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Art and diplomacy

  • JUDY DOLGOS-KRAMER/SPECIAL TO THE TIMES NEWS Ibiyinka Olufemi Alao poses with a slide depicting his self-portrait.
    JUDY DOLGOS-KRAMER/SPECIAL TO THE TIMES NEWS Ibiyinka Olufemi Alao poses with a slide depicting his self-portrait.
Published September 16. 2013 05:00PM

On Wednesday evening the Carbon County Art League welcomed Ibiyinka Olufemi Alao, Nigerian Art Ambassador to the United Nations, to speak at its meeting, held at the Penn Kidder Senior Center in Jim Thorpe.

Alao gave a slide presentation of his work along with an overview of his philosophy on art in diplomacy.

His message is simple.

"When we discover our weaknesses, we have an opportunity to discover our greatest strengths," explained Alao. "As a child I could not speak before a group of people. My teacher told me to draw or paint what I wanted to say. That is how I came to where I am now."

Every two years the United Nations invites artists from around the world to enter into its International Art Competition. In 2001, Alao, a native of Nigeria, entered his painting "Girls and a Greener Environment" and took first place from among 61 countries. His prize was to represent his country as an art ambassador to the UN, a position that Ibi, as people refer to him, still holds.

Since 2001 Alao has visited many countries and exhibited his art throughout the world. He has also sat on countless committees and as a member of the General Assembly.

"My art is very colorful" says Alao. "Nigeria is closer to the sun and it is reflected in my paintings."

Alao's works in acrylic paint. Most of his works incorporate bright, neon colors sometimes set against black backgrounds. The African influence is obvious, yet each piece, while very different, is clearly the work of one artist.

"All good art tells a story. Every artist is a person with a hole in their heart. They spend their lives creating art to fill the hole," explained Alao.

Alao showed a slide of his self-portrait. Joking that he really hoped he did not look like the portrait, he clarified that it was more a painting of his character than his actual self.

"The right eye is empty, that is the hole that I try to fill, the left eye is upside down because it represents my view of the world, and one ear is a paint brush because I listen to the world with my brush," said Alao.

Alao wants to challenge other artists to start a conversation on a greater level.

Alao came to the attention of Carbon County Art League President Earlene Russell during the June art show in Jim Thorpe.

"Ibi was attending the show and a mutual friend introduced us and I asked him to speak before the group and he accepted," explained Russell.

The Carbon County Art League was started in 1979 with just four members, according to founding and past president, Frank Sebelin.

"We started out with four members and in seven years, we had over 50 members," said Sebelin.

The Carbon County Art League has sponsored the June art show in Jim Thorpe since its inception.

Additional information on Ibiyinka Alao can be found on his Facebook page and his website at

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