“I make sculptures depending on what I want to create,” This is a summation fromVeronica Otigbo-Ekpei, sculptor extraordinaire.
She not only sculpts, she also paint with equal skill and gusto. Most of her ideas, she said, are new but based on ancient tradition and the Benin culture.
Her love for her art is strongly impressed on her surrounded. “My home is like a mini museum,” she declared. “The first thing you see (and it strikes you), stepping into my compound is the large volume of art work.”
Indeed, sculptural pieces littered everywhere. The living room. Kitchen. Corridor. Even in the toilet.
“People who don’t value art see you as an ungodly person because they cannot understand the aesthetic in it,” she said.
Otigbo-Ekpei grew up the daughter of a police officer, but her talent was innate and the barracks space helpful. “There I had all the space to practice what you see today,” she recalled.
Her first art teacher was a comic magazine. “I read that magazine as a child and it aroused my interest. I started sketching and mimicking the characters in my drawings. The magazine taught me a lot about artwork and the different creative methods which today I employ in the making of sculptures.”
After her training as a teacher at the Lagos State College of Education (now Adeniran Ogunsanya College of Education) Ijanikin, her muse, hitherto cooped like a genie in the bottled, found a release.
Her recount: “I went for an exhibition at the National Theatre, Iganmu. There, I saw various artists working. Some had finished installation; others were still busy on their creations. Their level of creativity, passion and dexterity fascinated me. I showed keen interest in a particular artist’s work. And I quickly joined her. From that day, I began to work with wood.”
She took her interest further. “I went back to school, to study creative arts at the University of Lagos, in order to balance my talent with academics.”
Otigbo-Ekpei is the brain behind the Igunnoko cultural heritage artwork at Bariga bus stop.
“The idea started when Lagos State was celebrating 50 years and I sent in a proposal which coincided with the state government’s initiative to give Lagos a new look using art. Luckily, I was commissioned alongside other artists with their various concepts.”
Of the Bariga artwork, she said: “I was inspired to do a traditional sculpture adopted from Niger State by the Yoruba. My aim was to transform solid material into something lively and emotional with proportion and posture. As I speak, the Igunnoko sculpture is at Bariga promoting our rich cultural heritage for the younger generation to have a fill of what is gradually fading away.”
Every fine artwork, according to her, is shaped by untold pain. “I used to have blisters, but now I don’t. I was trained on how I can dip my hands in hot water and then leave it for a while, that was how I stop having blisters.
In a parallel world, she would have been an architect.
“Art and architecture are inter-related. I started building for commercial purposes at a young age but sculpturing was my driving force. The gain in sculpting is my ability to use my works to teach morals, educate, enlighten and entertain people in the society.”
Years of work as a sculptor taught her the virtue of patience, she claimed. “I have become more patient after years of making sculptures which require quite some time to finish. The formation of most wood sculptures involves a lot. The process is time-consuming and larger works demands more time. You handle sculptural work with care.”
Sculpturing, she said, requires huge investment.
“Sculpture is a money guzzler. There has to be also a physical recovery time after creating a large heavy sculpture. Secondly, exhibiting work is difficult because sculptures are mostly large and heavy and the cost to transport this physical work and install them is at times colossal.”
Finally, her concern and plea to society: “Sculptors are not ungodly or fetish because of the type of work we do. People should change their attitude toward us. They should appreciate and buy our works. We need to be encouraged so we can continue displaying our rich cultural heritage, using our talent in woodwork.”