Last Saturday, ‘Dotun Popoola: Metal and Metaphor ’, a book which explores and documents the creative oeuvre of celebrated Nigerian synergetic metal sculptor, Dotun Popoola, was formally launched in Lagos. Popoola, who studied painting and general arts in Auchi Polytechnic, Auchi, Edo State where he holds national diploma in painting and general art in 2004, thereafter went to Obafemi Awolowo University, where he obtained his first and second degrees in fine and applied arts, with a specialisation in sculpture and painting respectively, works primarily with scrap metal, where creating animal forms is his favourite way to use the medium.
‘Metal and Metaphor’, edited by US-based Nigerian scholar, Prof. Moyo Okediji, “speaks to Popoola’s use of metal sculptures to convey serious messages”. The title of the book, notes Popoola, during a chat with art writers, “is just a play on words, using the works to convey messages and not just for aesthetic purposes alone.
“The Yorubas would call that ‘Aroko,’ that is, a metaphor. ‘Aroko’ is a coded Arts message. Each of my work has a coded message, like sculpture- within-a-sculpture. It is like having miniatures within the whole. Sometimes, I could hide the Benin Bronze or the Nok Head or other bronze items to transpose the work into a hybrid and also create a luxury effect.
The coded message – most of the time – is personal to whoever commissions the work or whatever messages that you would want to pass across. I love the book to appeal to even a casual reader. The book is a compendium, catalogue, brochure, research material; it is everything rolled into one.” He explained that most of his works are not ordinary animals but he dissects many cultural and technical terms and blend them together, stressing that the works documented in the book all address differe n t issues ranging from historical, cultural and o t h e r – w i s e , using prove r b s most often.
A c – cording to him, “Metal and Metaphor” is packaged in such a manner that it appeals to individuals with diverse interests. “I want people to see works that make them smile beyond limits. My work gives hope; new life. You can see the materials are trash. Usually I analyse and interpret my works myself and put them up on social media and it saved a life one day.
“I remember putting up a phrase about my work; ‘Out of the broken pieces of your past, there can be an edifice of hope’, on Instagram and, after reading the message, a man, who was about committing suicide, chatted me up and said the work is beyond aesthetics, that it gave him hope and life. These are broken and discarded materials brought together to form magnificent pieces; a new life, Popoola said. He hopes that the book will encourage a lot of young contemporary artists to take their career seriously, and that it will encourage people to start documenting from now as well as generate scholarly review for scrap art- found objects.
A native of Abeokuta, Popoola’s passion for turning scrap metal into artworks has a deep historical and spiritual connection in his lineage with the art. According to him, his forefathers had laid the foundation. His great and grandfathers were blacksmiths, while his father is an auto electrician, nicknamed “Baba Rewire”. After studying Fine Art from Auchi Polytechnic and later, Obafemi Awolowo University (OAU), Ile Ife where he graduated in 2008, Popoola trained as a hybrid welder in the United States of America in 2016.
On his return to Nigeria, he started repurposing metal junks from junkyard and assembling them, mostly into magnificent animal figures. For him, discarded spark plugs, power generators, bicycle parts, cutleries are veritable assets for his creative exploration. He recalled that his first experiment with scrap resulted in a huge sculpture of a cockerel made of discarded spark plugs and cutlery, showcased at a popular gallery in Lagos to a warm reception. Metal and Metaphor also features four essays by art historians, namely Olusegun Fajuyigbe, Kunle Filani, Kehinde Adepegba and Tolulope Sobowale.