|Against All Odds|
Ekpenisi, a ‘homeboy’ whose art is heavily tilted towards using native contents in contemporary expression goes to the exhibition circuit with a solo titled Diary Of The Iron Bender, which is showing from March 14-24, 2020 at Signature Beyond Art Gallery, Ikoyi, Lagos.
After nine months of self-confinement in his studio, the artist is back with 15 sculptures that explain, basically, his thoughts on quite a number of socio-cultural areas. He takes off from how the public, generally, view his profession. Ekpenisi explains that 'Iron bender', as commonly seen on the streets is that professional whose works are "confined to creating steel gates, burglary proofs and civil engineering metals." That creative professional in ‘iron bender’, he notes, is shielded from the public.
Whoping that his works will change the perception of the public, Ekpenisi reels out quite a number of timeless sculptures that are rich in both critical and aesthetics contents. In what appears like the posterface of the exhibition, Mental Slavery, rendered in half figure represents lack of freedom, across challnges. Though the sculptural contents exude strength, that physique appears not enough to unchain the mentality of slavery, so suggests the artist’s thoughts.
“We live in a world of diverse people with different religions, economic statuses, ethnic groups and within the last characteristics, we live in a society of people with different skin colours,” says Ekpenisi. “However, does a skin colour make a person more or less important: Mental slavery is worse than physical slavery.” The artist argues that mental slavery prevents people from identifying the solution to “their own reality,” and explains that such “manipulation has always been through mainstream media, religion and education.”
In the choice of materials, Ekpenisi enriches his sculptures with discarded electrical and electronic wastes as well as other household items. For each of the work, the texture of application of materials enhances the narration that generates a set of sculptures with prospects for timeless and museum collection.
Quite a number of his other works for the exhibition derives their cultural richness, in contextual strength, from the artist’s native value. For example, Symbol of Honour, a bust-like sculpture, depicting lady with gaze into the future, articulates the context more. With woven hairstyle of native contents, the lady represents what the artist describes as cherished cultural value in traditional hairstyle for women.
Ekpenisi traces the strength of African women hairstyles to the value that society places on it. “There is an adage that says ‘a woman’s hair is the charm of her beauty, pride and dignity’.
Hairstyle for women, he explains go beyond fashion, but has added cultural identity that guides the people on ladies status. “In the past, there was a symbolic hairstyle designated for spinsters, married women, elderly women and childless women,” Ekpenisi writes in the texts attached with the work. “In some cultures and traditions, the hairstyles can serve other purposes such as religious attributes, show of political power, marital status, mood of the woman and even as an age indicator.” He added that in most parts of Nigeria, for examples “in the typical traditional era and even till this day, the outlook of a woman’s hair can tell a lot about her person.”
Excerpts from Ekpenisi Artist Statement; “I am very passionate about Art, metal sculpture to be precise. I slice discarded metal sheets into smaller flat bars and units to create or weave into sculptures, forms.
“My form of metal sculpture is unique and distinct in the sense that, I do not create armature for my sculptures. Rather, work from one part of the object to another. For instance, when I want to create metal sculpture of any animal, I start from creating the eye balls, and then link them to the body, then work to the limbs. I also use discarded automobile parts, cans of different products and household items for my artistic exploits.”
Steve Ekpenisi’s bio:
b. August 13, 1978 in Abavo, Ika south local government of Delta State, Nigeria, had his primary education in Nkwo Primary School, Udomi, Abavo and post primary in St. Charles College, Abavo. Studied sculpture in Federal polytechnic Auchi Edo State where he graduated as the overall best student with distinction in 2007/2008 academic session.
Watching Steve works in his Studio is a delightful theatre. He wrestles with metal, cuts, bends and weaves it into artistic precision then the sparks from the welding machine. It is evident he derives the utmost satisfaction when the creative drama progresses.
His sculptures in all forms of metal medium has evolved with regard to the socio-economic determining factors because we live in an ever-changing society. Yet his works have maintained constant perfect craftsmanship which emits power, strength and wealth. One may say that Steve’s general inspiration comes from pleasant shock viewers receive while viewing his finished pieces.
The common denominator in his works over the years have been the strict attention to intricate details and elegant features which lead to perfect treasures.
Steve’s journey as an artist began at the age of five. He spontaneously engaged himself in training without knowing what and where it will lead him. Most times, his parents get angry at him because he destroys and put to use their electronics and other gadgets for his artistic exploits.
Steve is a member of Society of Nigerian Artists SNA, Universal Studios of Art, National Theatre, Iganmu, Lagos. He is also; Member of Sculptors Association of Nigeria (SCAN).
Among Ekpenisi’s group exhibitions are
Oreze 5 and 6, 2018 and 2019; Faces and Phases 6 - 2018; Saving the Earth- Workshop/Exhibition Abuja. - 2018; Illumination 3, Lagos - 2018; Exploring Nigeria-Korea Visuals. Abuja - 2017; Ambassador’s Night; Abuja. - 2014; Re-Integration of the Roots; Badagry Festival. - 2014; Illumination. Illuminating the World via Art, Lagos. - 2013; Aesthetic Bonds, - 2007; and Select Fellow Artists, Auchi, Edo State. - 2003.