Rite of Passage
A found-object sculptural musing on two plays:
Ruined by Lynn Nottage and Death and the King’s Horseman by Wole Soyinka
June 23 – October 1, 2022
Skoto Gallery is pleased to present “Rite of Passage”, an exhibition of welded steel and mixed media sculptures by the Nigerian-born sculptor Olu Amoda. This will be his third solo exhibition at the gallery. The reception is on Thursday, June 23, 6-8pm.
Over the last three decades Olu Amoda’s work continues his rigorous exploration of an independent system of thinking in art-making and design principles that consciously strike a balance between material, form and technique. A prolific artist with a varied and dynamic oeuvre that include sculptures, furniture design, murals and multimedia installations, he has consistently demonstrated an uncanny ability to focus on a given theme and generate a cohesive and vigorous body of work, a veritable product of intense and deep reflection.
Characterized by an open, process-oriented form of engagement that explore what it means to be an artist working with the public in a globalized world, and what makes a relevant socially engaged practice, the body of work in Rite of Passage consist of sculptural musings by Olu Amoda on two significant plays – “Ruined” by the American playwright and Pulitzer Prize Winner Lynn Nottage and “Death and the King’s Horseman” by the Nigerian playwright and Nobel Laureate Wole Soyinka.
Lynn Nottage’s Ruined (premiered 2008, Chicago, USA) is set in a seedy bar in a small mining town close by a rainforest in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Congolese government soldiers and rebels broken into factions all patronize Mama Nadi’s bar and her “girls,” the women contracted to her because they were run out of their own families after kidnapping and repeated
savage rape by one of the warring parties. savage rape by one of the warring parties. All have been psychologically damaged by their experiences, but they usually try to support one another within their current confinement in Mama Nadi’s bar. Wole Soyinka’s Death and the King’s Horseman (premiered 1975, Ile-Ife, Nigeria) based on an actual incident that took place in Nigeria in 1946, explores the cultural conflicts between Yoruba traditions and western colonialism during that period. Ritualism in Yoruba traditions becomes the focus of that conflict when Elesin, the king’s horseman, must kill himself the night before the king’s funeral so that he may accompany the king into death. The conflict occurs when the colonial District Officer tries to prevent the ritual killing from taking place. The play is replete with lyrical poetry of great beauty, unforgettable characters, dance, weighty philosophical issues and humor.
Replacing the actors with sculptures made from repurposed metal objects and forge off-cuts/off-runs, Olu Amoda has created an interpretation of both plays that delivers an emotional impact that is perhaps, true to the intent of both playwrights. By imaginatively handling of his material within a formalist sculptural framework, and an awareness that major traditional forms of African sculpture contained the basic tenets of universal sculpture tradition, he has created a compelling and significant sculptural ensemble that extend the range of sculpture as expressive poetry. A master in the transformation of objects found from the detritus of consumer culture, he skillfully interweave texture, tonalities and a rigorous compositional organization with a deep understanding of myths and cultural knowledge in local contexts to create a multifaceted body of work that speaks to the collective consciousness of modern Africa. There is value for spontaneity and improvisation, and they offer us a more intimate and dynamic engagement that belies the materiality of his chosen medium.
Olu Amoda Amoda was born 1959 in Okere, Warri, Delta State of Nigeria He obtained an HND in Sculpture from Auchi Polytechnic, Nigeria and an MFA (Sculpture) from Georgia Southern University, Statesboro, Ga. He was a faculty member in the sculpture department at Yaba College of Technology, Lagos from 1987-2019, and has maintained an active studio practice since the 1980s. He is a well traveled artist and has participated in several exhibitions including the Victoria and Albert Museum, London; the Museum of Art and Design, New York, Didi Museum, Lagos, Nigeria among others. He is in several collections including the Newark Museum, New Jersey, USA; Sindika Dokolo Collection, Luanda, Angola and Fondation Blachere, Apt, France has executed numerous public and private commissions in Africa, Europe, Asia and the Americas. A co-winner of the 2014 Grand Prix Leopold Sedar Senghor Prize at the 11th Dak’Art Biennial of Contemporary African Art, Dakar, Senegal, he presently lives and works in Lagos, Nigeria and Atlanta, USA.
