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Popoola… Changing the metal metaphor narrative

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Like most young children, Dotun Popoola’s childhood was full of innovative thoughts and creative activities. His adventure into waste exploration began as a child, when he started crafting cars out of used milk and tomato tins. He equally built sand castles, made birds, airplanes and ships with waste papers, repurposed fluorescent bulbs as antennas to have clear images on television and others.

These creative adventures provided the basis for Popoola’s creative expressions in drawing, painting, sculpture and eclectic use of materials, tools, techniques and styles.

After years of experimenting, Dotun has put some of his works and experience in a book titled, Metal and Metaphor. It is a book on the voyage of Popoola into hybrid metal sculpture. It features an introduction by the editor, Moyo Okediji, four essays by art historians: Olusegun Fajuyidte, Kunle Filani, Kehinde Adepegba and Tolulope Sobowale, as chapters to the book. The book also features an autobiographical sketch of Popoola.

The four essays grapple with the dynamics of Popoola’s art and life as each writer maps an aspect of his imaginative journey from infancy to adulthood.

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The essays provide insightful readings of Popoola’s metal sculpture from structural and cultural perspectives. While they describe the welded metals as sculptures, they also acknowledge the painterly sensitivity of the surface treatments.

The enigmatic aspects of Popoola’s works, which words fully fail to capture, are projected through copious high quality images that run from the beginning of the book to the end. In general, the elusive character of his works that speaks to the present era, using familiar cultural allusions and sophisticated technical proficiency is recognised in the book.

The book also presents the ways in which Popoola addresses posterity, even more eloquently than his messages, and his surreptitious focus on possibilities and potentiality, rather than the crafty exterior probabilities. This outstanding book is a treasure of visual creativity and scholarship.

Speaking at the launch, the artist said, “I create a piece of work that have varieties of meaning in one piece so, the synergy is coming together of different objects, ferrous metal and nonferrous metal and cultural items.”

The title of this book, Metal and Metaphor, is away of using my work to convey a message, while the metaphor has to do with a coded message, which Yoruba call Aroko, so, most of my works are not just mare animal. “If I create a lion, I could call it Omo Ekun, using lion to represent human being, so, I have to dissect many cultural and technical terms, blend it together with the basic assemblage, so, that was what formed the title of the work.”

He said; “I love the work to appeal to even casual readers. This book is a compendium, brochure, catalog and research material, because we have scholarly write-ups in it. Four scholars did critical review in the book. For someone into academic, he will enjoy the book, for someone that just love a coffee table, he will enjoy the images, for someone that loves compendium, he will enjoy the history and the documentation in the book and for someone that loves a catalog who just like pictures, he will also enjoy it. On the issues being addressed in the book, he said; “one of the things the writers try to do in this book is to situate Dotun Popoola in contemporary Nigeria art history and to diagnose my work. They try to evaluate the anatomical excellence of the work, while another person focused on the zoomorphic representation of my work.

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“Each of my work has a coded message. There are works that make people to smile beyond limit so, my work gives hope; a lot of people surfers from depression but when they see my work, their hope is rekindled. A guy called me one day from the UK that he was about committing suicide but the message I wrote saved him, and the message was, ‘out of the broken pieces of your past, there can be an edifice of hope.

“I gave the scholars a blank canvass, I didn’t tell them what’s in my brain. I believe that an artist shouldn’t talk about his work; he should leave it for critics to do justice to that. For instance, Mr. Adepegba did a research to know my lineage, my lineage panegyric, chanting, and others. In the process, I got to discover that my forefather was a blacksmith, my grandfather was also into blacksmith and iron making, then my dad is a rewire, so there’s a connection but without the scholar, I wouldn’t know. There is a spiritual connectivity that the scholar was able to help bring out for me.”

He added, “this book will also encourage a lot of young contemporary artists, it will also help people to start documenting instead of waiting till they clock 60, it will also generate more scholarly review for scrap art. Most studio rats don’t have time publishing their works, they don’t even have time to take pictures, once they finished the job, they sell it but when I am done with my work I call my photographer and cinematographer to take the timeline from the beginning to end and put them online for people to learn how to do it, it’s away to also encourage recycling.”

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