Public outdoor sculptures is defined within the context of this study as any outdoor sculptures that are commissioned and executed by government and its agents, township associations and communities.
Public outdoor sculptures are part and parcel of modern Nigerian art. Similarly, the workshops and art schools initiated by the catholic missionaries can not be left out when discussing the emergence of public outdoor sculptures, because it was the products of these workshops that actually started the installation of public outdoor sculptures in Nigeria.
The introduction and creation of sculpture works in Nigerian schools, specifically in the South Western parts of the country, began through the activities of Kenneth C. Murray. He was the first British colonial officer assigned to teach art in Nigeria. He arrived Nigeria in 1927 and advised students to conceptualize forms within the contents and boundaries of their rich and lively cultures.
Students were taught wood carving, modelling, mural decoration, painting, and drawing. His teaching of art had a strong preference for local indigenous art forms. He advised that traditional and contemporary art be incorporated into public buildings like churches and schools so that art can become familiar to the society. There was an art exhibition in Zwemmer Art Gallery, London in 1937 titled ”Exhibition of wood carvings, terracotta and water colour”, which came to being as a result of the success of Murray’s programme. The exhibition showcased the works of his pioneering students which reflected in the theme of the exhibition, the new status of sculpture in the syllabus. The main purpose of the exhibition was to solicit the approval of art by the people of England as a good activity worthy of inclusion into the school’s curriculum. Murray was able to, not only encouraged art in schools and colleges, but also broadened the existing syllabus by including sculpture. Traditional sculpture was also upgraded by recommending it as a means for artistic propagation. Traditional and contemporary arts were also incorporated into architecture.
The papal order of the 1930s, authorising Christian missionaries to accommodate beneficent indigenous cultures, probably encouraged Murray to introduce sculpture in schools and colleges. The order enabled the Catholic missions to set up an art workshop in 1947 at Oye Ekiti under the direct tutorship of Father Kelvin Carroll. Similarly, Lord Lugard’s policy of indirect rule – forwarding the British policy through the existing traditional chiefs and institutions, could well have been an unconscious model for the Oye Ekiti project in Nigeria. This workshop is probably the first practical step in Nigeria to introduce sculpture into modern architecture. Traditional artists were assembled to produce sculpture and other crafts that depicted Christian themes for the use of the church. The items produced include Madonnas, crucifixes, Christmas cribs, figures of saints, doors and so on.
The artists who worked in the workshop reportedly produced sculptures for some notable non-Christian organisations. Among these are the house posts for the Antiquities Department of the Jos museum, the palaces of Ooni of Ife and the Oba of Ila. Other sculptures include reliefs on the chapel doors of the University of Ibadan, commissioned in 1954, the Ibadan cathedral door in 1956, and those of St. Paul’s church, Lagos in 1960. Actually, the works were not modern due to the fact that they were not naturalistic in outlook, for they were works produced by traditional artists under modern influence for Christian worship and the adornment of modern architecture. The works were the first recorded or known public sculptures in Nigeria initiated by the Christian missionaries, colonial government and the royal institutions following the Papal order of Pius XII. However, it is safe to the say that it was the Christian missionaries who took the first major initiative that led to a practice that later gave rise to the creation of public sculptures in Nigeria.
Ben Enwonwu, who was among the pioneer-students of Kenneth C. Murray, and whose works were part of the exhibits at the Zwemmer Gallery at London in 1937, was another major boost, not only to sculpture, but also to modern art as a whole in Nigeria. He was a sculptor and a painter, though well known as a sculptor. He was appointed Federal Art adviser in 1948. His sculpture ”Queen Elizabeth II” was among the first modern public outdoor sculptures in Nigeria. Before 1960, he was the only modern Nigerian sculptor whose works corroborated the training he had at the expatriate school. Some sculptures in Nigeria in the 1950s were Enwonwu’s works. The works included the bronze statue of Queen Elizabeth II at the Federal House of Assembly in Lagos; ”Awakening” also in bronze, on the facade of the National Museum Lagos; the full length bronze portrait of Dr. Nnamdi Azikwe at the former Eastern House of Assembly, Enugu; ”Sango”, outside Nigerian Electric Power Authority, now Power Holding Company of Nigeria (PHCN) headquarters in Marina, Lagos; ”Anyanwu”, attached to the outside wall of the Lagos Museum, Lagos; and the Carved door of the Chapel of the Apostolic Delegation, Lagos. Thus, modern Nigerian public sculptures began with Enwonwu setting the pace in the 1950s.
