Diverse reactions have been trailing the statue of the late Chief Obafemi Awolowo that was unveiled by the Lagos State government on Tuesday last week. What is your impression of the statue?
Whoever thought of the size of that statue genuinely meant to honour Chief Awolowo and to give him the respect due to his place in Nigeria’s history, but I think enough care was not taken to ensure that the final job would be up to the mark. When you have commissioned an artist, you still would want to be sure that the representation provided is as close to the reality as possible. It’s called verisimilitude. The first impression I had when I saw it was that the artist (Hamza Atta) who did the statue either had not taken a very good look at the photograph he was given, or he wanted to be allowed to create, but with a statue, your creativity is constrained by what you want to represent and by what we know. Awolowo is taller than the person sitting down there, and you can feel it very quickly when you see the fellow. That was the first thing that hit me when I saw it and I thought if this man was standing, what would he look like? Public art is not to be done in a slapdash manner; it is a very serious business, because a statue is a means of galvanising consciousness. People who did not know the personage at the heart of that statue would want to feel that what they are seeing is what was. If there is any disruption from what the old reality was, it would also influence the way people look at that person, so, when you are representing a past for the future to embrace, there should be more care not to misrepresent. In this particular case, you needed to be very sure that all the gushing respect people have for Awolowo is actually what is being represented. I’m not sure that is what we have in this case.
Some people have complained about the agbada and the size of his shoes. Are you also dissatisfied with those details?
Frankly, that statue is not good enough. When Awolowo was campaigning, he hardly wore Agbada. He wore a Buba and Soro and a very simple pair of shoes, usually shoes that matched the dress. But, there was a way Awolowo looked when he wore Agbada; this one didn’t quite look like that. And then, to misrepresent his shoes was not good enough, because Awolowo was careful about his shoes. He could buy six pairs of the same type of shoes as long as they matched his clothes. Awolowo was always a well-dressed person. I mean you couldn’t have Dideolu (Awo’s late wife) as a wife and not be well dressed. In any case, for a man of Awolowo’s philosophical mind, he didn’t need to overdress and he didn’t need all that bogus shoes.
Some persons have also said the location of the statue is not good enough.
The environment in which you present a statue is also part of the statue itself. It is important that you provide an environment that gives credit to the job that you have done. That environment does not look, shall we say, as conducive as it ought to have been. If you look at the statue of Kwame Nkrumah in Ghana, you would have a feel of what I’m saying. I think it was time that somebody who really wishes to give Awolowo a good historical rendering should bid for an environment and do something that truly represents Chief Awolowo. So, for me, the location is not good at all. The location actually makes that sculpture look like an after-thought. Big as it is, it is very much an after-thought and it is in a wrong place. The environment you have there is crummy. It does not allow for the expansiveness of the Awo personality that we know and I believe that one day, somebody would do it right. Awo’s statue should compel you to look for the best artist and you would provide an environment that is celebrative.
Some persons said Awo was not the type to wear laced shoes, and not even with a native. Is that true?
I cannot remember ever seeing Awolowo with a laced shoe. I can’t remember, ever. No. I look back and I try to figure it out, but no, I couldn’t remember any such moment. And it’s not just about the kind of shoes, it’s also in relation to the rest of the body. That shoe is a bit overdone; too big. Like I said, public art is serious business, such that you build up a relationship with your subject so that you know that subject so well that you cannot misrepresent it. Those who have claimed that the artist lacked, shall we say, cultural empathy, are right in that sense, because there is something that is simply not there. Anybody who saw the most famous sculpture in Lagos, Sango (god of thunder and lightning), then in front of the old NEPA building would have no reason to doubt that Sango may have actually looked like that. It had charisma of a very special kind and it was done by Ben Enwonwu, which means he was a genuine artist. And it is interesting that an Igbo person did that statue of Sango. The statue of Queen Elizabeth that he also did had a quality nobody can dispute. It was a superb representation. It’s important that artists on their own go out of their way to emboss art over politics and whatever non-aesthetic consideration there may be. I mean reading current politics into a work of art is not good enough. It is better to represent that work well. I think it’s unhistorical and misrepresentative to leave it the way it is.
Are you implying that the statue should be rebuilt?
I don’t think it is good the way it is, and it is too bold an effort not to be done well. Whoever did it had a great feeling, but that artwork is not a representative of a great feeling. Therefore, it does need to be redone. If they don’t do that, it’s like teaching students wrong history because when you look at it, what you see is not the history. It’s like an interpretation, and for a sculpture in a public space, an interpretation can be very wild, and you don’t want a wild interpretation of a figure so central to our history. It is better that they do something about it. It is not only that they should do another one or try to correct what many people are talking about, although I think it is very difficult to correct, they should look for a way to build an Awo statue in an environment, an ambience that is truly done to celebrate the man. You want to do anything, do it right. If there is another artist who wishes to have a go at it, he or she should have the patience to study the man well, ask questions and get it right. Ambode, obviously, has made a very big try. He obviously wanted to do something out of the ordinary, and if you want to do that, you need to take special care. I think by now, Lagos State should have a proper public art policy, which requires more than just the award of a contract, it should also involve a process of crosschecking and ensuring that what is provided is good enough for public consumption. I’ve seen many public artworks, and it would seem some people just think if you have a friend and you want to help him to make money, you give him a job, but you create eyesores all over the place and it is not fair. I heard somebody bragging that nothing would be done about it. Fine. Another person would still do a proper sculpture that would make the other one look like something for the garbage. I think an effort should be made to do it right. Awolowo is too central to our folk history not to be treated well in a public sculpture. It’s the artist who loses by putting up a work that would always be negatively perceived or addressed. I mean, it is not nice. Very many school children would go to that statue and say, ‘they say the shoe is too big, let us go and look at it,’ as a joke. When you want to remember what Awolowo was really like, you would want to go and look at the statue. There is something about art that gives itself charisma, because it is even more representative than the reality. If your work is not that way, no, it does injustice to art itself, when it cannot represent reality enough.
