Friday 11 January 2013

From Olawoyin to Fakeye… How traditional title sustains the family chain of woodcarvers

By Tajudeen Sowole
 A post-doctoral scholar, Nelson Edewor’s research, which has faulted the dynasty ascribed to one of Nigeria’s oldest families of artists, the Fakeye woodcarvers, seems not to have considered some certain facts in Yoruba tradition.

Edewor who just returned from a post-doctoral fellowship of School Of Oriental And African Studies (SOAS) University Of London, U.K argued that the progenitor of the dynasty, Olawoyin, should have been so honoured “and not Fakeye.” Edewor built his argument on the fact that the most famous of the Fakeyes, (Lamidi, 1928-2009), is widely referred as belonging to the fifth generation of the woodcarvers.

Tagged Bestriding Igbomina/ Ekiti Longstanding Woodcarving Traditions and Modern Nigerian Art; Lamidi Olonade Fakeye (1928-2009), it was one of the two presentations by Edewor at the SOAS and University College London (UCL) seminar rooms. His second presentation, he disclosed, was titled Evolution, Development and Challenges of Modern Nigerian Art since 1900.

At a gathering in Lagos after his return, Edewor analysed his research on the famous family of woodcarvers: "The family ancestry is popularly referred to as the Fakeye woodcarving dynasty, of which Lamidi belongs to the fifth generation and Olabisi his nephew belonging to the sixth generation. In my Ph.D thesis (2009), my data corrects this family nomenclature anomaly, which assigns the family identity to Fakeye Akobi-Ogun (father of Lamidi).” Edewor did not agree with Fakeye as a dynasty over Olawoyin. He added: “The appropriate taxonomy is “Olawonyi woodcarving dynasty”. 
However, some other sources have shown that Lamidi and other members of the Fakeye dynasty, have naturally, conformed with Yoruba-oye tradition by using a title bestowed on their great-grandfather, Olawoyin. According to the sources, Fakeye is oye (a title or honour) given to Olawoyin by a king of Ila Orangun (now part of Osun State, southwest, Nigeria) in recognition of the carver’s excellence in wood sculpturing. And because in Yoruba tradition, the oye ascribed to the head of a family could be taken as oye-idile (family title), the descendants of Olawoyin, in this context, have the right to Fakeye, hence it becomes the family name. Based on this, change of the family name from Olawoyin to Fakeye has not, and should not in anyway alter the family chain of over a century old woodcarvers; Olawoyin’s legacy has not been eroded, contrary to the argument of Edewor.

Although Edewor claimed that his Ph.D thesis (2009), “corrects this family nomenclature anomaly which assigns the family identity to Fakeye Akobi-Ogun (father of Lamidi)," but it appears that his research did not consider the ‘Fakeye’ title given to Olawonyin as well as a 1971 exhibition, which seemed to have given more prominence to the term 'Fakeye Dynasty.'
 During Lamidi’s last solo exhibition titled Timber’s Titan, held at Mydrim Gallery, Ikoyi, Lagos in June, 2008, it was revealed that a group show titled Exhibition of Three Generations of Fakeye Woodcarvers, held in Ibadan, in 1971, featured the works of Lamidi and other Fakeyes.

Further investigations have indicated that the nomenclature, Fakeye Dynasty, most likely, emerged from the Ibadan show. In fact, one of the living members of the Fakeyes who participated in the 1971 show in Ibadan, Bisi Fakeye, 70, confirmed during a chat over the phone, few days ago that the Ibadan exhibition featured three generations of descendants of Olawoyin. And that the theme of the 1971 show emphasised ‘three generations of Fakeye’, perhaps, support a conscious effort of the exhibited artists to promote Fakeye as a dynasty of woodcarvers. 

From Olawoyin to Fakeye, the chain of family of woodcarvers is approximately one and a half century old. From then till now, the family who are from Ila-Orangun – an embattled town during a nineteenth century war with Ibadan – have earned tremendous attention of scholars, home and the Diaspora, particularly in higher institutions of learning across the U.S. and Europe.

What is however not contentious in Edewor’s scholarly work on Lamidi’s style and technique, is the influence of the carver’s western exposure. Edewor argued that the western influence makes Lamidi a modernist. He noted how Lamidi’s “progression from Igbomina longstanding woodcarving traditions” fuses into another form the artist adapted from the Oye-Eliti workshop, and “eventual oversea studies at Paris, France.” Further in his scholarly studies of Lamidi, Edewor grouped his work into periods across seven decades: “Pre-Oye-Ekiti, (1938-1948); Oye-Ekiti, (1949-1960); early Post Oye-Ekiti, (1961-1996); Late Oye-Ekiti, (1997-2009).
Renowned woodcarver, Lamidi Fakeye (right), Curator of Mydrim Gallery, Mrs Sinmidele Ogunsanya and Late Ambassador Segun Olusola during Fakeye’s last solo art exhibition titled Timber’s Titan in Lagos, 2008.
Indeed, Edewor’s observation about Lamidi’s modernist characteristics showed in the late carver’s last outing Timber’s Titan. The works on display were though largely native in themes, but covertly modern in technique and style: slightly blurring the line between African and western expressionism. One of Nigeria’s leading collectors, Omooba Yemisi Shyllon whose new book Conversations with Lamidi Fakeye is scheduled for launch soon wrote in the catalogue of Timber’s Titan: “Prof 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”.

  On his second presentation in the U.K, Edewor noted the dearth of literature in Nigerian libraries, adding that it affects “the level of awareness of the public about what art is, and how it functions in the development of modern society.”

He urged art historians, critics and others rescue the visual art through more publications. “While I wish to challenges art historians and critics to put their ideas into publishable form, institutions should also seek partnership with international publishers to obtain licenses to their electronic resources. This will help individuals and students to access a wide range of data that could ease research.”
 Edewor is a Senior Lecturer, Fine and Applied Arts Department,
Delta State University, Abraka, and Associate Fellow, Center for African Studies, School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London.

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