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Nigerian artist opens eyes, horizons at Latrobe Art Center

| Tuesday, July 21, 2015, 4:56 p.m.
Ibiyinka Olufemi Alao, of Nigeria and an Arts Ambassador to the United Nations, speaks at the Latrobe Art Center on Wednesday, July 15, 2015.
Evan Sanders | Trib Total Media
Ibiyinka Olufemi Alao, of Nigeria and an Arts Ambassador to the United Nations, speaks at the Latrobe Art Center on Wednesday, July 15, 2015.

Standing in front of a large painting, colorfully depicting the sky above a blue horizon, artist Ibiyinka Alao told about 40 children at the Latrobe Art Center that even though he was from Nigeria, they could still learn from each other.

“We all have a lot more in common than we have different,” he said to the art campers.

Alao is Nigeria's Arts Ambassador, visiting the area after speaking last week at St. Vincent College's Fred Rogers Center.

Latrobe Art Center Director Gabi Nastuck said an impromptu stop at the art center prompted the workshop last week for the summer art camp for ages 7 to 12.

“It's an exciting opportunity for the kids to meet him and interact with him at such a young age,” she said.

Alao has served as an ambassador for Nigeria to promote peace and unity through artistic expression and was the winner of the 2001 United Nations International Art Competition.

During the half-hour presentation to the children and about 30 adults, Alao used his paintings to share virtues of forgiveness, love and creativity, calling art “frozen music” that always holds mystery.

His painting “True Miracles” depicts women in white dancing around a pool with a giant pearl, so he told the children about how a pearl is formed when a bit of sand irritates an oyster.

Instead of retaliating back with irritation, Alao said the oyster pours its love into the sand and creates something even better: the pearl.

“You can decide to be like the oyster and learn to forgive people, especially if it's a brother or sister that irritates you,” he said.

When Alao was young, he would get nervous speaking in front of his classmates at school, so a teacher encouraged him to paint.

“Sometimes the best thing we can do as teachers for our students is help them discover how they can impact the world positively,” he said.

Alao taught the children a song and dance representing a golden eagle, Nigeria's national bird, first flying, then falling weary to shed its old feathers and rise again.

“It's able to fly and soar higher than before,” he said.

After the presentation, Alao led a painting workshop for the children.

Barbara Nakles, chairwoman of the Greater Latrobe Art Conservation Trust, attended the presentation after giving Alao a tour of the art collection at the junior and senior high schools last week.

“I was amazed ... He's quite a charismatic person and it was interesting to see him interacting with the children, just wonderful,” she said.

Alao said he enjoyed his visit, his farthest west on the East Coast of the United States.

“It's always a joy to be able to share my culture,” he said. “In sharing things about my culture, I get to learn about their culture too.”

He said he was glad to see the children at the art center so attentive and enthusiastic.

“I don't even get my colleagues to pay attention that way, and that's why there's no peace in the world,” Alao joked.

Nastuck said after the presentation that Alao's strikingly bright and contrasting artwork is very different from most of the art center's exhibits.

“I loved it, I wish we could keep his stuff here all the time,” she said.

Stacey Federoff is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-836-6660 or

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