MKO Abiola, Gani Fawehinmi statues swell ‘failed’ Lagos public space art
Over the years, art works from Nigeria have enjoyed rave reviews and plaudits. However, quite worrisome is that recent public space sculptures from the country – Lagos State precisely – have cast doubts on its artistic valour.
Latest of such public space art currently generating debate are the recently unveiled MKO Abiola and Gani Fawehinmi statues mounted at Ojota-Ketu axis, a Lagos suburb.
In commemoration of the 25th anniversary of annulled June 12, 1993 Presidential election, Lagos State Governor, Mr Akinwunmi Ambode, had unveiled the statues to honour the assumed winner, the late Abiola, and the late activist, Fawehinmi.
After unveiling, the works have kept attracting attention and comments of artists, critics and non-art professionals alike. Most of the comments faulted the inability of the artist to capture MKO’s resemblance in the 37ft fibreglass sculpture.
Last year, a statue of the late Chief Obafemi Awolowo, mounted at Agidingbi Junction, Ikeja, equally attracted criticism for non-resemblance of the subject, poor aesthetics and lack of basic qualities expected of a public space art.
The Awolowo statue crisis actually came after critics also faulted about two of the many public space art erected by Lagos State as ‘plagiarised’ and lifted from Europe and Asia.
At the peak of criticism over public space art, Governor Ambode, in April last year, inaugurated the Lagos State Council for Arts and Culture board.
The board, which is chaired by artist, Polly Alakija, also has the prolific painter, Kolade Oshinowo; textile artist, Nike Davies-Okundaye; actress Joke Silva; and filmmaker, Kunle Afolayan and other professionals drawn from private and public sectors, is an advisory group to assist government articulate its tourism vision via arts and culture.
According to the governor, the board “has a huge responsibility to translate” the state’s vision of strong tourism “into reality.”
Over a year after the inauguration of the board, the experience and professional ability of the visual artists among members seemed missing in the choice of the artists that produced the MKO and Fawehinmi statues.
Interestingly, the new MKO statue was meant to ‘replace’ and ‘upgrade’ the former one done by sculptor, Bunmi Babatunde, in 2008, according to the Lagos State Ministry of Arts, Culture and Tourism.
Announcing a replacement for the two sculptures on its website last year, the Ministry stated: “The decision to upgrade the two statues was inspired by the inclination of Mr. Ambode for the arts and a desire to have bigger life-size statues of the two personalities.”
But it is a common knowledge in art that sculpture done in fibreglass is less resilient to hostile outdoor temperatures compared to that of bronze. The 2008 MKO statue, standing 9 ft., was produced in bronze, with almost faultless aesthetics and resemblance while the ‘upgraded’ 2018 version came in fibreglass, but in bigger size of questionable representation of the actual subject being depicted.
Apart from artists and critics, a non-art professional, Mrs. Tolani Edu, described the 2018 version of MKO statue as ‘caricature’.
Edu, who is an art collector and lawyer, said: “I think it’s a caricature. The face is far from Abiola’s. It was badly done.”
She advised, “the face must be restored with speed.” She also faulted the late Fawehinmi’s statue unveiled for the same June 12 anniversary. “Ditto for Gani’s statue too,” she said.
In fact, the MKO sculpture lacks the professional excellence that art from Nigeria is known for, the President of Society of Nigerian Artists (SNA), Oliver Enwonwu, stated. While Enwonwu, on behalf of SNA, ‘commended’ Gov Ambode “for his vision in not only beautifying the Lagos scape with public art, but also more importantly, employing these works to celebrate those who have contributed to Nigeria’s development,” he, however, faulted many of the sculptures done by Lagos State recently.
“Sadly, many of these works fall short of global standards in terms of quality, as well as processes and guidelines in their award and commissioning. Indeed among other issues, some have been executed by less than competent hands; are composed of poor quality materials that are not permanent; and have little bearing to the locales in which they are situated,” Enwonwu said.
Specifically, he picked holes in the newly unveiled MKO Abiola statue. “The sculpture of the respected businessman, politician and philanthropist, Chief MKO Abiola, presents an example. It pales in comparison to such technically accomplished works in Lagos like ‘Sango’ and ‘The Drummer’ at the headquarters of the Eko Electricity Distribution Company and Nigerian Telecommunications Limited, respectively. The Abiola sculpture also pales when compared to fine monuments erected around the world in honour of such great men. Indeed, it does little to represent the good intentions of the Lagos government and the lofty ideals of the late politician. Importantly, the work should have been produced from bronze, widely accepted for its monumentality and permanence. In addition, the work is poorly executed, failing in its proportions and anatomy. It’s semblance to Chief Abiola lies not more in the physical as should be but in the symbolism of the clothes and arms signaling his victory at the polls.”
Quite a number of observers also faulted the semblance, a basic essence of portrait or statue.
“The major problem of the statue is that it does not resemble Abiola,” art critic, Ekpo Udoma argued. “No matter the size of the work as long as it does not resemble the subject, the work has failed.”
Ideally, public space art projects go through competitive open process for selection of the best artist(s) to be chosen for the job. Perhaps, what is not known is whether that could be said of the process that brought Olurotimi Ajayi of Modupe Studio.
Did the advisory board make inputs into the making of the newly unveiled Abiola statue at MKO Garden, Ojota-Ketu?
“Not at all,” the chairperson of the board, Alakija, responded via whatsApp message.
Indeed, how active has the board been since its inauguration over one year ago?
Alakija promised to give details later. “I am out of town till June 28, please call me then.”
Other members of the board include, Mobee of Badagry, High Chief Patrick Yodenu Mobee; Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Education, Mr. Adesina Adeyemi; and Director of Culture, Lagos State Council for Arts and Culture, Mrs. Saidat Otulana.