Friday 30 September 2011


Otigbo-Ekpei… Strictly wood
(First published October 14-20, 2007)
When she set out early in her career, wood caving was properly the last thing on her mind.
  Twenty years after, Veronica Otigbo-Ekpei – the best student in painting at College of Education, Ijanikin Veronica Ekpei – is a carver of exceptional gift.
  From the works on exhibition during her fourth solo, Back in Time, held at the National Museum, Onikan, Lagos, recently, one could conclude that for quite a while, the art gallery has not really come up with a show of rich wood art pieces.
Veronica Otigbo-Ekpei's wood work Orange Seller (2005)

  A visit to Otigbo-Ekpei's studio while preparing for this show brought a relief of sort. Inside her Ibafon, Ogun State studio, nature comes in contact with man’s creativity as colour concealed behind different species of woods are unveiled.
  For nearly every piece of work meant for the exhibition, Otigbo-Ekpei had a direct experience that motivated such works.
  From Orange Sellers, Christmas Chicken to Ikunle Abiyamo (Woman In-Labour) and Neighbours among others, an artist, in contact with her subjects is not in doubt.
  Some people do know how to add elegance to a kind of unattractive job such that it becomes a lure for easy patronage.  Such is Orange Seller. Finished in Apa wood, it's a total capture – the sitting position of the lady, her orange peeling in action, oranges prepared in a bowl and ready to be bought as well as the basement which aesthetically supports the composite makes the pieces one  commendable effort.
  This action as depicted in the piece, Ekpei says was her attempt to bring to life a real regular activity of a lady across the road at her home-cum-studio.
  Still on the artist’s personal experience, from the notorious chicken slab at Onipanu bus stop, Lagos she comes up with the relief, Christmas Chicken, just as some lizards, the  unwanted creatures we are familiar with caught her attention in another relief, Neighbours.
  But in Ikunle Abiyamo, an abstract one finished in brown ebony wood, lies the real experience of Ekpei, herself a mother of more than one child. Literally, there is a spiritual interpretation here as the artist re-enacts such with the woman on her knees while the mother looms over the baby supposedly just delivered.
  A woman in-labour is not apparently in the kneeling position, but the Yoruba’s reference here is that she is usually in spiritual trance, praying to her God for safe delivery. And Ikunle (kneeling), is, synonymous with prayer.
keep fit, wood, by Veronica Otigbo-Ekpei

  The safety of the man and woman in the process of procreation is, however, no longer taken for granted since the arrival of the dreaded HIV/AIDS. Again, Otogbo-Ekpei’s experience comes in another work.
Though untitled, the piece brings out the beauty of the woods in the combined black and brown colour. From the artist’s interpretation, the HIV/AIDS' victim in this sculpture must have acquired the disease from as many men as possible. In her composite, Ekpei places the female victim on the sick bed while faces of men are pinned under the lady’s stretched body. 
Veronica Otigbo-Ekpei

  The work, also of the relief family, Otigbo-Ekpe disclosed came about as a result of her contact with a victim at the hospital. "One moment she was there, lying down on her sick bed. On my next visit to the hospital, I was told she just passed on," she explained of what she called her closest to a victim. 
   Otigbo-Ekpei took post-school tutelage from master carver, Bisi Fakeye.

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