The only monumental public sculpture in Nigeria in the 1950s that equalled Enwonwu’s sculpture in technical elegance and concept was the bronze statue of ”Emotan” the memorial of a Benin heroine believed to have saved the life of Oba Ewuare II. It is the work of John Danford, another artist who gave a major impetus to sculpture in Nigeria. He was a British artist attached to the British Council office in Lagos in the late 1940s, who ceaselessly entreated the colonial government and local authorities to ”enlist the help of artists for the purpose of decorating public buildings”.
Lamidi Fakeye, who later joined Murray’s school, was another impetus to the production of public outdoor sculpture in Nigeria. He was a traditional carver, who was able to articulate his skills into modern artistic expression as a result of the training he acquired at Murray’s workshop. He drew up concepts from biblical themes, taking into consideration the African proportions. Artists in the Murray’s workshop were allowed to use their local styles and skills, though unusual themes were adopted, a good example is the figure of Mary (mother of Jesus) pounding yam and clothed like a Yoruba woman.
Fakeye’s wood carvings constituted a good number of public sculptures in public buildings like churches, schools and palaces in Nigeria, both before and after independence. Some examples of such works are ”Edena Gate” (Four veranda posts and two doors) at Ooni of Ife’s palace, Ile-Ife (1953); doors for Catholic Chapel, university of Ibadan (1957); Relief carvings of ‘Fourteen Stations at the Cross’ at Catholic Chapel, University of Ibadan (1957); ”Bishop’s Throne” at St. Mary’s Catholic Cathedral, Oke Padi, Ibadan (1958); Six doors for St. Paul’s Catholic Church, Ebute Meta, Lagos (1959); two posts for Nigerian independence celebration (1960); two doors for St. Michael’s Catholic Church, Ondo (1961); two doors for executive council chambers, Ibadan (1964); four veranda posts at Institute of African Studies, University of Ibadan, Ibadan (1964); Oduduwa statue at Oduduwa hall, Obafemi Awolowo University Ile- Ife (1987); and many others. Apart from Enwonwu setting the pace of public sculptures in Nigeria as earlier mentioned above, Fakeye appeared on the scene of production of public sculptures towards the early 1950s which could probably be likened or traced to the realisation of Danford’s call on the colonial masters for the enlistment of artists for the decoration of the public buildings.
Towards the end of the 1950s, the success of Onabolu and the expatriate school had yielded positive and tremendous results to the actualisation of bringing arts into being in the Nigerian schools. At this time, Fine Art as a course of study was introduced into the higher institutions of learning. A typical example is the establishment of Fine Arts at the then Nigerian College of Arts, Science and Technology in Ibadan in 1953, though the Fine Arts course was later moved to the Zaria branch of the college in 1955 which is now the Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria. There were also records of establishment of Fine Arts schools like Ife Art School, now Obafemi Awolowo University (OAU), Ile-Ife established in 1962; the Nsukka Art School, now University of Nigeria Nsukka (UNN) established in 1960, and others. Osogbo Art School was successfully worked out as an experimental school for artists like Twin Seven – Seven, Jimoh Buraimoh, Oyelami Muraina, and Rufus Ogundele.
Subsequently, as a result of the public sculptures, which were brought into place due to the activities and uncompromising efforts of the experimental workshop of Murray in the 1940s, coupled with the new trend of recognition given to the modern Nigerian art in the 1960s, the commissioning of public outdoor sculptures seemed to have flourished in the South Western states of Nigeria. At this instance of the recognition mentioned above, public outdoor sculptures began to emerge at different and strategic locations on streets as well as public buildings. This may likely be the reason why many public outdoor sculptures could be found in open streets, junctions, roundabouts, public buildings (like churches, schools), and government parastata.
Many reasons may thus be responsible or attributed to the familiarity and commonness of public outdoor sculptures in those areas. To start with, governments, township associations, communities and some influential individuals seem to have commissioned a great number of public outdoor sculptures in the areas. Secondly, the people of these areas have many cultural activities and festivals that require the commissioning of sculptures, and this made the areas to have a long tradition of sculptural excellence which could be traced back to the ancient traditional cultures of the people in the area. Examples of such festivals are; Yam, War, Egungun, Ogun, Sango festivals, among others. Another reason may have likely emanated from the establishment of the expatriate experimental workshops, initiated by the Catholic missions, and the indigenous art schools, both before and after independence in those areas. Another reason must have emanated from the establishments of art schools which might have likely, over the time, created some awareness in the generality of the people through their activities. All these reasons must have greatly enhanced and promoted the production and commissioning of public outdoor sculptures in the south western states of Nigeria.