By Tajudeen Sowole
Whatever cultural value that Nigeria has to infuse into the country's judicial process could be found in the concept of Justice and Culture, which is expressed in a figural sculpture mounted outside Faculty of Law building, University of Lagos, Akoka.
The Justice and Culture statue at the Faculty of Law building, Unilag.
Donated to the university by a prominent art collector, Omooba Yemisi Shyllon, the blend of culture in judicial process is depicted in what could pass as a modified African version of the symbol of justice. Sculptured by artist, Adeola Balogun, the Justice and Culture lady would, in future intellectual gatherings, be a subject of debate over cultural value in jurisprudence space.
During a brief unveiling ceremony, the Dean, Prof Akin Ibidapo-Obe argued that in law, the culture of a people cannot be ignored. The whole idea behind the sculpture, "is to encourage our students that culture has a place in law," the Dean told guests and members of the faculty shortly before the unveiling. "For example, our needs are not the same as the European's."
Earlier, he recalled that the mounting of the sculpture "was not accidental; we had always wanted to do it." The Shyllon donation intervention, he explained, was well deserved given the track record of the donor's philanthropic gestures in the country. Apart from noting that Shyllon "was an outstanding student" at the faculty, Ibidapo-Obe stated that "he is an example for us to emulate."
The Dean's assertion about Shyllon couldn't be faulted; just two days before the unveiling, the donor had extended his generousity to Pan Atlantic University (PAU) Ajah, Lagos where he 'donated' a proposed-museum facility and one thousand pieces of art. Also, in 2013, Shyllon donated 18 sculptures by Balogun, Patrick Agose and Jagun to Freedom Park, Lagos Island.
In his welcome address, the Vice Chancellor, Prof Rahman Adisa Bello, stressed the passion of the donor in the area of art and culture, of which the university’s Creative Art Department has benefited from. Extending the philanthropic commitment to the Faculty of Law, Bello said, "shows that there is a link between law and culture."
The choice of art and culture in his philanthropic activities, Shyllon explained, was aimed at preserving the people's identity. The donation to the Faculty, he added, goes beyond just a sculpture to beautify space. The donor hoped that "this would influence how we symbolise justice." Shyllon recommended: "This is Nigeria's symbol of justice."
After the unveiling was done by Hon Justice Amina A. Augie, Presiding Justice, Court of Appeal, Lagos Division, the artist explained the concept and different native motifs used in the embellishment of the statue. Balogun, a well-known signature in public space art stated that quite a number of diverse Nigerian native contents in motifs and symbols are encrypted in the work. Some of the features on the Justice and Culture lady include a hairdo known as shuku' from Yoruba, waist beads from Benin as well as motifs from the Igbo culture, among others.
Some of Balogun's works in public space include statues of Obafemi Awolowo, on Allen Avenue, Ikeja, Lagos; Brigadier Samuel Ademulegun, mounted at Akure/Ondo Junction as well as Madam Efunroye Tinubu at Union Bank building, Lagos Island; and Funsho Williams statue at Costain, Lagos.
For each of the works, there were challenges and gains; the Justice and Culture lady was not an exception. In a text that serves as Balogun's Artist Statement, he disclosed that the brief given him "was to re-conceptualise the universal symbol of justice in traditional Nigerian context."
Cast in bronze and standing nine ft with marble basement of six ft, the sculpture retains the concept of universal symbol of justice, but also highlights native contents, which Balogun described as "justice, authority and honour as signified by the Eben, the Irukere and Udu respectively."
In the weeks ahead, critiques of Justice and Culture would be coming. In fact, the spot - next to Creative Art Department - where the statue stands makes it more vulnerable to critics' pen. Perhaps, preempting critics, Balogun touched on issue that, most often is raised on public art. "when it comes to quality public monuments, it has always been a controversial issue even in advanced climes."
He advised that "public buildings need to be imbued with aesthetic appeal." Balogun however warned that "we might continue to get the reverse if it’s not done through the right channel; the public should not be docile."