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Ikenegbu probes societal issues through arts



“A masterpiece doesn’t so much transcend its time as perpetuate it; it keeps its moment alive.” ~ Arlene Croce. In Enugu, the great artist, Okey Ikenegbu, a chief lecturer in Institute Of Management and Technology (IMT) Enugu,held an outdoor (open air) exhibition of sculptures at National Museum of Unity, Enugu. The exhibition featured 23 of his artworks , which deals with contemporary issues both in Nigeria and the world at large. The artist granted an interview to the Managing Director, Anambra Newspapers and Printing Corporation(ANPC), CHUKA NNABUIFE and ANPC, Enugu Correspondent, KOSI CHUKWUAGOLUM, where he showed and properly explained his works. Excerpts:

ON THE sculpture, ‘Awake and sing,’ a violin

Awake is not just you are waking up from sleep, let your spirit be awake and praise and worship.  ‘Awake And Sing,’ be intone with God….and then, I can’t imagine that some of thse things are beyond imaginary things and I try to exaggerate the magnitude, the quantum of what praise can do in one’s life. I decided to enlarge the scale of that instrument to represent huge expression of praise…”

About the bells

  “I have five bells but first, let me talk about this sculpture (a petroleum tank and Jerry can), this talks about ‘our dancing past’. Of course, you know that during the petroleum era, our leaders said they do not know what to do with money. We are still thinking that this is in existence…..

  When we are sure we are depleting; the source and the monetary conversation is no longer what it used to be and that’s why our economy is in shambles and that is why i try to use petroleum tanks or things that is used to collect gas or petrol to stimulate them.

  The three jerry cans, green, white, green and I am saying, even that our green is no longer green and that I am saying the white is rickety and that they are disjointed, white symbolises peace we no longer have peace in this nation….the glory has departed.

Yes, the bells you said have five bells?

  Dry bones have ears (name of one of the bells)…

  “The sound is distinct and very sharp. It is saying a kind of instantaneous action ‘so now do something now’..

This one is political. I title it ‘Arrow of Desire’ (another sculpture). I used this to stimulate the North (a steel circle) and i used gold to show the South because you know the South have what it takes for our country to survive but in terms of leadership and directions, it is the North but now, you can see that the South is prostrated. The North is standing on the prostrated South. Now, this is a kind of a trigger arrow of desire. Nigeria is like a flight and who controls the flight? The pilot and who is better to control the trigger….?

And i said North on South not North and South, do you now see the difference…

  Another sculpture “True heroes” (Melina tree): I try to bring two imageries, ndị Igbo sị na agakata akwuru ka e ji ama díke; it means that there must be something, there must be a challenge before you can go further. If you don’t conquer that challenge, there is nothing you can do. For you to be a true hero, there must be pains, there must be scars… The younger society should realise that it is not what people think – get rich syndrome.  

It has to take some time; it has to mature. You need to persevere for you to succeed… For you to be a hero, it doesn’t come easily without any pain… Jesus Christ is a hero; He was crucified. The way he died was a shameful death but he did it to achieve a purpose…”

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Portal of Hope (another sculpture)

  “We are still hoping that a Messiah will come one day and help us… but it is gone.

Another Bell

  “This one has a large sound, it is sharp.

It talks about what Ezekiel was told- prophesy on the dry bones that they will hear.

  If you speak well enough with clarity, people will hear that. The title of the bell is determined by the sound, the vibrations.

What informs your use of colours; is it still when the inspiration comes? Is there any symbolic in them?

  “As a matter of fact, it depends on what is in line with the title… i try to harmonise…”

Another Sculpture (a staircase with legs)

  “This one says getting started and keeping going. Many at times, people start a business and along the line, they botch the business into challenge and they may not continue…. The imagery I  painted, the base is broader. As you climb, it gets more delicate; you have to be consistent and determined and strong to succeed… The main theme is ‘keep going, never give up’…

Another Bell

  Everything is in different sounds and tones…

All the sound tones are represented by the six bells.

How will you feel if i tell you that  i love your poetic titling?

