The Sculpture Prodigy   

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Sunday Chukwu is an amazing young talent in the business of sculpting. In this report, Ugo Aliogo examines Chukwu’s love for sculpting, his achievements, and the future of the art profession in Nigeria

Sunday Chukwu’s name may not ring a bell with many in the Nigerian sculpting industry, but beyond the gates of the Department of Fine and Applied Arts, University of Benin (UNIBEN), he has carved out his own niche in the industry. Having found his passion in sculpting, an activity which has helped him to do exploits, he has distinguished himself with his ability to create, especially life size figures, using metal and steel. 

Chukwu says after producing any piece, it casts a shadow and brings a kind of self-satisfaction that the piece is the image of God which gives credence to his ability to create. 

He never thought he would be the sculptural genius he is today. In fact, he once thought he would be a medical doctor, as he majored in the sciences in secondary school. But fate had a different path for him.

The themes of his works mainly border on daily entertainment activities in the African society, expression of the uniqueness and forms of an African woman, sometimes pointing out societal ills and possible ways it can be eliminated, and various composition. 

 

Unknown Corpers

Chukwu recently completed a 13-feet tall sculpture statue of both male and female corps members, titled: the Unknown Corpers. The statue was built at the Jigawa State National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) orientation camp. 

The work depicts individuals that have come and gone from the orientation camp without people recognising who they were. In the sculpture, the male corps member is seen doing the three hearty cheers, while the female clutches the torch of unity and some of the core values of the corps.

On the project he said, “Recently, the work was used as the cover of NYSC Jigawa State magazine. The work is 13-feet tall. After doing this work, I received a lot of accomplishments such as best corps member in Jigawa State. On a personal level, this work is like the first of its kind in the country. The medium is very interesting. I did it in a record time and it was like a personal Community Development Service (CDS) project. 

“In doing the work, I tried to replicate what God created using the mild steel to exaggerate the human forms and making the sculptures very huge. Since I am using metal to depict my work, it was not really easy to use metal steel to beat it to shape for the human form. People are amazed at the work because they feel it is not possible to use mild steel. So, they think the mite was melted. It wasn’t, rather, it was weathered and I cut it, and then placed it bit by bit. For the female form, I needed to exaggerate forms and make it bigger.”

 

Passion for Sculpting

For Chukwu, the climax of his passion for sculpting began when he realised that mild steel could also be used as a medium to make sculptures. Although he had no technical knowledge on how to use the material, he was able to acquire the knowledge during his six months internship at Edorays Studios in Benin City. The internship brought him under the tutelage of a pioneer sculptor who uses metal to create sculptural pieces. 

On a personal level, Chukwu has invested a lot in honing his skill set in the sculpting business. During his time at the university, he gave full dedication to the course, studying the theoretical framework to understand the principles and elements of sculpture, compositions, possible mediums and other necessities. 

 

Sculptural Pieces

Since his foray into sculpting, Chukwu has been able to use mild steel to produce several sculptural pieces ranging from miniatures, to life size and above life size. However, he has a strong desire for making humongous sculptural pieces.

During his final year at the university, he sculpted a 21-foot above life size sculpture titled “21st century” as his project work. He used the work to depict the effects of technology on man. The work explains that technology which is created by man has become a threat to him, by substituting manpower with machines, thereby denying man of his place and financial earning. He has also produced a six-life sized sculpture at St. Clement Secondary School, Minna, , titled: “Education”.

At FEMA Schools, Minna, Chukwu made a humongous sculpture of the composition of books. At African cataract, an Optometry Hospital in Benin, he made a 13-feet tall sculptural piece titled: ‘No one should be needlessly blind.’ The sculpture is a composition of a blind man led by a little girl.

 

Generational Shift

Chukwu believes that there is no paradigm shift between old generation and new generation artists. His argument is that the relevance of the works done by the older generation artists has impacted the new generation, which is trying to emulate it but with a different approach.

In the area of remuneration for artists, he noted that the old generation artists worked so well that it brought them good fortune and recognition from government and clients from the Western world. However, he said their major aims were to establish institutions and centres for creative development, which they achieved because many artists are products of these old masters. 

According to him, “In recent times, the industry is growing drastically and there are lots of activities. Exhibitions are taking place in many cities across the country which is bringing to light the presence of professional artists and I believe the way art is being projected now by professionals, it would become the major export of the country in future. 

“Few parents or guardians would want their wards to venture into the field as a profession because they feel there would be little or no opportunity for them to make good fortune as compared to other professions. So parents advise children to choose other career options. I faced similar challenge in my choice of career; however I didn’t entertain any voice of discouragement. I finished as a science student in the Secondary School to keep hope alive that I would become a medical doctor in the future. But today, I am a professional artist, so public perceptions do not determine good success in the field and should not be a catalyst to drop the profession for anything. God gives the power to make wealth. And I believe there is need for diligence on the path of the professional artist.

“The contribution of Aina Onabolu to modern art has yielded great results. My colleagues and I have benefitted immensely. Art education is growing very well, however there is need to enforce new measures that would make us stand out which includes provision of equipment for work and equipping of art studios.”

 

Need for Government’s Collaboration 

Chukwu also believes that the art world needs government’s collaboration, especially in creating art institutes and universities. He said, “There is need for government to create specialised art universities in the country as is done internationally. We have the University of Art, London; Illinois Institute of Art, US; Malaysian Institute of Art, Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia and others. I believe this would help the growth of the profession.

“University of Benin did a lot for me, I am forever grateful to the institution. The lectures in the department of Fine and Applied Arts are exceptional. The department boosts of great teachers who are also professional artists, who played a part in helping me nurture my creative abilities.

“In a bid to encourage African artists, Mr. Chukwuemeka Benbosah patronised some of my metal works which went into the Benbosah Art Collections which I am forever grateful for. The works include, the fish seller, Otigba, the maiden amongst others and the most recent of them in his collection is Enenebejeolu (missing work because you are starring at the beauty and graciousness of a woman), which is also above life size.”