Saturday 6 April 2013

Conversations with Fakeye... keeping master carver's legacy alive

By Tajudeen Sowole
Steadily, the modern and contemporary Nigerian art space is escaping from the shackles of inadequate documentation, so suggests recent increase in the number of books being published in the country as art patron, Prince Yemisi Shyllon adds a new one, revisiting late carver, Lamidi Olonade Fakeye.

Recently presented at Kongi’s Harvest Gallery, Freedom Park, Lagos Island, the book, titled Conversations With Lamidi Fakeye, is authored by Shyllon and Dr. Ohioma Pogoson.

Sponsored by Omooba Yemisi Adedoyin Shyllon Foundation (OYASAF) and published by Revilo Company Limited, the book was formally presented by His Excellency, Babatunde Raji Fashola, the Executive Governor of Lagos State.   

It was also a double celebration of Nigerian art for Shyllon who used the occasion of the book launch to donate 18 sculptures by artists Adeola Balogun, Patrick Agose and Jagun, to Freedom Park.

In coffee table format, the new book is arguably a posthumous homecoming for Fakeye who has been written about in the U.S. In fact, a documentary film was also made on him in the U.S. Fakeye (1928-2009) was regarded as 'Africa's leading carver, and had over 60 years career, which included being a resource person at universities in the west’.

While stressing the importance of the coming of the book at this crucial period of Nigeria’s challenges, chairman of the launch and former Interim Government Head of State, Chief Ernest Shonekan, during his address noted that the book “is coming out at a time we are all reflecting on our past”.

Also through his representative and Commissioner for Tourism and Intergovernmental Relationship, Mr. Disun Holloway, Fashola stressed the commitment of his administration in encouraging art, culture and tourism. He noted that aside the infrastructural changes of the state, of which the Freedom Park is one, Lagos State had supported art auctions and organised the Lagos Black Heritage Festivals (LBHF) to promote tourism. He urged people to stop seeing Nigerian art, particularly traditional works of artist like Fakeye, as “devilish or fetish”.

For the patron and founder of OYASAF, Conversations With Lamidi Fakeye is a promise fulfilled. Shyllon disclosed earlier that publishing the book was the last of his three promises made to Fakeye, adding, "I promised Lamidi Fakeye when he was alive that I will promote him in Lagos by exhibiting his work, be the largest collector of his work and publish a book on him. I have fulfilled all the three promises”.

Oliver Enwonwu of Revilo noted the importance of Nigerians documenting their art, saying, “We are proud to be associated with the book because it’s time to say our own story in our own way”.


Speaking, Chairman of the book launch, Chief Ernest Shonekan; the Obi of Onitsha, His Majesty Nnaemeka Achebe; Onido of Ido Oshun, Oba Aderemi Adedapo (left); Hon Commissioner for Tourism and Intergovernmental Relationship, Mr Disun Holloway and the Orangun of Ila, Oba Wahab Kayode Oyedotun…recently in Lagos.

And supporting tradition, of which the artist’s work stands for, were royal fathers present at the launch: the Obi of Onitsha, His Majesty Nnaemeka Achebe, representatives of the Oba of Lagos, Rilwan Akiolu, the Orangun of Ila, Wahab Kayode Oyedotun and Onido of Ido Oshun, Aderemi Adedapo. 

In the review, presented in a near poetic rendition, the reviewer and author of Jailed for Life: A Reporter’s Prison Notes, Mr. Kunle Ajibade described the book as “an indispensable key to the mind and personality” of Fakeye, an “incredible carver”. Ajibade opened the review with a part of the book that explains how Fakeye started living the deep meaning of his middle name early as a young boy.

About 10 year-old Fakeye had an encounter with Banji, one of his father’s wives, who was an Ibadan-based carver. Fakeye, the reviewer noted, was apprehensive of meeting Banji who was looking for him “desperately”. So, the young Fakeye took refuge in his work, carving. Ajibade noted that the artist, at 80, recalled that moment of his life: ‘When she came to where I was and saw me carving she said, ‘Aha-ah, Olonadee, won pe o loruko, o si je oruko naa de le’, meaning: (Olonade, you are exactly what your name says you are). Then I knew she was not going to beat me; she was simply impressed with what she had seen. This prompted her to call people to come and see what I had done. This was the first time anyone showed any appreciation for what I had carved’.      

Ajibade, therefore, drew commonality between Fakeye’s encouter at 10 and the artist’s middle name, Olonade – here is a great artist.
  Essentially, the book, according to the reviewer, is the artist’s indirect way of self-posthumous communication with lovers of his art.

A book on Fakeye that does not touch on his sojourn in the U.S. would be an incomplete documentation. Ajibade also mentioned aspects of the book, which touched on the making of a documentary film on him, Lamidi Olonade Fakeye: The Life of a Master Carver, by Elizabeth Morton and Joe Reese.

From the film as referenced in the book, Ajibade extract a quote of Fakeye: ‘I am a bridge between the past and the present’.     
Explaining what the artist meant by ‘past’ and ‘present’, Ajibade noted that Fakeye “deals extensively with his own creative process; offers insights into the historical, cultural, philosophical and metaphysical context of his carvings; and describes the differences and similarities between his works and the works of other carvers.” He argued that the Fakeye in the book “is more agile and concentrated than the Fakeye in the documentary Lamidi Olonade Fakeye: The Life of a Master Carver.

For co-author Pogoson, it was a worthy experience staying with Fakeye for three days during the making of the book. Staking out his credibility, Pogoson, a Research Fellow (Visual Arts) at the Institute of African Studies, University of Ibadan, argued that “having a copy of the book is like owning a piece of Fakeye’s art”.

On the value of creating a work, which is mostly taken for granted that every art piece is intellectual property, the brother of the patron, Prof. Folarin Shyllon, a UNESCO consultant, who gave a brief lecture during the book launch, said cultural property differed from the former. While noting that both intellectual and cultural properties were “creation of the minds”, he recalled that UNESCO’s conventions of 1972 changed the content to cultural heritage laws, which he explained, protected the work. Intellectual property laws, he argued, only protects the right of the author. He traces the strength of cultural property laws to the positions of UNESCO after the World War II when Adolph Hitler seized a vast number of objects.
Sculptor, Adeola Balogun explaining his work to guests and the donor, Prince Yemisi Shyllon during the unveiling if 18 sculptural works donated to Freedom Park, Lagos.

Perhaps the definition of cultural property laws that says any work so classified “belongs to the world” makes some of Nigeria’s contentious cultural objects in foreign museums a subject of elusive repatriation. And more worrisome is Folarin’s disclosure that Nigeria is even losing its invaluable works of contemporary contents to the West under the laws. He lamented that “the manuscripts of Nobel Laureate Wole Soyinka and late Chinua Achebe are currently in Harvard University, U.S., and not in the country of the authors”.

Lamidi Fakeye is of the fifth generation of a dynasty of carvers originally known as Olawonyin, but changed to Fakeye, a title given to the patriarch by the king of Ila Orangun during the period. A year before his death, Fakeye had a solo exhibition titled Timber’s Titan, at Mydrim Gallery, Ikoyi, Lagos in June, 2008.

One of the leading art galleries in Lagos, Quintessence, is distributing Conversations With Lamidi Fakeye.

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