Leading Nigerian Sculptors make Metallic Statements with ‘AJORIN’

Yinka Olatunbosun
Five leading welded metal artists in Lagos are gearing up for a group show that could change the public image of metal artists, turn their metals into compelling bank statements and inspire a younger generation of artists to make an enviable career in metal sculptures. This collective – consisting of Adeola Balogun, Fidelis Odogwu, Steve Ekpenisi, Collins Abinoro Akporode and Dotun Popoola – will be exhibiting a body of contemporary welded metal works, the first of its kind, at the Thought Pyramid Art Centre, Ikoyi from Monday, December 7 to Sunday, December 20.

The news of this unprecedented show was unravelled at a press briefing last weekend with a few of the artists recounting how the history-making show was created. Titled, Ajorin: Dancemetalphor, this show is first aimed at reorientating the public about metal sculpting which has been confused with roadside welding. Unlike the regular artisans, metal artists are professionals who intentionally tell stories, send messages or change perspectives with their metal works. For this exhibition, 20 works that articulate the thoughts of individual artists will be showcased in an ambience that is Covid-19 compliant. The gallery has an electric hand sanitiser alongside its strict “no mask, no entry” rule.
The curator, Ovie Omatsola expressed his optimism for this maiden edition of the exhibition sponsored by Elegance Gallery, Nigeria Machine Tools and VBANK.

“Ajorin; Dancemetalphor should be seen as a proactive response to purify the reputation and future of this remarkable sub-genre,” he said. “The theme, Ajorin aims at spurring you to not just look but see the metal sculptures as rhythmic melodies rather than outcomes of a loud disturbing and unpleasant welding process.”

Balogun, who combines his academic career at his alma mater, Yaba College of Technology with consistent studio work and international exhibitions recounted how the sound of his metal welding almost caused a rift between him and his landlord. Eventually, the landlord came to appreciate the beauty of the finished artwork and subsequently gave him a better space to work. Inspired by the drum culture, Balogun appropriates naira coins, electronic panel in his series of life-size pieces. His famous works in public spaces include the Obafemi Awolowo (19ft) statue, at Allen round-about, Ikeja, Funso Williams bronze statue (18ft), at Western Avenue round-about, Sir John Glover and Madam Tinubu’s bronze busts, at the foyer of Union Bank building in Marina, Lagos.

Resilience was what Ekpenisi learnt a long time ago before the pandemic struck. After graduating with distinction from the Federal Polytechnic, Auchi, he proceeded to showcase his metal works at eight solo exhibitions but never sold a piece. That could have plunged him into depression or total discouragement. But, he remain dogged until he made his first break. “I don’t sell small art,” he once told a customer who was oblivious of the life-size nature of his works. Beating metal makes melody to his ears and he wouldn’t trade his career for anything. His works are often influenced by socio-economic realities, political challenges, rich traditions and diverse beauty.

For Popoola who turns scrap metals into sculptures, his works had turned heads at big shows such as Art X Lagos and other international spots. Having groomed his turf at Auchi Polytechnic and Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife , his sculptures usually in animal forms have become his signature pieces. His horizon was further broadened as resident artist at John Lopez Studios Lemmon, South Dakota where he completed a residency-training in hybrid sculptures.

One of the best-selling metal artists from Nigeria is yet another alumnus of Auchi Polytechnic, Fidelis Odogwu Eze. Fondly called “The King of Metals”, he is regarded as one of Nigeria’s leading post-civil war and contemporary sculptors. A teacher and renowned consultant, his works are top picks in world-famous auction houses.

With stainless steel cutlery, fiber-glass and bronze, Collins has defined his style and knack for creative freedom. With birds as recurring motifs in his metallic pieces, this high-flying graduate of Auchi Polytechnic has delved into the subject matters of love, nature and social issues. His preoccupation with found objects is also a way of recycling objects to preserve the earth.

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