The artist said he made the statue a sitting one so as to portray a thinking Awo, but some people have criticised that as well. What is your view on that?
A man who is doing serious thinking won’t appear like that. No. Your limbs would be free, not folded or crossed; he wouldn’t wear a cap while thinking and he would have looked relaxed. That is not a thinking posture. He’s like a man asked to say ‘cheese’ (laughs). In any case, you don’t present a public figure in that manner; you present him as a public figure that he was. A true Awo statue must be a standing one, and with the V-sign. I don’t want to do a critique of that statue because that is what you are trying to make me do.
Why don’t you want to do it?
Let another artist do a good job. The best critic of a work of art is another work of art; it’s not your criticism. It could count but you could have a representation which would be up to the mark that you forget all the oddities you found in the other one. This man has done the job and he doesn’t think there is any need to improve on it. Somebody else would have to do another one day and I don’t think it is fair to Ambode to be remembered as the man who did a bad Awo statue. But, like I said, an artist requires a certain level of absorbing himself into the personality he wants to represent. Even if the artist did not know Awolowo at all, he could still present a perfect picture, after all Ben Enwonwu did not know Sango, but he did a job that you could be proud of anywhere. That job is solid. People would stand in front of that statue and greet Obakoso (Sango). To produce a correct Awo, he needed to have looked at several Awos, in terms of his pictures, moving images, etc. There must be at least five people in the world today who knew him enough. I would not have considered myself good enough for that, but I would have considered (Dr.) Tokunbo Awolowo-Dosunmu a very proper assessor. She’s Awolowo’s youngest daughter and there is a sense in which the children have a way o f knowing their parents in a way no other people can. There are some grandchildren who would remember him very well, and there are people who would look at him and say that is not our leader. Somebody like Ayo Adebanjo could just have been invited. You needed people who would be assessors of the work before it became public. It’s not as if an artist cannot create, but the creativity must fall within a certain range of acceptability. You don’t impose what was not there in order to prove that you are creative. No, I don’t think it is a fair deal. To say that a sculpture is not a photograph, no, a sculpture should actually be better than a photograph, because it is multi-dimensional. The attempt to use a photograph as the basis for comparison is just a cop-out; it’s not worth it.
Which of Awo’s statues would you describe as the best?
Until that one at Allen, all the other statues were like deliberate attempts to downgrade or degrade the man’s personality. What they did in Ibadan was not good enough and somebody decided to smash it. The worst is the one at Ikenne, his town. They did one which was hopeless; they did another one which is worse. It was not good at all and it’s still there in its ugly misrepresentation. They did one at Allen Roundabout, which failed and they produced another one which was very good and very representative of the Awolowo we know. Frankly, it was as if there was a deliberate attempt to downgrade Awolowo in public esteem, in all I had seen. Even if they remove Awolowo’s photograph from the currency, it doesn’t matter, the truth is that the job Awolowo did cannot be erased and we were all lucky he wrote great books on how to run a country. There are a lot of people who look at the new statue and say ‘at least we have something on Awolowo,’ but it is not enough to have something on Awolowo. Odumakin got it right when he said if it is not Awo, it is not Awo. You know why there has been no biography of Awolowo? Nobody wants to get it wrong, and you want to get it so right that you do not deceive or disappoint history and you don’t do the job for the next day’s headline but as something meant to last. Awo’s statue should have been done in a way that the artwork itself becomes a measure of history. Getting it right is part of what this business is all about. Go back to my Ben Enwonwu; if you have anything better than Sango, show it. That is a wonderful sculpture, very well done, such that the original Sango may not even be as sweet-looking.
Would you say the Nigerian state has honoured him enough?
No, Nigeria can never honour Awolowo enough until somebody manages to outclass him in the clarity and wholesomeness of thought and political action. People are generally frightened of Awolowo because he made an unusual demand of the political environment in general. Unusually in the sense that he built a picture of a future which was better than yesterday and which must be better than today. The man who was generally accused of being tribalistic was the man we would remember for giving us a constitutional profile that requires only one person to run across the whole country as one constituency and be president. No true tribalist would want to produce that kind of picture for the country. Awolowo used to brag that he never made a promise in public life that he never fulfilled. I don’t know how many politicians can say that. In fact, today, people take great pride in not fulfilling promises, thinking it shows that they are smart, and that is the country that would put the wrong statue of a man in public. Awolowo wanted to be a leader who made good things happen where good things were not happening. Like I said, there seems to have been a very strong pursuit to downgrade or degrade Awolowo’s place in public life, but each effort that had been made ran into trouble, or why else would you want to misrepresent a great man to the public. You look around today and you know that from the day they started trying to destroy what Awolowo did, they were destroying Nigeria’s capacity for survival, and I don’t know when it will end until we return to where Awolowo said we should take off from. Give your people good education. There is no escape from it if you want to be a developed country. Maybe it is actually when we get there that somebody would have the will and brains, if you wish, to produce a proper statue. Regardless, Awolowo doesn’t need a statue to be a big man; he’s too big. The only people who would have tried to compete with him have been defeated by history. THINK YOUR FRIEND WOULD BE INTRESTED? SHARE THIS STORY USING ANY OF THE SHARE BUTTON BELOW ⬇ PLACE YOUR TEXT ADVERT BELOW:>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>