Polo Lifestyles March 2019: The Wealth Issue

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Raphael Dapaah | Art Contributor raphaeldapaah@hotmail.co.uk

In March last year, I had the immense pleasure of attending the private viewing of an exhibition curated by My Runway Group, a creative agency headed by Kojo Marfo, an inspiring peer of mine. Admittedly, after what felt like a lifetime in the office, I was pining for nothing more than to get to my flat, sink in the sofa, put my feet up, and meditate over a snifter of brandy. However, loyalty, and of course my unquenchable thirst for art, abled me to summon the strength to hop on the tube from Westminster, Soho-bound, to la bohême centrale. After a round of speeches given by the curator, George Osei-Prempeh, and the brilliant artists, notably Sarah Owusu, Koby Martin and Emanuel Unaji; a slender and unassuming gentleman was beckoned to the front of the adoring audience by Kojo Marfo to say a few words. The gentleman in question had been silently observing everyone during the height of the exhibition, but I noted his quiet presence prior to his announcement. At first glance he struck me as a passerby, perhaps stopping by briefly before heading off to some unknown

destination. But the longer I took him in, the more I sensed he must either be an artist, or perhaps even a patron. Though dressed in what can only be described as a rakish, almost sapeur-esque manner, he had an unmistakable air about him, somehow noble and maybe even aristocratic. As he walked passed the curious faces to take his place by the side of a beaming Kojo Marfo, I heard a whisper from behind me, “Who is that?” before the stranger broke his silence. Lanre Olagoke would not only reveal himself as the esteemed sponsor and patron of the exhibition, but would also go on to deliver a moving testimony about how his own troubled past had fueled his desire to help young people in the arts. In that moment, I knew that in the not-too-distant future, I would have to reach out to the art master, patron and mentor, to find out more about his incredible journey to date. Lanre gracefully accepted my invitation to learn more about his story not long after arriving back in London from an cultural ambassadorial tour of duty in China. Naturally I was curious to know what his recent trip entailed. “They invited me out there because they want me to be the cultural bridge between Africa, China and the UK,” he tells me. “The Chinese have a great appreciation for African art and want to be more involved.” As amazing as his revelation is, a part

of me is not surprised, though I do take warmly to the news. Contemporary African Art has been one of the fastest growing sectors in the global art industry, so it was inevitable that the Chinese, who have been investing considerably in the African continent over the past decade, would soon turn their attention to the world of African art. What did surprise me however, was Lanre’s revelation that he was once a mentee and student of one of the most iconic African artist’s in modern history; Professor Ben Enwonwu, MBE, whose long-lost masterpiece, “Princess Tutu” recently broke records at an auction overseen by Bonhams’ Modern and Contemporary African Art department. “It was in the late 80s, and I had received word that the professor needed an apprentice at his Swiss Cottage studio in North West London,” he recalls. “I would do his washing, cleaning, all his domestic chores for him, whilst also eating with him, painting by his side, watching and learning.” While Lanre had the unparalleled opportunity to learn by the side of Africa’s greatest pioneering artist, and hone his own gifts as an artist, his journey to become an artist did not come without its challenges and tribulations. Lanre opens up to me and tells me of how after dropping out of studying Economics at North East London Polytechnic in pursuit of his true page 113