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A passion collection

Silvia Radan / 8 June 2013

An exhibition of private collections shows surprising choices from stamps to coins

From napkins and postcards to stamps and coins, most of us have a passion for certain objects that we like to collect. Going beyond the obvious, an exhibition of private collections at the Ghaf Art Gallery in Abu Dhabi shows some pretty surprising choices.

Going on until June 19, Toys and Treasures — Toy Box to Treasure Chest: The Art of Collecting exhibition — is organised by the Abu Dhabi Music and Art Foundation (ADMAF) to celebrate the International Museum Day.

Alistair Burt, British Minister for Middle East and Africa; Dominic Jeremy, British ambassador to the UAE; and Olujimi Osho, collector; at the opening of the exhibition ‘Toys and Treasures ‘ at Ghaf Gallery. — KT photos by Shoaib Anwer

“This exhibition is a fascinating journey designed to inspire audiences to connect with their own heritage, to start their own collections and understand the similarities and differences in the world of collections,” said Hoda Al Khamis Kanoo, founder of the ADMAF.

Barbie dolls, a toy Stradivarius piano, 1970s electronic games such as “Simon”, toy London buses and marble balls are all filling the ground floor of the gallery. There is even a collection of the Action Man, probably one of the very few boy dolls out there. First introduced in 1966 in Britain, the Action Man was inspired by its American “brother”, G.I. Joe, produced by Hasbro Toy Company. The series had soldiers, sailors and pilots, dressed in military uniforms and wearing dog tags.

Add these typically UK toys to old manual photo cameras, vinyl record players, musical instrument and Benin bronze statuettes, and you will get a glimpse into Olujimi Osho’s world, a journey of one man’s self-discovery through the art of collecting that is taking half of Ghaf gallery’s exhibition space.

The man, Olujimi Osho, a Brit of Nigerian roots, began assembling his private collection in 2000. Fostered as a child, Osho found solace through the toys he explored and played with. As he moved towards adulthood, he discovered a passion for objects, striving to make sense of the world and reconnecting to his cultural identity by collecting objects that he valued. These treasured items are now used to teach others through interactive workshops in schools, in his hometown of London.

Among his eclectic toy collection is a set of Barbie dolls. Osho’s sister dreamt of owning a Barbie, which was originally released in 1959. The first black Barbie only appeared a decade later and because of the rarity of black dolls they became collectables and, of course, made their way into Osho’s private toy museum.

From the toy box collection in his childhood, Osho moved on to treasured items in his adulthood, which represents his journey and reconnection to his identity and heritage over a protracted period of time. The story told by this gathering of objects is a personal one that resolved many conflicts that he once internalised.

His collection of Benin bronzes are Osho’s most treasured objects, reflecting his journey to reconnect with his roots and assimilate his identity as a Nigerian Yoruba man within a western context. The pieces represent his rebirth, integration and acceptance into an indigenous culture, but also a period of progressive artistic, political and religious culture of the Yoruba people.

The technology that was in use for well over 1000 years was handed down to selected guilds and families within the royal palace. The beauty, style and technology of these statuettes far surpassed anything that was being created in the West. The Yoruba royal family exclusively gave patronage to Benin bronzes, which could only be created by following the oba’s (king) instructions.

From the UK, Toys and Treasures returns home, showing off in the second half of the gallery, the passions of Emiratis and the UAE residents for objects.

There is Irina Kohn, a puppeteer from Russia, now based in Abu Dhabi, exhibiting some of her puppets; There are children of various ages with their objects of desire, such as Eissa Al Hashimi and his collection of snow domes — he buys one any times he visits a new country; there is Mohammed Kanoo, an artist who turned his collection of cars into artworks; and there is Zayed Al Absi, who has a thing for Swatch watches!

“I began collecting in 1991 and by now I have 102 watches! They are all working, but I remove the batteries to prevent corrosion,” said Al Absi. He began collecting watches simply because he loves the “brilliance” that goes into watchmaking. His fascination with Swatch began in 1985, when Swatch held a gala lunch and gave away an exclusive edition by Kiki Picasso. The fact that Swatch’s vision is against releasing expensive watches was another attraction to collecting them.

“This Phil Collins Swatch only cost me Dh500, so you see, any kid can do it,” pointed out Al Absi, who hopes to inspire children to collect objects they love.

“The most expensive Swatch I bought came in an oyster shell and it was a ladies watch that could be wore as a necklace of as a bracelet, encrusted with Swarovski crystals and pearls. It was Dh990.”

To complement Toys and Treasures, a series of performances and workshops for children will run throughout the exhibition. From puppet performances of Middle Eastern folk tales, to sock puppet workshops and trivia games, the events are designed to reveal the history, memories and the value of toys and treasured possessions and illustrate the detail and diverse content of the objects.


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