As an artist, I am often struck by the works of the creator (ex. the patterns on animals and plants, sunsets, etc.). There is so much beauty, design, and flair in nature.
Furthermore, I think that we (humans) have a special capacity for creation (and admiring it).
I ended up thinking these things again while seeing an exclusive work of art in Nigeria this summer.
In Benin City, we have a street called Ogun Street. It is where the artisans that still carry on our famous bronze and brass-casting make and sell their work.
Through a family connection, I had the privilege of seeing a private collection of bronze and brass sculptures by Bini artisans. As we marveled at the work, we asked questions and took pictures. (Check out some of the pictures below.)
Pleased with our interest, the chief artesian allowed us to see one more thing...
As he unlocked the gate, he cautioned us. He told us that we could not to take pictures of this one because: because the Oba (our current king, Oba Eware II) who commissioned it had not given the approval for it to be revealed to the public (especially online) yet. We agreed to comply.
When the chief artisan opened the gate, we all gasped:
It was incredible!
In the center of the gated area stood a 20-foot brass statue of one of our most famous queens, Queen I'dia (mother of Oba Esigie, also known informally as the Iyoba, the "Queen Mother").
The chief artisan told us that when it was completed, it would be put on a 10-foot tall pedestal at a major junction in the city (5th). I was filled with pride at the thought of our history being shown in a way that would be accessible to the masses. In fact, when I mentioned that people would travel from all over to see it, the artisan told me that Queen I'dia's statue was actually to be the first of many Benin historical figures around the city.
I kid you not: when I heard that, I got a mental picture of the city--glowing--with the statues like stars, reflecting the African sun throughout the day until dusk.
Already, one could argue that there's nowhere like Benin City. But this???
It would take the city to a whole new level.
It would be unique.
As a member of one of the hundreds of smaller tribes in Nigeria, I've long detested the marginalization that our tribe and culture face at home and abroad. More unfortunate than the total obscurity that many other smaller tribes face, the Binis often have to deal with a conflation of our cultural heritage with that of the Yorubas due to one misconstrued link between our royalty. Many Yorubas use this Ooni (king), an exiled Bini prince they call "Oduduwa" (his real name was Ekaladerhan, but they refer to him as "Oduduwa" a corruption of the name that he took in exile: Izoduwa) to appropriate Bini culture and achievements as well.
I am all for anything that either lends to or honors our unique identity as the world-renowned west African artists, warriors, and architects that we are. And this statue of Queen I'dia will definitely be one of those things.
I can't wait to see it in public!