Abolore Sobayo’s Liberation statue of Fela has generated a lot of controversies, but it is a brilliant work that has brought him fame says FUNKE OSAE-BROWN
Dressed in a blue fitted Kaftan, Abolore Sobayo stood by his close pal, Asiri, in the warm October sun at the Allen roundabout, perhaps admiring the beautiful piece of art, his creation, that has attracted so many critical comments since it was installed some months ago. But this statue has equally brought him fame.
Abolore, a brilliant artist, would not let the many negative comments dampen his creative license which he fully exercised in putting up a headless statue of Fela.
“Why would you create a headless Fela Anikulapo-Kuti,” I asked him at the unveiling of the statue by Governor Akinwunmi Ambode in October. His response remained the same when I posed the same question a couple of months later at Lagos Book and Arts Festival where he had a solo exhibition.
“When I had the opportunity to do the Liberation statue,” he says looking thoughtfully at me, “I just decided to do something around the costume of Fela. His essence. It also represents some myths around him. Some people believe he is a prophet, some others believe he is a liberator. It is just to represent the myth around him and that was a what I was able to do.”
The journey to create a statue for Fela started with a call he got from someone who had earlier encountered a collection of his works on Fela. This offered a window of opportunity for him to do the iconic piece on Fela. A dream he once had now becomes reality.
“Someone called me that they needed art works that will fit a public space. I submitted my entries. One of them was the Liberation statue. I later heard that they got over 200 entries and that was the only one that had something to do with Fela. It was picked. Another work I did on community was also picked.”
The Fela statue was a spin off of a collection of works he exhibited at Terra Kulture in 2016, ‘Echos’ an exhibition on Fela that has travelled to the United States and Finland.
“I researched Fela in ‘Echos’,” he tells me. “I did a mask of Fela, the mother and his queens at Terra Kulture. One of the installations was called Arojinle where I tried to talk about the fact that Africa is the mother of civilisation the way it is truly and the way Fela believes it to be. I tried to make People think through it. Where we are today is actually far away from what people who actually see Africa as the mother of civilisation believe it should be”
The feedback after the show led to an invitation by Jahman Anikulapo former Sunday editor The Guardian, that ‘Echos’ be shown at the 2016 edition of LABAF. This would open up his works to more audience.
Abolore is not an artist who would just throw an art work in the public space; he researches his works. He tells me he took him many months of research to put up ‘Echos’ and ‘The Liberation statue. “In the course of my research, I had to go to Fela’s room to take a look at his wardrobe. I was there for over five hours. In the period of studying the costume, I was just wondering how the man Fela was able to pull off all these 20 years ago. When the pieces could also be trendy today. All I did was to say: ‘I hope when I have the idea I would be able to do a piece around it.’”
The philosophy of his work is based on the functionality of art. Hence research is the palm oil that feeds his creative lamp. “I do a lot of research when I want to create because I believe as artists, we are educators. We don’t just work, we need to research about our subjects.”
For him, the Liberation statue is a symbolic representation of the man Fela, his political ideology, humanism and all that he stood for. “Fela was an advocate of truth. He was someone who stood up for justice. He denied himself best things of the world. Today, we have fewer people doing extraordinary things and now we have fewer legends. First, I would like the youths to learn about the intellectuality in Fela and see the social fighter in him.”
“Education is beyond the four walls of the institution. There’s what is called self-enlightenment. It is a known fact that most of us don’t read books as much as we are supposed to and if this continues, there will be a generation of half-baked graduates and soon they will be fathers. So, the kind of values expected to pass down to their children will leave much to be desired.”
Has Abolore succeeded in educating any one who drives past the Allen roundabout, Ikeja about Fela? Obviously, he has. He has given another perspective to Fela and his philosophy. His work leaves commuters who encounter it on Allen round about to think and give their own interpretation of it; and generate more conversations around Fela as an unseen spirit prodding everyone’s conscience as they struggle daily for survival.
“I think the economic issues seem unsolvable because we as a people are not ready for change. We always ask God for help and I think God will not change your position if you are not ready to move in his direction. I think that we as a people believe we are spiritually inclined. We need to change our attitudes. I think the best way to change the world is to change one’s attitude. At one point, I was very naive, thinking I could change the world. Later I realised that from changing myself, I would affect my household and then my community and gradually the entire society. I think we all need to go to the basis to changing ourselves. Corruption is now beyond corruption in government. Corruption has now become the bane of our life. We need to change ourselves first and from there we could change the world. It is not that it is so big that we can’t solve but the question is: ‘are we ready to solve this problem?’ Abolore asks.
A graduate of Art from Yaba College of Technology, Lagos, Abolore was brought up by parents who wanted him to become a medical doctor, the fad at the time. But his parents later changed their minds and wanted him to be a lawyer. That also didn’t work. Eventually, a chance meeting with someone led him to study art. The knowledge he acquired in school and his interactions with many elements of art after graduating in 2006 have birthed many of his celebrated works.