Friday 16 August 2013

In Echoes From The Wood, Otigbo-Ekpei dialogues with ‘unseen forces’

By Tajudeen Sowole
Between sculptor, Veronica Otigbo-Ekpei and the ‘spirits’ of the forest, there is a dialogue, via the wood.

The relationship between the artist and the wood seems to be so strong such that, even her deforestation activities appear like a pleasant kind that soothes nature.

For over two decades, Otigbo-Ekpei perhaps, has been searching for the root of her attachment to sculpture. But in the new body of work titled Echoes From the Wood, the link surfaces, during a chat with the artist inside art gallery of Terra Kulture, Victoria Island, Lagos where the works will be showing from August 24 till 30, 2013.

Otigbo-Ekpei  had her last solo outing with Back In Time at National Museum, Onikan, Lagos in 2007.
Headgear {Gele}, from Veronica Otigbo-Ekpei’s Echoes From The Wood.

Woodcarving or sculpturing and African religious objects have been linked, such that even in contemporary time, the myth would not just disappear. And that some artists have traced their creative trajectory to ancestral ties with the traditional religious settings, particularly, in the sculpturing genre, further strengthens the myth. For Otigbo-Ekpei, there appears to be some kind of spirituality too, but on non-religious, different spiritual realm not linked to the African myth. She describes her motivation as “unseen forces in the wood, yearning for attention”. The forces, she explains “are itching to express themselves through my work”.

Whatever the tones of the wood’s yearnings before the trees of the forest falls to the machines’ cutters, the sculptor might not have an idea. But, usually, she intercepts the transition – before “they are moved for other purposes” such as for domestic or industrial materials. In nearly every piece of wood she rescues, there is usually an invitation. One of the works that best explains her sculptural intervention in wood is a relief-like portrait titled Headgear. It could readily pass for a three dimensional piece as the gele {headgear}, though looms larger than life over the face, suggesting a semi-relief rendition. 

However, she groups the body of work into three, based on experimentation, material and themes. From the three categories, comes what seems like a deviation from her regular all wood affairs as painting struggles to add aesthetic value to the natural texture of wood. In recent times, some sculptors, either of the metal and wood medium, are suddenly adding paint to their work. For Otigbo-Ekpei, is it an attempt to appease the largely traditional painting art lovers of Lagos’ art scene who, for different reasons, are not well disposed to sculptural pieces? “No”, she says. “Painting the wood breathes life into the concept”. She explains that it’s about showing how it’s possible to “show that out of waste, something beautiful can be achieved”. 

Sculptural works in wood by quite a number of Nigerian artists, including Otigbo-Ekpei seems to have proven that, even woods, by nature have pigments of colour, which could be used by artists in divers ways based on chosen concept. This much, her figural piece, Drummer stresses, exuding hues of brown.
Veronica Otigbo-Ekpei  in her studio

In experimentation, a set of works she groups in the third category and describes as “button art” offers a fresh dimension. One of the works, African Lady, a portraiture in collage, also attempts to take the notion of colour and aesthetic back to the traditional painting genre. She says it’s inspired by the presence of “coloutful buttons” unavoidably seen in markets. “I found lots of bright-coloured buttons staring at me, and could not resist the temptation of making experiment with them”. Other works in the button art group include Flower, Sunset, Dripping Colours, Teenage and Broken Dream.

Still on the central theme, Echoes from the Wood, the artist says about how “what has become my voice and language that are clearly translated through my sculptural works.
“My sculptural works speak volumes about my thoughts and feelings from the sketches to the finished work. It gives me joy and satisfaction seeing wood in its rough and shapeless form being transformed into an unbelievable object to communicate”  

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