Maduka Chukwuma is a sculptor who loves building forms of human and animal anatomy. The Anambra State-born artist said his studies and emphasis in large sculptures (outdoor work) helped him to see sculpture as a vocation and a duty call. He shares his love for human and animal anatomy works and why he would want to keep sculpting till he grows old.
By Taiwo Adeniyi & Aishah Saleeman
Sculpting involves precision and detailing, do you exercise any fears before, during or after a job?
Back then in school in my OND in the Fine Arts department, I saw sculpture as a way to express myself, after my one-year tuition program in Mr Ekwenchi’s studio. And since then, no other art practice drives me but sculpture. Studying in this field of art made it possible for me to accomplish any form and size of sculpture. The challenges in this field make it more interesting that I no longer feel any anxiety before and after any work. It’s just fun all the way.
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Tell us about that job that took sweats and blood from you?
The 13 feet statue of St. Jude in Umungasi Aba in 2007. My first attempt at colossal sculpture. My team worked under the rain and sun for eight weeks, fell sick sometimes, and fell from the wooden scaffold. And after a detailed work, our client still owes us some money. Notwithstanding, sculpting is very lucrative in this country. While I give glory to God Almighty, the giver of inspiration and strength. I imbibe all the principles of good design to achieve a work that can stand the test of time.
What interests you about human and animal anatomy?
There is a saying that art is life, and life is art. In life, everything we do is art, the style, mood, suspense, in fact, all the facets of life are glued to one art or another. It might interest you to know that the closest study of anatomy, both human and animal anatomy, even trees and insects, will reveal a number of those ideas and knowledge that cannot be overemphasized. The deeper you go, the more interesting it becomes. In general, life, art and anatomy must be rekindled, as many artists are indirectly escaping from it and finding another art and calling it a mere copy of nature, but the truth remains that we can’t do without a study of nature. I encourage artists to adopt this method and style.
You said sculpting is lucrative in Nigeria, yet there are still some sculptors struggling, what do you think they can do to improve their situations?
Artists and sculptors need to find their drive in the field and make more studies and creative improvisations, thereby creating an avenue for their larger audience to fall in love with their style. Artists are advised to work on their inspiration and creative excellence.
To do a successful project in Nigeria where you have a high percentage of the elite, one needs to capture the sense of beauty by engaging and producing what will appeal to them. Also, there is a need to attend workshops, exhibitions, educational competitions at all levels, social media adverts, and symposiums to create awareness of art. The awareness of art has been crippled in the sense that one cannot think of the luxury of art when he hasn’t eaten.
How will you describe Nigerians’ acceptance of sculptors compared with foreign nationals?
It takes a civilized mind to understand the value and importance of sculptors in societies today. In the Igbo prehistoric era, it is believed that sculptors are the mediators between the living and the dead. They are soothsayers and diviners. They were placed in high value in other religions of the community but recently sculptors have become less important because of industrialization thereby limiting works of sculptors and being replaced with machines as in foreign countries. Even though they still value the handiwork and concept of a sculptor more than their works but in Nigeria, for instance, some religious adherents believe it is not good to produce or imitate what God has done so they abhor sculptors and sculptures.
What will say to those willing to become a sculptor?
They should acquire a certain level of education as this will help them to stand a chance of understanding the field better and also the study of many civilizations, their culture and beliefs, reading journals and art publications but before all these, they are expected to have skill, interest, courage, knowledge, determination and spirit of hard work in pursuance of the course. Also, they must be mathematically inclined to be able to calculate and assimilate the ideas of a large format sculptor. One major attribute important to sculpting is craftsmanship, with this, the artist predominantly makes sketches of intended sculptures, standard and objective drawings, parts and parcels of sculptures. An artist must have gone through education and found a well-equipped studio and workshop to market his works.
What will you describe as the high point of a sculpting career?
The high point in sculpting is when the artist must have reached a level of international standards, then the artist itself will derive happiness and also the money attached to it. An internationally recognized artist’s pieces will be highly placed in museums and galleries, buying their works will cost a fortune. The sole satisfaction of the version of the artist is not just the penury but printing his handiwork in the sound of time which is the legacy. The artists of 500 years ago didn’t even enjoy such recognition when they were still alive, until after their demise.
Sculpting comes with its challenges, can you let us into some of those?
The number of challenges and hazards endangering sculpting is inspirational impotence. Finding a suitable concept for a project sometimes poses a threat to speedy production. Executional imperfection and adequate dexterity are needed when producing work. Inhalation of gaseous substances, for instance during fibreglass production and the fuse from welding, doing rod fabrication and also putting on safety kits to avoid accidents. Marketing sculptures is hard in a country like Nigeria and organizing a solo exhibition and workshop could be tasking because some clients are tricky and try to cheat. Schools of arts and more museums should be provided by the government. There is no artist forum to discuss matters concerning artists and finally no standard tools and materials available for artists in the market. In tackling these challenges, sculptors should spend more time studying both practically and theoretically and knowing the method, and some materials to achieve and execute their works. In sculpture, the harder you work, the luckier you get both in awareness, technical efficiency, handling of tools and getting other sculptors employed to work for you, due to numerous projects at hand. Some clients are quite tricky, one can employ a lawyer to manage proposal terms and payments on his behalf, to counter the manipulation of artists by the clients. Art is a matter of science, and it should not be overlooked by the government. Proper care should be taken by the willing class to provide sculptors with the necessary facilities like galleries, tourist centres, theatres, and founding art as a body for revenue allocation. When all these are provided, the artists will bring the best in them. A sculptor should create awareness for their work on social media.
At what point do you think you’ll be fulfilled as a sculptor?
At 80, I wish to be producing works of art. Sculpting is a thing of the soul that comes with inner satisfaction during and after a project. I must say that the more works are produced, the more the hunger rises, I believe that in my old age, I know I will have been internationally recognised by many artistic legacies and my work will stand as a point of reference for the upcoming sculptors.
I will like to be remembered just like our predecessors and contemporary artists. I will like to be known as an anatomist, both in metal fabrication, modelling and casting at large.