One body of work musing on two plays, Ruined by Lynn Nottage and Death and the King’s Horsemanby Wole Soyinka
I had seen the play Death and the King’s Horseman several times in Lagos; however, when we were all forced by Covid-19 to shelter in place, the World Wide Web became in a very real sense our window to view history and current events as they happened.
During one of my web searches, I stumbled, in the online archive of the Guardian, on a review written in 2010 by the columnist, Michael Billington, on the play Ruined by Lynn Nottage. This review would further strengthen my discourse on the impact of occupation on the occupied, while my 2008-2009 musings on Death and the King’s Horseman resolved into my sculpture ensemble, ‘Rite of Passage’. Many people who have seen Ruined may not know the Democratic Republic of Congo, but only have to rely on the skills of the actors who try to paint a vivid picture of what takes place in Mama Nadi’s bar, a microcosm of the DRC and of the war-ravaged world we all live in. I used the same strategy in the ensemble of repurposed objects in the 49 sculptures, where found objects are cast as characters trying to interpret the play Death and the King’s Horseman. The energies are palpable in the poses of the actors in the online still photos from the play Ruined, and their postures remind me of the market women’s revolt in Death and the King’s Horseman.
Mama Nadi and Iyaloja are compelling individuals who embody the collective consciousness of what Europe’s occupying forces unleashed on African societies during colonialism. Various objects are repurposed in ‘Rite of Passage’ to reflect the characters’ mannerisms in the play. At the same time, it was purely a therapeutic journey of self-examination as a sculptor, in the case of Ruined. I enjoyed the generosity of a good friend who runs a blacksmith shop in Alpharetta in Milton County in Georgia. My one-hour daily drive after school runs to start the therapeutic process of engaging my mind was expended on counting the number of traffic lights along the way, making sure I drove within speed limits, observing the police cars and the trees. It was not a warzone atmosphere, but it sometimes felt like one, as I compared what was going on in Mama Nadi’s bar with the BLM movement, Covid -19, the white supremacist problem, gun violence, inflation, currency devaluation, and other domestic challenges.
Most of the sculptures are made from offcuts and off runs from Dillon’s Forge and Karl’s Livingstone Fabrication Shop. Unlike the sculpture ensemble of ‘Rite of Passage’, I used the square profiles to sculpt the male figures and the circular for the females. If the specific sculpture is material-driven, I combine such material to accentuate the drapery of the character. To distinguish the military and local militia from regular male suitors, the occupying soldier’s figurines are texturized with the use of plasma-cut, and the non-texturized is used for the non-military characters in the play. I ignore the conventional approach of keeping mild steel from stainless steel instead I combine them if the form speaks to me materially. The general rule for sculpture composition to be compact is not applied in the composition of bar scene as the sculptures are in a loose unit, with no instruction on how to present them, thus allowing an interactive rearrangement by the collector or curator depending on space. I used the visual strength of some of these materials to aim for continuity, and to achieve the effects that costuming serves as a signifier of a specific character in plays or movies.
This body of work, ‘new forms’, draws inspiration from online published still shots of scenes at Mama Nadi’s bar in the play Ruined. The sculpture portraiture of women examines their plight as perennial victims of war and its fallout. The figures are in a cluster suggesting moments of negotiation, cooperation or entertainment, and revolt. Some of the poses of the female forms are inspired also by photos from social media and the red-carpet runways of the fashion world, appropriated even if their link to the actual events of the play is only tenuous. My sculptural construct matches the characters to modern equivalents of call girls addressing our gaze, as we see in Mama Nadi’s bar, and is happening in many places at this moment.