Gerwine Bayo-Martins was born and raised in Hamburg, Northern Germany. Gerwin met her sweetheart, Bayo Martins, one of Africa’s finest drummers in the music of the day while doing voluntary work at the Biafran Committee office in Germany. A lover of art and music, Gerwine, in this interview, talks about her growing up in Germany, her marriage to Bayo Martins, her role at the Biafran Committee, her charity work and foundations, the Orphan Childrens Help Nigeria which she founded and chairs and several other fascinating stuff, including her passion, the arts.
Tell me a little bit about yourself
Thank you so much, Ambrose, for inviting me to this interview. I appreciate your interest very much.
What can I say? I grew up in Hamburg, Northern Germany, a big city of about 1,8 million people today, When I grew up, it was under one million. My environment was typically bourgeois; my father a director, my mum a housewife. I was a single daughter. My brother was born when I was eleven years.
How was growing up in Germany like?
(Laughs). A German childhood in the mid-fifties and youth in the sixties was a life of strictness and rules, at home and at school, especially as a girl. You had to obey, do not contradict, children should be seen and not heard, more or less. But changes were on the way, profound ones: students were revolting in the sixties against the stuffy atmosphere in schools and universities. As teenagers, we looked at them with admiration and much expectations. It was during the time of the Beatles, Rolling Stones, and then all sort of Black Music and recordings--Jazz, Soul, Motown, ABC, Paramount Pictures, Stax Records and more, if I am correct. American culture was heavily coming on to Germany, to our delight and to the wondering of parents, teachers, grandparents and what had become of its new generation being influenced by American mainstream cultural characteristics in music, the arts and social habits. It was an exciting time of old crusts breaking open and new progressives (so we hoped) popping up and developing.
What were your early influences in your passion for art?
My books from early childhood, their title covers and illustrations. I loved them and knew the artists names and still have many books of that time now. I looked for more in the neighborhood library and always wished for them as birthday and Xmas presents. Then, at home, we always had big formatted wall calendars which I collected and kept for years. Any photo of paintings I saw in papers, I clipped and kept in a scrap book.Those were mostly reproductions of so called “Old Masters” of art, of different centuries, from Italy, Holland, Belgium, Spain, England, France, Germany, and occasional modern ones. Painters like Michelangelo, Murillo, Vermeer, Breughel, Velasquez, Gainsborough, Delacroix, Friedrich fascinated me.
At Primary school and later Junior High and High School, we had good art education. Our art teacher helped us with techniques of different styles.
Since we met, I have known you to be a lover of art. What is a good art?
This is not easy to answer and it is such a wide field. Just let me try a bit. The saying “beauty is in the eyes of the beholder” applies to an extent. In classics, there are set of academic standards where great painters of the countries I mentioned before had to study to gain recognition by the standards of their time (i.e. 18th and 19th century), for instance, with names like Renoir, Cézanne, Monet, Manet, Pissarro. These are only few names. Some were revolutionary and suffered from not being recognized, like Cézanne, all his life; more or less, and Manet, at a time. All were fantastic, outstanding artists and, so many more of different styles.
Good art for me is that which speaks to you when you look at it, that moves something inside you, which you may not even be able to name. It is different for different people. Let me just stop here, as I can keep going and going telling you more about a good art.
I don’t know much about art but I have seen folks splatter paint all over a canvas and they’ll read meaning into their work. How is art read?
Ambrose, this is even a wider field. There are so many approaches to reading art. Just this little bit I’d say here: The meaning of art, we can study in aesthetics. One school that set these standards was the Ecole des Beaux Artes, in Paris. The values then were correct perspective, anatomy, light and shade, figurative painting, and likeness in portraiture. These changed a few decades later when Cubism became the vogue. Often, (meaningful) symbols are used. Art affects the senses, intellect and emotions. This could be done deliberately by the artist or not. Like in all art, there are always new developments, such as new styles and inventions. There is classic art and revolutionary art. We read so much in paintings, the time and it’s history when it was painted, the colors the artist used, and the hues. By the strokes, you can see if there is a master at work. You read the spirit of the time, like in other fields of art, such as sculpting, music, literature, fashion and more.
Today we have what I would call WORLD ART; art from all continents, and from all ages. I could go on and on; this could be a topic for a full seminar…
I was at your Haikus blog and saw one of your magnificent work with the catch phrase, “reminiscence to impressionism.” What are the expressions and meaning?
