Sunday 8 July 2018

MKO Abiola, Fawehinmi statues swell 'failed' Lagos public space art, despite Arts and Culture advisory board

Newly installed MKO Abiola statue at Ketu-Ojota, Lagos.
From ancient to modern and contemporary periods, art of Nigerian descents have been well revered, even by the western world. But quite worrisome that in the 21st century, recent public space sculptures -- of Lagos State precisely -- keep raising basic and elementary questions in artistic creation.

Latest of such public space art currently generating competence-debate are the newly unveiled MKO Abiola and Gani Fawehinmi statues mounted at Ojota-Ketu axis, a Lagos suburb. In commemoration of the 25th year of the annulled June 12 Presidential  elections of 1993, Lagos State Governor, Mr Akinwunmi Ambode had unveiled the statues to honour the winner, late Abiola and activist, Fawehinmi.
After unveiling, the sculptures keep attracting attentions and comments of artists, critics and non-art professionals alike. Most of the comments faulted the inability of the artist to capture MKO's semblance in the 37ft fibre glass sculpture.

Last year, a statue of late Chief Obafemi Awolowo, mounted at Agidingbi Junction, Ikeja, attracted criticism for non-resemblance of the subject, poor aesthetics and lack of basic qualities expected of a public space art. The Awolowo statue crisis actually came after critics also faulted about two of the many public space art erected by Lagos State, as "plagiarised", lifted from Europe and Asia. At the peak of several criticism over public space art, Mr Ambode, in April last year, inaugurated Lagos State Arts and Culture Board. The board, chaired by artist, Polly Alakija and include prolific painter, Kolade Oshinowo; textile artist, Nike Davies- Okundaye; actress, Joke Silva; and filmmaker, Kunle Afolayan, among other professionals drawn from private and public sectors, is an advisory group to assist government articulate its tourism vision via arts and culture. According to the governor, the board "has a huge responsibility to translate" the state's vision of strong tourism "into reality".

Over one year after the inauguration of the board, the experience and professional prowess of the visual artists among members seemed missing in the choice of the artists that produced the MKO and Fawehinmi statues.

Interestingly, the new MKO statue was meant to "replace" and "upgrade" the former one done by sculptor, Bunmi Babatunde in 2008, according to the Lagos State Ministry of Arts, Culture and Tourism. Announcing replacement of the two sculptures on its website last year, the Ministry stated that "Ag. Commissioner, Tourism, Arts and Culture, Mrs. Adebimpe Akinsola  said the decision to upgrade the two statues was inspired by the inclination of Mr Ambode for the arts and a desire to have bigger life-size statues of the two personalities".
But it is a common knowledge in art parlance and pratice that sculpture done in fibre glass is less resilient to hostile outdoor temperatures compared to that of bronze. The 2008 MKO statue, standing 9ft was produced by Bunmi Babatunde in bronze, with almost faultless aesthetics and semblance of MKO while the "upgraded" 2018 version came in fibre glass, but in bigger size of questionable representation of the actual subject being depicted.

Apart from artists and critics, even a non-art professional, for example, Mrs Tolani Edu, described the 2018 version of MKO statue as "caricature". Edu who is an art collector and lawyer said:  "I think it's a caricature! The face is far from Abiola's! It was badly done!" She advised that "the face must be restored with speed!!". She also faulted the late Fawehinmi statue unveiled for the same June 12 anniversary. "Ditto for Gani's statue too".
Late Chief Gani Fawehinmi statue unveiled recently.

In fact, the MKO sculpture lacks the professional excellence that artists in the country are known for, over the decades, president of Society of Nigerian Artists (SNA), Oliver Enwonwu stated.  While Enwonwu, on behalf of SNA  “commends" Gov Ambode "for his vision in not only beautifying the Lagos scape with public art, but also more importantly, employing these works to celebrate those who have contributed to Nigeria’s development", he however faulted many of the sculptures done by  Lagos State recently. "Sadly, many of these works fall short of global standards in terms of quality, as well as processes and guidelines in their award and commissioning. Indeed among other issues, some have been executed by less than competent hands; are composed of poor quality materials that are impermanent; and have little bearing to the locales in which they are situated".

 Specifically, he picked holes in the newly unveiled MKO Abiola statue. "The sculpture of the respected businessman, politician  and philanthropist, Chief MKO Abiola presents an example. It pales in comparison to such technically accomplished works in Lagos like 'Sango' and 'The Drummer' at the headquarters of the Eko Electricity Distribution Company and Nigerian Telecommunications Limited, respectively. The Abiola sculpture also pales when compared to fine monuments erected around the world in honour of such great men. Indeed, it does little to represent the good intentions of the Lagos government and the lofty ideals of the late politician. Importantly, the work should have been produced from bronze, widely accepted for its monumentality and permanence. In addition, the work is poorly executed, failing in its proportions and anatomy. It’s semblance to Chief Abiola lies not more in the physical as should be but in the symbolism of the clothes and arms signaling his victory at the polls".

Quite a number of observers also faulted the semblance, a  basic essence of portrait or statue. "The major problem of the statue is that it does not resemble Abiola," art critic, Ekpo Udoma argued. "No matter the size of the work as long as it does not resemble the subject, the work has failed".          
Ideally, public space art projects should go through competitive open process for selection of the best artist(s) to be chosen for the job. Perhaps, the process of selecting artist, Olurotimi Ajayi of Modupe Studio for the new MKO sculpture went through competitive process, particularly with an advisory board in place. Did the advisory board make inputs into the making of the newly unveiled Abiola statue at MKO Garden, Ojota-Ketu? "Not at all", the chair-person of the board, Alakija responded via whatsApp message. Indeed, how active has the board been since its  inauguration over one year ago? Alakija promised to give details later. "I am out of town till the 28th, please call me then".

Other members of the board include Mobee of Badagry, High Chief Patrick Yodenu Mobee; Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Education, Mr. Adesina Adeyemi; and Director of Culture, Lagos State Council for Arts and Culture, Mrs. Saidat Otulana.
 - Tajudeen Sowole.

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