From Zaria to London: JN Thomas Back in the Land of the Living

The late Rev John Thomas and one of his works at the show.

Dipo Kehinde/

When one of those who laid the foundation for modern Nigerian Art died in 2005, people thought he would be seen on the art scene no more. They are dead wrong.

Old soldiers never die, as the saying goes. Rev. John Noserime Thomas was back in the land of the living, at the weekend.

He featured in an exhibition with 20 other artists, mostly art instructors, on Saturday at the Pan Atlantic University, in Ajah, Lagos.

The show titled ‘From Zaria to London’ was in his honour.

Sculptor, Adeola Balogun and painter, Pastor Abiodun Ladipo getting the show started.

It was an introspective retrospective; a chronographic show with a contemporary blend.

One could see works of art from the classical to the avant garde in various medium, and the depth of expression induced reflections and opened perspectives into what is art and what is life.

Like what the French artist, Paul Gauguin, wrote on his 1897 painting done in Tahiti, the questions come to mind again: “Where Do We Come From? What Are We? Where Are We Going?

Some of Rev. Thomas’ works were executed as far back as 58 years ago, when many participants at the show were not yet born.

The multidimensional show also featured a performance from Yusuf Durodola, who tried to connect Rev Thomas’ ancestral spirit to his offspring – Tite Noserime.

Durodola told NewsmakersNG that the performance tagged ‘Oyibiribiri’ was about how the past and the present are interwoven in one endless thread.

He said, “It’s a performance that projects the transfer of one’s way of life, ideas, and thoughts into a new generation.

“Now, what I’ve drawn here is a picture of Pa Thomas Noserime, and the rope stands for connection. The person that I roped with the image is the son of the man. It’s a connection between the two of them. That’s a kind of remembrance of what this person has really done for them.

“If he had not done well to them, they will not be remembering him in this form. And that is where I’m taking it from. I was once in a chat with Pa Thomas’ son, Mr Rukeme Noserime, and he showed me one bead given to him by his father – a very important one.

“Oyibiri is talking about what legacy we are leaving for the next generation. If he had not laid a good foundation for this generation, a good legacy, they would not all come together like this to honour him. It’s always good to have good legacy for the next generation.

Pa Fasuyi (Second Right), his son, (Left) with Tite Noserime and another member of the family (Right).

”A contemporary of the late Rev Thomas, Mr Timothy Adebanjo Fasuyi, had this to say about him: “We called him JN Thomas in those days. The children have changed it to Noserime. He was a very popular, very kind man; older than most of us. Actually, he was one or two years junior to me, but because of his comportment I regarded him as a senior brother. He was a good Christian; always there on time on Sunday service, even when he was not the pastor. He was a Man of God. His Art reflects his age; our age at the time. The facilities were very limited. We didn’t see a single original artwork till we left college, because they were not available.

“Now, you can see 500 in Lagos, works done here. Thomas was one of those creating original works for people to see then.

“In those days, you spend two years for intermediary and two years for the final diploma or degrees. After the intermediary, he changed to printing. He and Wangboje were doing printing together. Wangboje was senior to him. He was interested in printing linocut.

“I’m happy that the children have found these works and brought them out; otherwise, he would have been forgotten. They can put all together in a book for him, and that would last forever, and the students here will gain.”

One of the exhibiting artists, Omovo Ayoola Oluwaseun, the Coordinator, Female Artists Association of Nigeria, Southwest Zone, said, “Pa Thomas is somebody I’ve read about in the books, when I was growing up. It’s a privileged for me to be exhibiting with him and seeing his works life.”

One of Omovo’s works at the show is titled ‘Survival’. It speaks about the state of the nation and, by extension, the plight of the Northern women who endured the Chibok girls saga in Borno and Lagos residents who had to battle with flood recently.

“The way we are in Nigeria, people just want something to fill their tummy. The next day will speak for itself. Today, let’s survive. Let me live for today, tomorrow will take care of itself.”

Omovo, who majored in painting from the University of Benin, generally works with ink on recycled rag.

Tite Noserime, a Retail Vertical Manager with Nielsen, painted a picture of his father as a Prophet who had honour in his own house.

