Two Works of Nigerian Modern Art by Pamela Jones
Metal sculpture is an
important element of contemporary Nigerian art practice.
Though never as significant in terms of numbers, metal work draws on a rich
history of lost wax casting in bronze or brass, work in silver and gold, as well as forged
ironwork. Before I began my research,
observation played the key role in assessing and describing two modern pieces in the
The second work consists of multiple pieces, notably three male figures each riding a bicycle. They are wearing either a cloth or straw hat, again to keep the sun out. For their clothing, they seem to be wearing over-sized shirts with long shorts. As for the bicycles, they are old-fashioned models with jugs tied on the backs.
These three are what we call wine tappers. During the day they tap palm trees for wine, and in the evening they transport it in the jugs on the backs of their bikes to the market where they can sell it. These three are a mirror image of what the bikers look like as they make their long journey home. For one reason or another, they always ride in groups of three. As they ride home they talk about the issues in their lives and anything else involving their world. They use the ride home as a time for reflection, to receive insight, and to share advice with one another. (Emil Igwenago).
The group of bicyclists are more three-dimensional figures. Like the first figure, they are made from a tarnished metal (steel). However, the artist has used materials other than metal to complete the figures, such as jugs made from gourds tied onto the back of the bikes by rope. The male figures have a rough texture from head to toe with the exception of smooth arms and head. As for their bodies they seem to be in proportion except for a skinny neck and small feet. As for the bike, it is proportionate in relation to itself and the body it supports.
information known about these two figures I discovered by interviewing their owner, Emil
Igwenagu, who acquired them through people in
previously described art pieces are classified as modern Nigerian art for other reasons
than their being made in the 20th century.
the late 19th century to the early 20th century, Europeans made a
point to teach their artistic techniques to Africans.
Back then and more so today, there are schools in
Contemporary Nigerian art does include modern art, but that is only part of it. Contemporary art actually describes the production of all Nigerian artists that are alive today. Some may be creating modern art while others are still making traditional art. Whatever their creation, it is considered contemporary Nigerian art.
before, Europeans came to
Today, it is much harder to tell the difference between the two because most
Nigerian modern art can be compared to the arts of
different cultures in various African countries. Even
though most African countries generally follow the same modern genre as
Looking at other artwork published in books, we can see how these particular modern Nigerian art pieces compare with others. The artist Anatsui is a ceramic sculptor. Previously he made wooden wall plaques. He carved and burned linear patterns into them (59). Subsequent to his practice with fired clay in the 1980s, he introduced the power-saw and blowtorch as carving tools (59). For him, he now made composite panels that bore the ravaging marks of the saw and the scorch of the flame. The saw and the fire now became metaphors for slavery and colonialism, while the victimsthe wood panelssymbolized the many African peoples who share a collective cultural devastation (59). Today, such art pieces as those previously mentioned are welded with a blowtorch. However, they may not have the same significance as Anatsuis art does, but they are relevant and important indicators of the artists culture. Nigerian art is like a window into their culture.
Modern arts convey as much cultural meaning as do traditional artworks. Taking a closer look, one sees culture being expressed in each and every piece. The male figure is telling the story of the Fulani nomads who traveled from the north down, wandering from country to country with their cattle. As for the figures on their bicycles, they tell the life story of palm tree tappers going about their work of wine making. It is amazing how one object can tell a large part of a cultures history; it is just a matter of interpreting it correctly.
African artists rarely get recognized for their work. Artists continually change their interests, attitudes and techniques as directed by their individual enquiries into the nature and essence of art, or due to associative influence from other artists (73). Each artist learned his or her style from a previous artist. That is why African art is appreciated more today, because contemporary artists have learned from past artists and are making there own redefined style work in todays artistic arena.
The making of art is a continually evolving process; each artist injects his/her individualism into a work and refines traditional forms rather than abandoning them. Modern Nigerian art also subscribes to this process. The metal sculptures use a modern medium and tell a story about everyday life, rather than depicting symbolic values. Thus modern Nigerian artists retain ties to their past, by using various cultural themes.
Okeke, Chika. The Quest: from
3. Igwenago, Emil. Nigerian art. Interview. 2004