Sculptural depiction of Captain Moore and Oba Ovonranmwen (1897) by Prof. Victor Uwaifo
Expressed in sculptures using materials such as resin and ivory – most times with glazing – Uwaifo’s work is explained in the academic process of creating art. Most of the human figures on display, including his self-portraits and depiction of 1897 Benin punitive expedition, are, perhaps, appropriated as museum pieces, given the scale of themes involved.
A teaching and research scholar at Department of Fine/Applied Arts, University of Benin (UNIBEN), Benin City, Edo State, Uwaifo, 75, in this major solo exhibition, basically stresses the academic environment’s energy in highlighting challenges and providing solution. Shortly before the opening of the exhibition, Uwaifo, dressed in sparkling stage costume, tells how his exhibition – distilled from many years of research – would change existing basic norms on sculpture. The research, he explains, “refers to materials or substance that imitate nature.”
On display, among over 20 sculptures in both 3-Ds and reliefs, were the artist’s impression and stylised depiction of the popular ‘Idia Mask,’ re-titled ‘From Wax to Ivory,’ enactment of the infamous 1897 Benin Punitive Expedition, with dramatisation of what looks like admonishing of Oba Ovonranmwen by the leader of British invaders, Captain Moore; life size self-portrait with a guitar, stressing his new research in facial expression and quite a number of relief pieces that go deep into Benin cultural values. Among the key arguments of Uwaifo as regards his “new findings” are the issue of facial expression and basement in creating sculpture.
With his expression in biomimetics of sculpture “it is now possible to accurately have smile on the face of a figure cast in bronze,” Uwaifo says. Most times, sculptors working in bronze, he argues, misrepresent smiles in “grimacing or sad” mood. The complexity of generating facial expressions in sculptural works, perhaps, is the reason that most works in that genre always have blank facial expresions.
In practical terms, depiction of a smiling Nelson Mandela and the artist’s self-portraits, among others, for example, further explain his argument about biomimetics of sculpture. And his ‘magic’ touch as regards solving facial expression “problem”, specifically smile, is in exposing of the upper dental part of a subject’s face, using ivory material.
According to him, “There is a correlation between ivory and human teeth; a simulation of biomimetic ivory makes natural smiling possible.”
Viewing the works on display as the artist leadd guests – including Mrs. Betsy Obaseki, wife of Edo State Governor, Godwin Obaseki – the depth of studio work invested, as well as academic research are really profound. However, Uwaifo may not have really reinvented the wheels as regards his findings on creating sculpture. But clearly, he has expanded the scope in the area of bronze casting, an aspect of sculpture indigenous to the Benin and dating back to many centuries.
While sculptors and others interested in the subject of facial expression on bronze casting are digesting Uwaifo’s argument, there is also another aspect of his findings that concerns all, irrespective of medium. A life-size figure does not need a basement to stand, Uwaifo seems to be proving with his self-portrait. Standing with a guitar between its opened legs, the sculpture, glazed in cream colour, according to Uwaifo does not require a basement to stand properly. “With the weight evenly distributed to all the parts, it will stand properly,” he insists.
Perhaps, a sculpture, particularly of a standing figure placed indoor, does not require a basement. The same theorem or execution may not apply to an outdoor sculpture where wind and other hostile factors are in consideration. Again, Uwaifo’s assertion and practicality offers a wider scope to bite, chew and spite as in a number of issues raised in ‘Biomimetics of Sculpture: And What Is Art.