He shared fond memories of the late Rev Thomas: “My father was a disciplined man, to the extent that he didn’t want the children loitering around, like leaving the family house to go and watch TV or play around. He wants you to be at home, doing your homework. He was focused and would not take nonsense.

“My father was a very astute administrator. He documents things. You can see from his works; even when he died, my elder brother was able to retrieve his works because he kept them. Maybe, if he had sold them, there won’t be anything to show for this generation. These are works of 1959, 61, and 62.

“In fact, there’s one memory I have in his room. We were nine children, eight boys and one girl. He had a file for every child. That’s how organized he was. In the file are your birth certificate, your report card per term, and your receipts. It was like that. So, you as a child; the day you are looking for birth certificate, he will say go and check your file, make photocopy and bring it back.

“And if he does a transaction, he would document it. If there’s something that is bothering him, he would pull out his diary and begin to write. He was that very organized and detailed. There are so many diaries he had in his archive.

“He was a man who liked to bring people to the house. One of the family members here today, that we call Lawyer Dama Afabor, came all the way from Abuja for this show. That’s the extent of the respect he has for my father, who brought him into the house and trained him. Anywhere my father’s name is mentioned, he would be. Every December, when Dad was alive, he would come to appreciate him for the education. So, my father had so many people he brought from the village in the house, and he was training them. Many of them now stay in UK and America.”

Balogun’s work at the show.
Emir’s Bodyguard, Rukeme’s Thermoplastic Engraving.

According to Tite, the exhibition was the idea of Rev Thomas’ second son, Rukeme, an accomplished artist and lecturer at Yaba College of Technology.

Other artists who participated in the exhibition are: Prof R.O. Kalilu, Toni Anthony Ogunde, Edwin Inyang, Aderinsoye Aladegbongbe, Adeola Balogun, Samson Ogundeji, Ayoola Sodade, Benjamin Akano, Dr Toyin Akinde, Patience Anthony Euba, Adeyemo Hakeem Bolaji, Kikelomo Asafa, Fatai Abdulkareem, Dr Grace Soyinka, Yusuf Durojaiye, Sesan Oresile, Tajudeen Adeyole, Osasame Noserime, Mary Onete De-Souza, and Dr Rukeme Noserime.

Born on June 14, 1924, into the Edjekuvwie Royal Family at Ekpan, in Uwvie area of Delta State, the late Rev Thomas

He attended the Holy Cross Catholic School in Lagos between 1930 and 1936, and Methodist Boys High School on Broad Street, in Lagos, from 1937 to 1939. He was at the Nigeria College of Arts, Science and Technology, Zaria, now known as ABU Zaria from 1956 to 1961, from where he proceeded to London for a one-year programme at Goldsmith College of Arts, University of London, which ended in 1962.

He made First Class in 1994 after his one-year training at Faith Theological Seminary, Otta, in Ogun State.

Back in 1934, he was the Third Best Student in Art in all Roman Catholic Schools in Lagos. He won several laurels, thereafter, including the 1955 Consolidation Prize in Art Competition on Cocoa in the then Western Region, supervised by Prof. Ben Enwowu.

He was honored at the First Baptist Church, Ijesha-Tedo, Surulere, in Lagos; by the Igbobi College Old Boys Association, and the Federal Government College Kwali, in Abuja.

He was also honored by the Federal Government College, Ilorin, old students association with a post humous merit award at the Nicon Noga Hilton hotel, in Abuja, during the 40th College Anniversary.

From 1942 to 1947, Rev Thomas  served as Headmaster of the African Church School, Aladja near Warri, in Delta State, and from 1947-1955, he also served as Headmaster at Baptist Central School Ovu, under the Urhobo Baptist Association in the then Western Region of Nigeria, then at Baptist Central School Ogie near Elute in Okpe area of Delta State in 1956.

In 1962, he had a solo exhibition, at the Goldsmith College of Arts, University of London, followed by another in 1964 at Federal Information Centre, in Marina, Lagos, and then he participated in several group exhibitions over the years.

He was the Art tutor at Iganmode Grammar School, Otta, Ogun State (1963 – 1965) and at Igbobi College, in Lagos (1965-1973). He also served as the Chief Education Officer (Fine Art) and Vice Principal, Federal Government College, in Kwara State (1973-1983), and Pioneer Principal at Federal Government College, Kwali, in Abuja (1983 – 1986).