Thursday, 29 September 2011

BEN OSAWE

Sculptor, Ben Osawe lives on
BY TAJUDEEN SOWOLE
(First published in August 2007)

Osawe's Queen Idia
RENOWNED and late Nigerian sculptor, Ben Osawe whose burial is scheduled for this week, Thursday August 2007 appears to have left an enduring legacy in his sculptural works.
  For the man to remain alive in our minds, a group of promoters are taking the leap to prevent the famous late sculptor’s works from going into oblivion.
  Such medium as art exhibitions, conferences, seminars and workshops, and most likely, a foundation in the name of the famous sculpttor are said to be in the plans of the promoters, Thought Pyramids: a Lagos-based group which claims it is working with the family of the deceased to immortalise him.
What character of sculptor was Osawe? A probe into his works revealed an artist who, at every point in time when he had to reproduce iconic themes, attempted to rewrite history; no matter how well known such theme is.
  Such objective position is found in one of Osawe’s legacy in his home town, Benin, Edo State. At the Benin High Court, stands the sculpture of that well known symbol of equity, a blindfolded woman called Ma’at and said to be an origin of ancient Egypt, but later adapted by the Greek. The image, which later carries a scale and called Themis, courtesy of the Greek is here, further modified by Osawe. 


One of Osawe's sculptures

  The late artist’s interpretation of that common image found in court rooms across the world cannot be depicted in the weaker sex, so the rendition in the metal work suggests. Introducing African perspective of male dominance, this iconic image, from the artist’s perspective should have been a man. So, Osawe gives us a figure that is clearly masculine- a thinner waist line and muscular torso. 
  In place of the sword, Osawe, a former lecturer at the Fine Art Department, University of Benin (UNIBEN), goes back to his Benin roots and places the native staff of office on the right hand of the figure, just as the scales too have some African identity.
  Also, the most famous face in black African heritage, the FESTAC mask, in the opinion of Osawe should wear a bolder look. The work at his studio in Ogida, Benin, made of cement has the eye lids of Queen Idia sternly piercing at you, unlike the original FESTAC piece of which has a slightly dropped gaze.
  Such quality of ingenuity may be a gold mine waiting for the promoters, Thought Pyramid in the post-humous sojourn with the artist. The relationship, they claim started ten years ago.
  And in the posession of Thoughts Pyramid, Ajueshie says are such other works of wood and metal, just as the promoters promised to ensure that works are constantly in the glare of the public. 
 Ajueshie likened the late sculptor to another demised and famous sculptor, Ben Enwonwu.
  "An artist of moral rectitude and genial constitution, he is certainly not marginal in the chronicle of the country’s visual arts, but the centrality of his personality, his art and its influence is an issue- one that will be argued in a colloquy- on his art."
  Since the 1960s, Osawe's works have been shown at many exhibitions in Europe, Africa and the U.S. In 1962 he took part in an exhibition of the Artists' International Association in London, and a year later some of his works were shown in the Royal Scottish Museum in Edinburgh. Since then he has taken part in exhibitions at major cities across the world: from Lagos to New York and New Delhi.

  His works adorn many public exhibitions and museums, including the National Gallery of Modern Art in Lagos and the cultural department of the Nigerian Ministry of Information.
  Born on August 26, 1931 into the tradition of carving, Osawe took to the instruction from his father – who at that time was a craftsman under Oba Eweka II of Benin – by going to London for 10 years, to study art. He started at the  School of Graphic Art for a year programm before proceeding for  a five-year study at the Camberwell School of Art at, all in the UK.
   Osawe started making impact outside the shores of his motherland when he  epresented Nigeria as one of the five Commonwealth artists selected for the 1965 Commonwealth Exhibition in Glasgow, U.K.
  He had major exhibitions at the Mbari Centre in Ibadan and Mainland Hotel Lagos, between 1967 and 1969 and later moved base from Lagos to Benin City in 1979.
  Osawe, before his death, once said of his movement to Benin: "In 1976, I decided to leave Lagos, where I lived and maintained a studio for about 10 years, to settle down permanently in
Benin city. This decision was brought about by my increasing inability to concentrate properly on my creative activity which was not unconnected to the hustle and bustle of Lagos."
 
"I must say that I am still experimenting with
the results of my research," he was quoted as saying.
And he never stopped researching until he released his last breath.
  As one the nation’s foremost sculptors, he would be remembered for his various researches, which resulted in the production of bronze / brass figures.
  He died on Wednesday, June 24, 2007 at the age of 76 in his Benin home residence.


Ben Osawe (1933-2009)

Evolution of my art, by Ben Osawe
 When I left Lagos, one thing was clearly uppermost in my
mind and this was the need to carry out a research into my art in the more peaceful atmosphere of Benin City with particular reference to the evolution of my art between 1966 when I returned from England and 1976 with the sole aim of determining the course of its future development.
  This research brought about an unconscious retreat from
Nigerian contemporary art scene for a period of 16 years, with the consequences that during this period I worked mainly on commissioned projects without doing much sculpturing.
This is not however to say that I was not working physically and mentally. For as long as I felt that I was still in retreat, I did not have the urge to exhibit like most of my contemporaries. Thus 1976 could rightly be regarded as the watershed in the evolution of my art.
  For as long as I remember I have always tried my hands on sculpture. My earliest memory was modeling in mud at the bank of the river Niger, in Onitsha. My father was a carver who had his training under Oba Eweka II, 1914 – 1933, thus my love for wood carving.
During my school days in London, 1956 – 1965, the hardwood medium which was very difficult to come by over there, was and is still my favourite medium today. Wood has its own distinctive character and for that reason I prefer carving wood in its natural form to carving a block of wood with regular shapes.
  When working on wood in its pure state, I merely finish what nature has started, I eliminated that which is unnecessary while accentuating the high points, thereby arriving at very simplified forms.  My favorite timbers are Ebony, Cam wood, Apa, Masonia and of course, Iroko. Each timber has its own beauty by the way of colour, grains and texture as well as its own peculiar carving technique.
  Whenever I receive an inspiration to do a wood sculpture, I first of all sketch it on paper and then select a piece of timber whose shape corresponds with the form of the inspiration I have and then proceed to sculpt.
  My inspirations are from various sources. It can be triggered off by the sound of the waves breaking on the beach or the gentle sound of a small waterfall of a rocky stream. I walk on the streets at night, visit nightclubs, market places or go for a drive on a lonely country road. These constitute the various sources of my inspirations.
An artist is continually experimenting, researching and
learning new techniques as long as he is working. For this reason my art has to be dynamic to be able to present the results of my researches and experiments, be it clay, wood or metal. My art reflect the various stages of my development. When I come across an earlier piece there is
always the tendency to search for flaws in it or the points that I failed to highlight and then proceed at once to correct the mistake or establish the highlight at the expense of whatever I may be working on.
  Each work of art, be it painting or a sculpture has a statement to make, thereby becoming the Artist's mouthpiece.

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