Tuesday 21 June 2022

'Legends, Legacies and Histories', by Prof Frank Ugiomoh

Two of the six artists capturing the sitter, Dr Biodun Shobanjo during the 9th Living Icon Documentary...in Lagos.

HISTORY in all ways relates to things documented in natural or artificial processes. Artificial processes relate to the creation of culture. An aspect of the endowments of the human revolves around creating culture, as additus culturae, one who creates or adds to culture. In this sense, culture becomes qualitative, enriching the human family. History bears evidence of persons with enviable and outstanding impacts on society in one way or another. Recognitions within a cultural space emanate from accomplishments readily agreeable as a worthy testament within a society. However, a society’s spectrum accommodates diverse vocations and concerns; hence not monolithic. Legends constitute individuals whose impact on their society comes from the way they engage their vocation in extraordinary ways. Furthermore, legacies in societies acquire their status about legendary personalities from societal consensus and judgements.

The celebration of legends takes various forms. The essence, however, appertains to entrenching positive history in a defined reward, a recognition of an accomplishment, an identity, a lasting cultural imprint, etc. However, modes of reward come in diverse ways and cultural activities. 

Documenting the Living Legend by the Living Icon Foundation (LIF), over the years, defines a unique dimension as a cultural activity of note. Despite the earlier definition of the word legend, it has an overall jaunty connotation. Hence, in the engagements by LIF, an adjudged legendary personality acquires flesh in an organised activity involving posing and modelling or presentness. A seeming demystification of the legend takes centre stage here. A corporeal encounter ensures that an appreciation of adjudged legendary personalities remains profound. The Apostle Thomas Dydimus’s legacy evokes thoughtful inspiration where presence coheres with the ideal. Placing a face on a legend strengthens the obscure values we often nurse or imagine.

The LIF honours its chosen legends for an occasion by inviting some draughts persons and other artists adept at other mediums in its agendas. A chosen icon poses for rendition in any convenient medium by artists. Sessions with the icon involve making sketches from his poses. Ordinarily, it would appear a commonplace activity. Conceptual/notional complexities trail procedures that lead to a finished artwork. Narrating such depths of engagement by the artist constitutes another subject. 

Moreover, portraiture comes as an intriguing dimension of the artist’s work. Portraiture is the window to the individual seen in the clusters in the face. The eye finds its location in the face. The Egyptian Philosopher Plotinus (204/5-270 AD) considers the eye sunlike hence a window to the soul and the source of apparent radiant energy that enlivens our being. Life gains form and identity with the face. 

The art of portraiture has, over the years, gained notoriety for exactness and inexactness. When Michelangelo Buonarotti (1475-1564 AD) made a sculptural portrait of Lorenzo de Medici – a Medici family patriarch- and delivered an inexact representation of his subject, he received a subtle reminder about his deviation from a general resemblance. His response? “In a few years hence who would remember his looks,” he queried. The flip to the Michelangelo narrative comes from the Baroque artist Rembrandt Van Rijn (1606-1669 AD), whose portraits captured inner emotions that were beyond mere facades. That gift earned him great disrepute as a portrait artist. Therefore, accessing a subject’s persona from an artist’s perspective presents many complexities. However, some artists in history have proven their dexterity as portrait artists. Engaging their self-portraits times without numbers accounted for their secrets. Such artists include, but not limited to Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519), Albrecht Durer (1471-1528), Rembrandt Van Rijn, Aina Onabolu (1882-1963), and Ibe Ananaba.

In this ninth episode, the LIF presents Dr. Biodun Shobanjo. The usual fun comes with it in all flurries. Anticipating the outcome in this edition, let us remember Paul Cezanne’s famous quote: “I have not tried to reproduce nature; I have represented it.” He continues, “If I were called upon briefly to define the word art, I should call it the reproduction of what the senses perceive in nature, seen through the veil of the soul” (my emphasis) (www.brainyquote.com).

Therefore, our engagements bear a load of complexities, yet with simple outcomes. Our results, in anticipation, underlie history’s essence – to add to what the past becomes as history and memory. As an artistic activity, we will etch our subject in indelible materials and mediums, standing for the genie for which worthy characters have won our admiration and engagements/endeavours every so often while creating culture.

Frank A. O. Ugiomoh, Professor of history of art and theory and Omooba Adedoyin Yemisi Shyllon Professor of Fine Art and Design, University of Port Harcourt wrote 'Legends, Legacies and histories' as Forward for the 9th Living Icon series, held on June 19, 2022, at Didi Museum, Victoria Island, Lagos.

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