Onobrakpeya's Recycled Beautiful Machines.
In 'Beauty and the Machine', an ongoing show at Freedom Park, Lagos Island to commemorate the 60th anniversary of his debut solo exhibition, evidence of the artist's still active muse is on display as he ditches his traditional techniques and styles - bronzed lino relief, metal foil deep etching, plastocast relief and plastograph, for recycled art. In the show curated by Kenni Ekundayo, Onobrakpeya, whose Lagos home/studio is at Papa Ajao, close to Ladipo Market, makes a case for environmental protection and sustainability by using a variety of discarded materials to make large outdoor installations and indoor works totalling 32. Some of the discarded items he used to create interesting shapes and designs include motherboards and other computer parts, engines and automobile spare parts, iron, pipes, stainless steel and cloth. In the 'Guitar Series' comprising 'Four String Guitar', 'Three-String Farmer's Guitar', 'Seven-String Guitar' and 'Six-String Guitar', for instance, the 2017 recipient of the Nigerian National Order of Merit (NNOM) uses discarded bumpers, dashboards, motherboards and stainless-steel pipes to make realistic musical instruments. The beauty of the works is that each of the stainless steel which serves as guitar strings is also able to stand alone as artworks with timing chains and connecting rods as tips.
Baba Bruce, as he's fondly called, also makes a realistic beetle (Ofe in Urhobo language) with different components including dashboards, engine block, exhaust manifold and plugs. It's the same with 'Scorpion' made with discarded injector covers, AC covers, exhaust manifold and pipes. The giant outdoor sculptures also made with recycled materials are no less impressive with some like 'Guardian Angels' and 'Life in Ladipo Market' wowing viewers. In Onobrakpeya's old but firm hands, a crankshaft becomes 'Fountain of Progress' while a brake calliper topped by a carving becomes a 'Magic Flute'.
Impressively too, the artist infused in the exhibits some of the subjects that have come to form his principal artistic statements - traditional folklores and practices, trado-religious iconographies and ancestral culture. We see these in works like the 'Emekpeti Ona' (Box of Art) series, 'Oracle' and 'Panel of Lace Masquerade'.
At the exhibition's opening on Saturday, April 20, guests including the Ooni of Ife, Oba Adeyeye Enitan Ogunwusi, the filmmaker Femi Odugbemi, retired diplomat, Ayo Olukanni and photographer, Tam Fiofori, praised the artist for his ingenuity.
Oba Ogunwusi, who was represented by Asoju Asa of Yorubaland,Morohunranti Asabi, commended the Artist's creativity and pledged his continuous support for him. He later called in on the phone to apologise for his absence and give royal blessings.
Explaining the collaboration with Professor Onobrakpeya, Architect Theo Lawson, also called Chief Warder of the Freedom Park, disclosed that it arose from a visit to Agbarha-Otor in 2018. 'I was particularly fascinated by some huge almost sci-fi sculptures - 'Guardians', composed of car parts and other discarded bits of mechanical and electronic elements; I thought these would make an exciting addition to our sculpture garden at Freedom Park. As we discussed, the idea evolved into a full-fledged Bruce Onobrakpeya exhibition at Freedom Park. We are honoured to host an artist of this repute for the next three weeks, after which, if our juju/prayer catch, we may retain those giant pieces that led to this discussion.'
On the show's thematic focus, the curator, Ekundayo, said it 'aims to lend voice to the clamour on the importance of recycling as a means of climate change control and environmental sanitation, visible in the incorporation of these erstwhile worthless materials into embodying art, which not only improves upon the aesthetics of the environment but is beneficial to the economy's revenue growth. Professor Bruce OnobraWkpeya has, through the production of these exhibits, contributed to the important conversation on global warming solutioning through art. An up-close interaction with the exhibits relays to the viewer the 'great save' that has taken place through their artistic repurposing as most of these materials are non- biodegradable and are even more hazardous as waste, than as useful in their original states.' Also explaining his fascination with machines, Professor Onobrakpeya disclosed that it had been since childhood and that 'it probably explains my obsession with the use of computer motherboards and other engine parts to create a series of artworks inspired by the beauty of the Machine.'
He added that the childhood experience with a clock which attracted him to machines had 'lie buried in my mind for many years until it was awakened by a younger artist called Olu Amoda who introduced me to metal welding during the early sessions of the Harmattan Workshop series in Agbarha-Otor. My interest in engine scraps was again rekindled in the 2018 Harmattan Workshop session when I worked with Muraina Akeem and John Adenle. In group work, we combined plastic and metal scraps to create whimsical animals. After that, I found myself creating large open-air sculptures.'
Like he usually does, Onobrakpeya called for support for artists across the country, urging both corporate Nigeria and government to patronise them. His 'Beauty and the Machine' is at Freedom Park till May 10.