Yoruba stories told in metal
Alao Luqmanis is a cultural diplomat with the Nigerian High Commission in Jamaica, sent by the Nigerian government, on request by the Jamaican Government, to teach a variety of art.
He is now facilitating workshops in batik-making, bead-making, and metal art at the Jamaica Business Development Corporation.
Arts and Education caught up with him recently at Nigeria's Independence Day celebrations, where he exhibited several aluminium panels of his artwork. The style is called 'chasing and repousse' in which Luqman makes impressions on both sides of the panels.
The indentations are not arbitrary, abstract imprints, but are images that are parts of bigger stories from his Yoruba culture. Yoruba is a Western Nigerian ethnic group.
Luqman was introduced to the technique in a workshop in 2008. It was customary for the panels to be made from moulds so that they could be easily replicated. Now, Luqman has been making individual pieces free-handedly. In essence, the images in his panels are different, telling their own story. None of his pieces are alike.
Luqman said that the process is very tedious and "painful". There is not much room for errors, so the stories that they tell are well thought out and carefully designed before indentation starts. These inked aluminium panels are his books in which he has imprinted stories - African narratives.
Yet, he says that his work is not emotional but is based on primary and secondary research, historical facts, and visits to shrines and libraries. He has to inform himself before he tells his narratives, tribal stories, and those of Yoruba deities. There is much emphasis on Yoruba spirituality. "It makes your mind go back," he said.
That is what it is really doing to those who admire his work, not just for its historical depth, but also for the spiritual symbolism, and the tribal stories, including royal rituals, some going back to the 11th and 12th centuries.
"My art is telling the stories of the tribes, the deities (orishas)," he said. Not only has he gone way back with the content, but in many quarters, it is believed that he has resurrected a technique that was once popular.
At the celebrations, the first display depicts the situation in Yoruba culture, which has a high birthrate of twins, of how if a twin died, the parents of the deceased, upon consultation with a diviner, would get a wood carving of the deceased made. This carving, called the Ere Ibeji, is regarded as the deceased twin and is taken care of as if it were alive.
The second display is a divination board. At its centre there is a circular divination tray called an OponIfa. It is surrounded by figures, objects, and geomorphic designs. Ifa divination is a Yoruba religious practise as Ifa is a mythical figure regarded by the Yoruba people as the god of wisdom and intellectual development.
The Agogo Ode (hunter's bell) is used by the Alagogo, a kind of prefect among the non-hunters, during the dry season when there is little or no work on the farm. The Alagogo goes all over the community sounding the gongs to tell farmers to remove their traps early the next morning. Among other things, the bells also call the hunters to gather for blessings before going on a hunt. Two Agogo Odes are at the centre of the third display.
Three panels make up the fourth display. At the centre of each is an 'ivory' mask, a miniature portrait of the legendary warrior Queen Mother Idia, mother of Esigie, the king of Benin from 1504 to 1550. The masks are worn at the waists during traditional ceremonies. Many of the original ivory masks were stolen by the British during the Expedition War of 1897. Luqman is reviving that story and the making of those masks with his work.
In the fifth display are various festivals scenes. In Nigerian culture, characteristics of the community, religion, and culture are celebrated to fulfil specific communal purposes. "The celebrations offer a sense of belonging for religious, social, or geographical groups, contributing to group cohesiveness," Luqman said. And at the centre of the celebrations is food, hence the celebrations coming mainly during harvest time.
Luqman holds a bachelor's degree in painting and a master's degree in printing making. He was pursuing a PhD in printmaking when he was selected for volunteer services, which is what he is doing here. He is representing Yoruba history and culture in his art, and is sharing the technique in an island when many Yorubas were enslaved and died.