, it has evolved past its prior identity of brown roofs and laidback momentum. It is a city that’s coming into its own. Business are springing up everywhere, shopping malls, entertainment centres, fine dining spaces and an emerging youth culture. At IbCity Info, we’re watching the city emerge, reporting it and encouraging the catalysts of these changes. So, we are actively part of the change.” This serves as a backdrop to the balance of story created through rich photography of the IbCity media. Juxtaposing the images of ancient landmarks of the city with those of new, emerging structures.
His projects open up to a fresh perspective to what culture was, is and will be. Pictures of malls are contrasted with popular, local markets like Bodija. In hospitality, new structures like Old Town Hotel, a new, unconventional lodging edifice, is contrasted with Premier Hotel, a longstanding symbol of hospitality within the city. Canteens are contrasted with modern restaurants and fast food centres.
On his influences he says, “My father for one. His ambition inspired and still eggs me on. I spent a year around Chris Ogunlowo (Principal Partner & Creative Director at Kwirkly); stealing into his books and listening to him has helped shape some of the principles I work by. David Oglivy, Mario Testino (a fashion photographer), James Nachtwey (a documentary photographer), Shawn Carter (Jay-Z) and a good friend, Oluremi Onitilo.”
About the future relevance of photography and graphic arts to the promotion of cultural elements, Bukunmi says: “our senses will always look to find excitement. Ears listen for exciting music. We will want to taste good food. Will our eyes somehow lose interest in what’s engaging? No. The media will change and the taste of the audience will become more sophisticated. It is important that the artist keeps evolving, to keep his perspective fresh and relevant. Whether photographer, digital graphic artist, painter, curator; any creative really.”
The other narratives are coming to the fore and they are being embraced across the nation. With the magazine shared digitally via twitter handles focused on the city (such as “WhatsupIb” and “liveinIb”), perspectives are being widened and the city is being showcased for what it truly is. In recent times, based on the push given to several cultural and geographical narratives, Ibadan has been compared to the city of Rome. Things have changed really much and with the works of the likes of Kunmi, not again will the only story told of Ibadan be of rusty roofs.