Prof. Chike Aniakor
Tony Akudinobi is a versatile sculptor who understands the hidden-creative potentials of his primary medium, wood. He carves wood with the imaginative impulse of a weaverbird. As a cultural archivist and (a cultural) entrepreneur, he has explored the vast resources of his cultural homeland for his art. He has done so through his cultivated mastery of proverbs and oral narratives, art lore as an incarnation of that cultural wisdom that invests art with its seamless imageries. Most of his sculptural themes are driven from Igbo oral lore. From them, he has defined the cultural spaces and meanings for his sculptures. He has immense love and empathy for the Nigerian culture, particularly, his Igbo culture. They provide him with the creative and cultural platform for the creative berthing of his inventive sculptures. He uses cultural norms and practices as a template for his creative exploration into modernity. In his sculptures, modernity engages tradition in a creative dialogue. These have led to new discoveries and transformations in his sculptural production. His sculptures are diverse and are a product of new explorative technologies. Like Chinua Achebe, he believes that a man must know where the rain began to beat him, while at the same time, embracing the creative resources of modernity. This is reflected in his industrially based carving tools. He explores their potentials in engaging and transforming several levels of cultural, social and economic connectivities into works of art. He is a master of his creative spaces: local, national and global. His sculptures may be produced at the local site of his creative industry, but he knows quite fully well that they are potent as signal of self-empowerment and cultural entrepreneurship. For him, art is a tool in the search economic nationalism. In a condition of economic uncertainty, the driven by the urgency of economic diversification, his art provides an ample fodder from which to beat back the shadows of economic downturn. In this setting, the resources of his art can be harnessed as one of the most variable options in the reinvention of a national economy. My advocacy is that the art industry provides a highly productive terrain. Government ought to harness this because works of art represents hidden economic treasures, already fully exploited by the West, particularly the United States of America, as they steer the world in the ship of late capitalism, while constructing the other. Tony Akudin Obi’s art provides an economic counter narrative to the west and the potential of art in income generation especially at a fertile level of artistic production.
His sculptures are good indicators of the interface between cultural production and the politics of economic revival and regeneration. He has a range of sculptures that simulate traditional chairs and tables with a keen eye for their surface effects, technical management and the strategic use of indigenous patterns. His mastery of indigenous sculpture iconography is shown in his visually engaging sculptures, original and eventful. The aesthetic merits of his sculptures define a commanding presence in any global setting such as art fairs, economic and cultural exchanges, and even, in international trade fairs. His works represent a creative domestication of our cultural treasures in a modern economic environment. They are products of creative mastery. Their visual idioms speak across cultural boundaries. This is why they can serve as economic bridges because they rise from a local cultural/national site and across global art boundaries. They engage the world with the stridency of their visual qualities
The sculptor has created a body of works that are enticing and delightful, from his mixed media furniture’s to a variety of stools, thrones and other abstract works that celebrate art as an aesthetic event. Their surfaces explore textile art, found objects; combine carving with stitching in the mixed media orientation. His understanding of the metal medium lies in his manipulation of positive and negative spaces, especially his linearism. These are quite enchanting. He celebrates functions in his works yet he transcends them to ignite the aesthetic. These are innovative statements from his cultural site. For him art can serve the ways of functions but soon transcended them. The works can at best be described as creative invocations to culture, their source of origin and from which they define their autonomous aesthetic spaces and through which the sculptor challenges us with works of art par excellence. They can easily find new homes as part of collections in western galleries and museums, even while the elites can purchase them as symbols of cultural interchange in a globalized world. His works betray a sculptor’s intellectual and creative insights in his media versatility, good technical handling and his gift of sculptural forms that define the changing boundaries of modernity only to interconnect the postmodern aesthetics of art and its sematic possibilities and variations. He tells us about the richness of our cultural homeland and the potentials that they offer for reconnecting the modern world. The triumph of his works lies in his creative harnessing of the epigrammatic qualities of proverbs, myths and other oral resources. In this sense, his works constitute visual/verbal metaphors of the past, present and future. They emerge in the fullness of their visual cadence, aesthetic merits and with an elusive beauty as if they are sculptural bodies with enthralling ornaments. They are at once poetic imageries driven by a mythic imagination in search of cognate metaphors of culture, change as they engage modernity as a kindred spirit.
SOME SAMPLING OF HIS WORKS
One of his works, ‘OSINIME’, is a stylized carved seat clothed with striated abstract patterns; a proximate simulation of Igbo carved doors and title stools. Forcefully abstract, it is sturdy without losing the sculptural energy that gives it aesthetic life. In its visual coding, the sculptor writes,
“Still each ocean flows into the vastness of all life.
At the end tattered boats and paddles
float away after serving their purposes.
The drama plays on for the
flowers on the shores
for each must set sail at dawn
For him, a sculpture piece, static and immobile, delights with its alluring beauty. What is static is simultaneously in aesthetic motion, as motion begets motion. Borne on the stream of these motions, we crises cross both old and new boundaries of meanings. A solid object, a piece of sculpture is dematerialized and yields hidden secrets of the human condition, nay experience.
In another sculpture, UKO OKANGA (The Coven), the sculptor again in tones,
“From Nostradamus to the
cave of the ancients
…what to be may
have since become in
the wombs of time.
From the sculptor’s wombs of time, he has produced five deftly carved thrones in wood, with anthropomorphic hints as to their forms and ornate surfaces, including others that vary in their qualities of organism. They face a central table on top of which is a fan. The thrones have become icons themselves since they no longer symbolize. They have become that which they already symbolized. As symbols, they have incarnated into visual icons, as spiritual avatars on the side of eternal shadows. As material objects, they have transformed their external identities into spiritual bodies. In this way, sculptor has shown his capacity for transforming material objects into extra-spiritual phenomena; given a voice that speaks of the nether world where reality is a narrative beyond immediate knowledge, the mystery of the eternal present, and of art as a metaphor, a tool of myth making and recovery even within the shadows of a cosmos that defines as it erases. The work, OTAGBURUAGU, is an abstract furniture draped with the music of fabric surfaces and exudes a self confidence that easiest earns it unique status in any regal space. Symmetric and asymmetric designs are strategically deployed to achieve a compelling aesthetic statement. The furniture is ultimately a mixed media presentation that is rare in modern furniture art. For him, producing furniture is like music making. The production constituents of solid wood, pure cow hide leather (seat) and hand-woven akwete cloths may pose their technical problems. The sculptor, however, knows how to constitute them into a new creative partnership. This house furniture shares various editions and varies in their aesthetic energy. In deploying a variety of materials, whether woven cloths, raffia, modern fabrics, etc., the sculptor elevates his stools, chairs, furniture and other works to a high level of creative inventiveness in their material/production base. His abstract stools are innovative openwork abstractions in wood. They are no longer seats. But works of art in their aesthetic sufficiency, especially in the blending of form, space and textures. They define shifting boundaries of form within cultural frames and historical time. His sculptures interrogate our unstable and ever-shifting locations in the Nigerian project while providing us with a clear anchor in the stability of art, its capacity to induce a futuristic version in our national life.
The time is now right to support a large scale production of his works on a national support base. Our art cultural industries should provide a platform for new dimensions of economic diversification in a mono-economic environment. I endorse the sculptor’s creative versatility. I endorse his sculptural idioms. I endorse their aesthetic merits as well as their self-sufficient integrity. These works are collectables in any global art markets.
Prof. Chike Aniakor, Cross River University of Technology, Calabar.