Well, I said so because of the photo style. It is not a sharp image. Many will call it blurred. With my experiments, moving the camera at times, I try to create effects. Some of my photos look like paintings. In impressionism, an art form starting in France, painters composed their pictures not in lines but in free brush strokes, creating a different effect, they wanted the color to vibrate. This was against “academic” painting I mentioned before. They did not paint details like before but looking for the visual effect. They used the light and captured it to create the effect and painted more outside. You can see this with artists like Mary Cassatt and Winslow Homer. The African-American great painter Henry Ossawa Tanner (1859 – 1937) also painted some pictures in an impressionist style. One is called “On the road to Bethany” where he uses light to express mysticism.
How does one know a good art exhibition before its opening?
Well, difficult question, Ambrose. When the artist is known, then you can be sure of a “good exhibition, provided you like the artist, is one way to “know”…
I read somewhere that you worked for the Biafran Committee in Germany. What was the Biafran Committee all about and what were your assignments?
The Biafran Committee was founded by one German student of Politics, Tilman Zülch. This was in the revolutionary spirit of the time I mentioned above. We were all voluntary workers there. We came after our day jobs and worked there at night. We wanted to help in creating awareness in Germany of this war in Nigeria. We tried this by typing pamphlets which Tilman dictated to us. We designed, painted posters, and, collected money on the streets of Hamburg for the children of then Biafra.
What were your feelings for the committee and what they stood for?
The spirit of working together with others for a cause was a great feeling. I knew Igbo medical students then and they had informed me about the war. They took me to the committee because of my interest and that was how I started to help there.
Let’s talk about your life with one of Africa’s ace drummers, Bayo Martins. How did you become the lucky one?
It was when I was working in the committee, that we met for the first time. He came there with Don Amechi, Easy Kabaka Brown and Olu Igemuna, who is now late. They had arrived from Bulgaria, where they played as a band and represented Nigeria at the Sofia World Youth Festival. A picture of them you can see in my album in Facebook of Bayo’s life. Later he told me that our meeting was spiritual, because, before leaving Nigeria he had a dream seeing me and when he did in reality, he knew I was the one from his dream. We got married after five months.
How was staying married and working with Bayo like?
Our relationship was based on “Love, respect and mutual understanding”. That was our motto. Our love was totally unconditional from the very beginning. We trusted each other always. He went to Nigeria immediately when the war was over and I followed six month later with my almost non-existent information about Nigeria, beginning of the seventies. He had told me a lot, of course, and all, as it was then. I am yet to write more about all these memories, they are in my mind as if everything happened yesterday. Bayo always told me the truth about everything. He showed me his country in her lowest and highest realms. We appeared on the then famous BAR BEACH SHOW hosted by our unforgettable friend Art Alade on TV. I met so many musicians, artists, and contemporary celebrities. We went together everywhere when possible, often in the evening, the traffic was a bit easier then, to see people with whom he was planning events and such. I was always the first witnessing his creative processes. When he had to travel, and he did this untiringly, I stayed in Lagos with the children. He just said “I have to do this and that” and I accepted. We always gave each other time to pursue what was necessary to advance ourselves and things. I sure missed him, but I knew why it was necessary and remained brave. I believe it is the best. When in marriage, you have time to yourself sometimes. We do not own another person. It was the seventies and the eighties and there was neither Internet nor cell phone and we had no land-line at home. We wrote tons of letters to each other; all delivered perfectly to P.O. Box 433 in Yaba, and I have all of them. I carried on with my job,and my writing. My friend, Brigitte Ajagu and I, worked together on founding NIGERWIVES. We created the first cell from where it developed and exists till today.
I went to the Help African Kids website, nothing much seems to be happening. What’s going on?
Oh, this website just shows the flyer of our organization. Things are happening continuously. We have two projects, the orphanage IJAMIDO MOTHERLESS CHILDRENS HOME in Ota, Ogun State. For over 14 years we have helped many children with school fees, university fees, renovated houses, and financed a house, where they have enough space to play and work. My two friends in Lagos visit regularly. We have a project in the Lagos Lagoon, and a village on an island, called Iba Ibeju. These are no orphans but very poor families. We have the primary school repaired, when necessary, especially the roof. We also pay school fees when needed. We trained a medical student. She treats the children when necessary, with vaccinations, worm infested kids, and things of that nature. The organization is an NGO and there are four of us involved in it. Two in Lagos and my friend and I in Frankfurt. I visit there regularly. When invited by organizations here in Germany, I go to introduce the projects, show pictures, talk about it, answer questions, and collect donations. The main funds come from Lufthansa Help Alliance, and we have been a member since Help Alliance was founded.
What would you do differently now if you have to start all over again.
Ambrose, many have been asking me this same question. Nothing I will do differently. The question does not arise for me. Why? The times in our life that we have to make decisions, we do this taking into consideration the circumstances, the time ,and so many other factors…So, these factors are our guide when we make decisions and also, I am convinced our subconscious plays an important part; maybe the most important…