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A glimpse into a builder’s art world

BEN IKIMI, a renowned builder and international designer, is an accomplished art collector, who, hardly,  opens his doors to the public to view his collected works of art. AGOZINO AGOZINO recently had an exclusive  chat with him at his home in Igueben, Edo State.
When you walk into the home of Chief Ben Ikimi, you walk into the warm embrace of mind-bending and appealing colours. His art pieces, portrait pieces, sculptures, engaging mural, all welcome the visitor. Also, in his gallery at Igueben, Edo State, the visitor gets a once-in-a-lifetime view of his personal collection of  artworks which date back to his experience in the art world of the 1960s, which exposed him to professional artists from Nigeria and abroad.
    Now in his early 60s, Chief Ikimi, a leading builder and an international designer and a member of several professional bodies, had not only carved a niche for himself, but, also has a rich track record in the art world.
     Chief Ben Ikimi is a scion of the Ikimi dynasty, (the immediate younger brother to Chief Tom Ikimi, Nigeria’s former External Affairs Minister), his passion for the arts dates back to his childhood.
According to him, “while schooling then in Kumba, Cameroun, I loved drawing and the sculptures and I wanted to know how the local people executed their artworks and before long, I started getting closer to creativity.
“Every work of art I saw then aroused my interest, but, I became more fascinated when I started digging into my native culture and the meaning of its  artworks. I often want to know how God inspired the initiators to create such magnificent works because they make me happy to see God work in nature,” he added.
A glimpse into a builder’s art world
A glimpse into a builder’s art world
   Although, it was from this childhood experience that his early dream started to crystallise, he recollects many other inspirations which drove and, eventually, made him an art lover. They include the mystery of God in creation and how God can inspire artists to create works that represent diverse cultures.
   “As I view the handiwork of God in creation even as a young boy growing up in my remote village, I began to think there is something extraordinary with creativity. I have visited many places to see works of art,” Ben recalled.
  His early passion for the arts did not yield instant financial reward for him, but, it brought more enduring reward as it set him on a solid path to the delicate art world. Through the years, he had learnt to overcome the temptation that plague young people, the get-rich-syndrome.
   The high chief of Igueben, a very cultural town in Edo State said that his biggest aspiration way back then was to see how he could work hard and be successful in life, and, today, he is a renowned construction engineer and an accomplished art collector. His collection of paintings and sculptures could only be appreciated by a true connoisseur of art on visiting his home, which is another breathtaking piece of work.
   “I remember I travelled to the Republic of Cameroun, where I continued my education. I later returned to Nigeria for further studies before I travelled abroad again. Since then, I have visited many parts of the world and that is the good part of my story”, he said.
With the benefit of hindsight, Ben counts his blessings for the immense gain that he made from following his passion.
   According to him, what gives him joy about the arts is that when it was all happening, he had no knowledge that many people would later join the art collectors’ club. He added that his vocation made him to  understand that he is preserving history.
   Art means more to him than painting, he believes it is an expression of personal life and being able to communicate other people’s yearnings through his collections and he,  therefore, sees his collections as a platform to express his love for his culture and societal values.
  Today, that childhood passion and approach to art gave him a successful career as a renowned builder and made a big league art collector. His, is a fulfilling dream.
An imposing record of collected works awaits you on a visit to any of his homes in Lagos and Igueben, Edo State, where these priceless works, including the works of European artist, van Gogh and those of other established and up-and-coming artists, are painstakingly displayed.
   The veteran builder, also reputed for his love for jazz music says he never regrets walking the path into the world of art and had dedicated  himself to exploring the rich African philosophies.
The bearded, handsome art collector is also regarded in some quarters, as an entertainment promoter, given his romantic approach and his ability to promote  entertainment talents, especially, for job creation.
   To him, “Art gives hope. It helps us to appreciate our identity. Beyond providing employment and creating wealth, it has also created an understanding within a society of their significance to the world.’’
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