Aino Ternstedt Oni-Okpaku was a Swedish textile artist active in Nigeria. There she opened a gallery and set up an adoption foundation and a home for children with functional impairments.
Aino Ternstedt Oni-Okpaku was born in Gothenburg in 1939. She was the daughter of Carl-Herman Ternstedt, an engineer, and Elisabeth Göransdotter née Enderlein. She had two younger siblings, Marianne Agby and Gunnar Ternstedt. Later she had two children of her own, Tina Ternstedt and Jude Ternstedt.
In her youth, Aino Ternstedt Oni-Okpaku trained as a textile artist at the arts and handicrafts school Slöjdföreningens skola (now HDK Valand) in Gothenburg. Upon completing her training, she received a stipend that allowed her to undertake art and handicrafts studies at Stanford University in California, USA, from 1971 to 1973. There she met Gabriel Oni-Okpaku a legal practioner who was also studying art at the same university. The couple married in 1972 and the following year they went to live in the husband’s native country, Nigeria.
It was in Nigeria that Aino Ternstedt Oni-Okpaku’s professional life really took off. The couple opened up a shop in the capital Lagos in 1975, where they sold imported antique furniture, top-end hi-fi equipment, and various other accessories, which at that time were hard to source within Nigeria. Her husband died just two years later, leaving Aino Ternstedt Oni-Okpaku alone with sole responsibility for the business. Given that her professional life, her friends, and her business offices were all located in Lagos she decided to remain in Nigeria and continue with the enterprise she had set up there.
Her business skills and creativity were soon put to the test. In 1975, the Nigerian government introduced a ban on importing many types of goods, including precisely the kind of electronics she sold in her shop. She transformed her business and instead set up Quintessence Gallery, where she sold artwork and handicrafts. She would maintain this business and her role as head of the gallery for some 40 years. Until 2013 the gallery was located in Lagos’ oldest and most fashionable shopping centre. It subsequently moved to new modern premises in central Lagos. Her intention was to use the gallery, along with artists and handicrafters, to organise exhibitions, events, and book launches. This gave Nigerian artists an exhibition space not just in Lagos but in Sweden as well. An example of the introduction of Nigerian art into Sweden can be sen in the “Mammy Water” exhibition held in Stockholm in 2012, an event that Aino Ternstedt Oni-Okpaku was involved in planning. The exhibition programme describes, amongst other things, “a fantastic sculpture of a bull created out of recycled metals and tyres” created by the Nigerian artist Adeola Baligum. Similarly, Swedish artists gained the opportunity to display their artworks in Nigeria.
During the 1990s she got the idea to set up an adoption foundation. It was primarily intended to give a voice to children who could not speak for themselves. These were children who had special needs, orphans, and children who were functionally impaired, who were invisible to the wider public. Thus Aino Ternstedt Oni-Okpaku became the founder of the Ebunolowo Foundation. It was not, however, a straightforward process and during the ensuing years she was called in by the police and other agencies who suspected her motives and wanted clarification regarding the foundation’s actual purpose. The enterprise largely revolved around her ability to establish good connections with key figures within the Nigerian bureaucracy and with those in powerful positions. Despite the difficulties often present in reaching suitable adoption decisions, Aino Ternstedt Oni-Okpaku and her colleagues laboured on.
Further consideration of the conditions for children with functional impairments led to the idea of setting up a children’s home, albeit not a traditional children’s home, which often simply turned into a holding facility. Erubodo House was established, again as a foundation, with Aino Ternstedt Oni-Okpaku as its chair. With the help of staff, she designed the Erubodo House to cater to around 30 children, where the focus lay on the needs and abilities of each individual child. The children received schooling, and the house resembled that of a large family’s home where many siblings lived together. The aim of the foundation was that eventually the children would be self-sufficient, although there would always be a place for them at Erubodo House. The enterprise was largely funded through donations.
Aino Ternstedt Oni-Okpaku died in Gothenburg in 2019. She was then 80 years old.