Saturday 30 November 2013

'Celebration'… Unchaining Akinwumi’s art for broader appreciation

By Tajudeen Sowole
For over two decades, Peter Akinwumi’s technique of embossing soft metal has evolved through several stages, winning followership, quietly, in private and corporate circles. But a broader public pedestal to share and document his art has been missing. 

Breaking the long period of non-presence of his work in the art exhibition circuit, Akinwunmi shares his technique of “dot-beaten metal art” with the public on a broader scope as the artist’s debut solo art exhibition  titled Celebration, opens tomorrow, ending  November 14, 2013 at Terra Kulture, Victoria Island, Lagos.

One of Peter Akinwunmi’s 'dot-beaten ' repousse chasing relief works, The Talking Drum Speaks

Akinwunmi’s career of over three decades –including pre-formal training years – is a case study in creating art without adequate documentation and broad appreciation. Arguably, Akinwunmi has put into his art a wide experimentation by bringing art and craft into a synergy of resilient sculptural value. But the creative energy he has invested into his career seemed to have been confined to commission works and few display at galleries, not exceeding commercial-driven purposes.

With the theme, Celebration, Akinwumi has his own ‘chains of Amistad’ loosened in the exhibition, which is a step towards documentation and appreciation of his over two decades of research and mastery of relief art. “I started experimenting to advance the repousse since 1992”, he recalls during the preview of Celebration. But he laments “not having a solo art exhibition since my career”, despite boasting of being the promoter of a modified repousse art technique, coined “dot-beaten”, produced mostly in aluminium.

The works include portraits of unidentified drummers titled The Talking Drum Speaks, produced in oil on dotted aluminium; and the themed work Celebration .2.oil on embossed aluminium(, dot-beaten metal and carved wood.

Akinwunmi recalls what he describes as “playing around repousse and chasing as a secondary school student in 1983” while operating a small craft business as a young artist. “I used this technique in embossing zodiac signs and cooperate logos for decoration on doors, pendants and wallets.I also used foils derived from coverings of beverages and toothpaste tubes for some miniature reliefs, as wall hangs”.

He describes repousse As a metal working technique in which metal is ornamented or shaped by beating from the reverse side to create designs in low relief. And chasing is the opposite technique to repousse and the two are used in conjunction to create a finished piece.This can also be called embossing.

The artist traces the history of the technique in contemporary Nigerian srt to decades ago, when the Osogbo artists emerged on the art scene. He argues that repousse chasing  “was first explored by Olatunde Ashiru and his brother after recieving trainning through the Mbari Mbayo school under the tutelage of Susanne Wenger”.

For Adewunmi, there was need to move beyond the traditional repouse and change the technique. So, in 1992 he  started taking it“beyond the point of using it for logo designs and other craft purposes”

As a trained sculptor, who has “extensively worked on reliefs in several media “ re-inventing the technique, he boasts, was easy for him. “By late 1992,my motivation was to use repousse and chasing technique in creating relief impression similar to what one can achieve with material like clay,cement,wood and other easily manipulative sculpture media.I wanted to see wide dimension of metal spread,bearing figures that are well embossed,with convincing and definable features.I wanted to see interesting portrayals of drapery,not marked by tools ,but beaten into form with well varied concave and convex contours.

In his Artist Statement, Akinwunmi explains his adventure: “At the beginning, the whole exercise was slow and painstaking.I took a giant strive to cut down on field work(interior and exterior beautification of Buildings) which supplied most of my income back then.I withdraw back to the studio in Benin City,and started the journey with the main goal of succeeding.

"At the end of 1998, i  was blessed with a space by Enotie Ogbebor at Curio Studio,in Rita-Lori Hotels at Babs-Animashaun where i shared space and ideas with in-house Artists like Dafe Sowho,Ehi Obinyan Kabat Esosa,Bob Aiwerieoba,Enotie Ogbebor and many others.
 Curio Studio provided room for me to practically define my newly included use of ‘Dots’ to go side by side the repousse and chasing technique.I  discovered that dots, if judiciously employed ,helps to make the metal controllable to create more detailed reliefs with little or no torn background after work
  “As Years rolled by,i made mistakes here and there. I received appraisals and criticism from friends Clients ,Colleagues and Galleries,who all contributed morally and financially in sustaining this personal course.

Another dot-beaten repousse chasing by Peter Akinwunmi

In the last Ten Years, I have tried to put together an exhibition in celebration of a mission i engaged in which i achieved what i originally set out to do.I have perfected repousse and chasing and also developed the Dot-Beaten Metal technique which for me is a big plus.I strongly believe that am still learning and more ideas will open up as i march on.

 “Now am finally able to turn out few works in appraisal of the journey i started with this medium  30 Years ago,on toothpaste tubes and beverage foil.This exhibition is simply titled ‘Celebration’, to show gratitude and celebrate  everyone i met along the way,who contributed in making my dream a reality.A million thanks to my Wife, Family,Clients,Friend and Galleries who all played a big role in bringing this vision to Life.
Most importantly, my biggest thanks go to God, my number one Muse.I know He lives and he alone sparked this light within me.I am grateful!"

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