Friday 28 October 2011


Native, but fresh breath in Fakeye’s Timber’s Titan
By Tajudeen Sowole
(First published Tuesday, June 24, 2008)

THE dynamics of contemporary Nigerian art may have increased transactions and diverse interests, but a revisit to periodic and native content in renowned Nigerian woodcarver, Prof. Lamidi Fakeye appears more refreshing.

This much resonated during the art exhibition of the carver titled Timber’s Titan, which ended last week at Mydrim Gallery, Ikoyi Lagos Island.

Unveiling an artist of Fakeye’s status must have come with several challenges. For example, about a month before the show, the organisers were undecided on a theme and was to title the show, Living Legend.
Lamidi Fakeye (righ) and Chief Segun Olusola during the opening of the exhibition

  As Timber’s Titan later won the day, a tribute, it could be said, has gone to a medium from which the artist, over the decades, has earned a colossal image for himself, even across the world.
The exhibits, though largely of Yoruba mythology, but there was an imperial perspective to the works. Some of the works such as Jagun Jagun, (Warrior) series, Aworo-Ogun (Ogun Priest) and Ilari Sango depicted the symbol of strength in some characters of Yoruba mythology. But between the myth and culture, is a thin line as some of these beliefs are still held today in various royal settings across Yoruba land.

This explains why works of Fakeye and other carvers of periodic forms are used as part of architectural aesthetics in palaces as well as buildings of some elite who have sympathy for the declining popularity and value of some of these beliefs.

Fakeye’s Timber’s Titan shows examples of these works used as columns in imperial architecture – a tradition that is as old as the Yoruba people. Such works on display include the Opo Ile series (Verandah Post) such as Sango Devotees, Obatala, Musician and Dancers and Osuba Abiamo (Glory to the Mother).

And to restate that art, for him, has no religious colour, a wood piece, Annunciation, among the exhibits, depicts the biblical story of Angel Gabriel announcing the gift of Jesus Christ to Mary.

Nativity in Fakeye’s art – given the clout it has garnered over the decades within and outside the academia – is the nerve centre that makes the artist counted among legends of the world.

For an artist who belongs to the fifth generation of one of the famous family of carvers in Yoruba land, his knowledge of the history behind these works could not be faulted or tainted given the fact that he had his art tutelage so early in life, within the traditional carving environment.

This humble beginning must have snowballed into a revered image across the African continent. In honour of the artist and his background, two exhibitions were held in the U.S to mark the living tradition of the Osi-Ilurin school, Ila Orungun (old western region), Osun State, now South West, Nigeria, where Fakeye was raised in carving tutelage.   

Eleshin (Horseman) by Fakeye
  And the clouts of guests at the private viewing, a day before the opening, also spoke volume about two factors: the name of the artist and the rare appearance of his works in an exhibition.
  From consistent collectors such as Yemisi Shyllon, Mr. Sammmy Olagbaju and Rasheed Gbadamosi, promoter, Chief Frank Okonta, to the diplomatic circle and artists, it was one exhibition that its re-enactment could take another years. Reason: about a month before the show, Fakeye, said the exhibition would go into record as the first time he will be having a solo appearance in an art gallery anywhere in the world, since 36 years.  His past exhibitions, he said, had been held either at private viewing or inside universities here and abroad, particularly in the U.S.
  The last show of similar nature featuring his works, according to records was a group exhibition of the carvers' dynasty called Exhibition of Three Generations of Fakeye Woodcarvers. It was held in Ibadan, in 1971.
   While emphasizing the gallery’s mission to keep promoting and preserving the works of veteran artists, the director of Mydrim Gallery, Sinmidele Ogunsanya used the occasion to remind guests that Fakeye’s work has a global appeal. She cited the UNESCO’s 2006 rating of the artist in the list of the organisation’s Living Human Treasure.
  Fakeye noted that art, particularly carving, is not about exhibitions, but the impact an artist’s work make with or without shows.
  This much some of the guests who spoke to at the event agreed. Public Diplomacy Officer of the Public Affairs Section of the U.S, Lagos, Marylou Johnson-Pizarro recalled that she first got in touch with Fakeye’s works through the USIS Office in Ibadan where the artist’s works, collected by the U.S. mission in Nigeria since the 1960s, were mounted.
  “I can’t remember seeing any of his works at exhibitions in any gallery. But I am very familiar with his work. His works collected then by the USIS in the 1960s, are still in our Ibadan office. Through his works, I have known more about Nigeria, particularly Yoruba culture,” Johnson-Pizarro said.
  Frontline collector, Olagbaju must have waited, eagerly, for a period like this when he would have a pool of works to choose from. He stated that he lost one of Fakeye’s works collected several years ago. The trauma of that loss, he said, has given him concerns about the need to protect Nigerian art.

Fakeye (right), welcoming Marylou Johnson-Pizarro of the Public Affairs Section of the U.S, Lagos and Yemisi Shyllon (middle).

  From the position of renowned surrealist, Abayomi Barber, art is a private affair that must not be confined and rated by the volume of the artist’s public appearance like exhibitions. He said: “You don’t need to hawk art; it can sell itself. Even though sometimes it is good to blow one’s trumpet if you have new works to show, but regular shows do not necessarily define or elevate the artist in you.”
   Comparatively, Shyllon, in his contribution to the brochure of Timber’s Titan said of Fakeye’s art within this context: “Professor Lamidi Fakeye is an exceptional artist. In the past, traditional works of art did not appeal to me. I found them ugly, out of proportion and of no aesthetic value
  “Over time, I have come to appreciate these works and to understand that traditional African Art should not be viewed from the prism of European Art, as the inspiration for both are from different origins. They exist side by side and have been known to influence each other. For example, Picasso was greatly influenced by traditional African art”.

   As revered as Fakeye is today, the artist believes that every artist has its unique side, no matter how young. For him, part of his gains in the profession, he stressed, is his ability to take to others’ advice. At close to 80, and over 60 years in the profession, the artist, recalled that, some years ago, painter, Kolade Oshinowo gave him an advice of which remains an asset for him till date. He said: “ You cannot be an island in this profession. For example I can never forget the advice Oshinowo gave me many years ago concerning my art. Till today I am still making use of it.” 
 His show, A Retrospective Exhibition of Fakeye’s Life was held at the Smithsonian, in 1999 and The Metropolitan Museum of Art December 1999 and January 2000.
 The artist’s middle name, Olonade,  “the carver is here” started living up to its prophetic nature when, at 10 Fakeye carved his first piece and began studying traditional Yoruba art under his father. In 1949, he was apprentice to the then master carver, late George Bamidele Arowoogun.
  In 1978, he became an instructor at the Obafemi Awolowo University in Ile-Ife Nigeria, where he unveiled the statue of Oduduwa.
  1964, he was elected president of Society of Professional Artists of Nigeria; served as artist-in-residence in 1962 at Western Michigan University, Kalamazoo, Michigan; received commission for Kennedy Center Africa Room doors (Washington, D.C.), 1973; 1989 serves as artist-in-residence at universities in Cleveland, Chicago, Pittsburgh, and Atlanta.

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