  “Well, you are an artist and you are a journalist; so you are free to. I have expressed what i have in mind so you have your own conception of what i have done. You are free because every art work is prone to several meanings not just one the artist has done…

  There is no good art; there is no bad art because the artist expressed himself. It is what he has inside that he has expressed. You may not like it after all but that’s the expression personal to him…

  The largest of the bells series…

  It is God that gives us power to make wealth not by aggression or hard work…but by the mercy of God.

Also (another bell)

  This bell stimulates the church bell… There is a slogan “’for whom the bell tolls, it tolls for all of us’.


  “You know today, the insecurity is high; so much violence, killing, kidnapping and all vices. They are there… But three things are central to this problem. Some people say it is the military or the force people, some say it is the herddsmen, some people say it is the agitation – civilian agitation. I try to capture the three capital parts because they said it is faceless. You can’t know the person, so it has no face but it has a weapon. I use helmet to symbolise the force, the horns to represent herdsmen, so it is unknown. You do not know whether it is the military or herdsmen…the walking stick is a support. The person who can cause the mayhem could be a weakling before you and still, it could do damages. It is as unknown as  every aspect of the danger…”

In the spirit of a storm (like a whirlwind)

  Our economy is in shambles. Everything about our nation is bedeviled and you can see the way the wind has twisted this strong elements, dealing with them. That is what is happening in our nation, Nigeria today.

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Aesthetics of Power

  “When they sit complacently like this, they think that all are achieved…. All the things we are struggling for are not worth it.

Power intoxicates… I used the rubber form to symbolise the empty glory of power we clamour for..

The Western people understand power and use it to the glory of God, but for us, we want it for self edification; we want to attribute glory to ourselves…

You make intricate use of metal with different natural patterns or ones you created out from them, it makes me think you come into your studio and something makes you use a material?

  Yes… I don’t just engage materials like that.  In fact, I may be driving and i see a material along the road; something will tell me to stop, go and pick it. I will pick it and keep. Over time, I might be trying to do one thing, one throws up stronger than any other one; i abandon the one I had in mind to do and will begin to do that one. Until i finish it, I will not rest.. sometimes i might finish a work in the night, i will still use torch to go round to look at what i have done and that is the time i will hear  voices telling me , you did not put this one here, you need to put this one here….

Will I call your creative process as circumstantial or not predetermined but somehow, engagement of materials?

  “Not just engagement because one the thing has to be in the creative platform of your mind before you can start…

The material doesn’t lead you?

  Somehow, because the materials are already available there; when I look at the materials, i see many dimensions of possibilities in any material so it depends on the one that is stronger in my mind; i pursue vigorously…

So to an extent in your creativity, the materials have elements of their independent life and then the overall work is a collation that has uniformity?

  I might have something in mind and I start to look at the materials… Some of these creative tendencies last long;  not just a day’s period or two or even one year, some take longer than  that. Like the root i told you, sometimes, i could have something in mind, I could go to scrap yards… In fact, there is no place they sell junk in Enugu which i don’t know; they know me….

So your materials tend to talk to you?

  Yes, because every creative person hears a voice for you to be able to create..

You don’t force your materials?

  You don’t force them. Like this jeep i constructed in 1995, it attracted me a job. I drove it, i became very popular by the reason of this car that in 2008, i had to pack it…

Vision 2050(another sculpture)

  “This one talks about Vision 2050. In 1999, few months shy to 2000 , the New Millennium, Nigeria had a vision ‘Vision 2020’; that by 2020, Nigeria would have been among the developed nations, but suddenly, here we are. We have gone beyond 2020 and if you ask me how much of the vision was achieved, i will say less than 20 per cent and now, we are talking about 2050 and we believe that by 2050, if Jesus doesn’t come, Nigeria would have been 400 million people in population and they say we will have cutting edge technology; they say we will be challenging the western world and i try to use wheels, delicately balanced and saw; making it kinetic to be driven by wind. Then i had to perch a bird at the top of it stating that if care is not taken, this vision may fly away like a bird.

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  I try to encompass it in parentheses using metal pipes to that but if we are not focused, you can see that they helped carrying it like a head at alert with eyes open. How we are going to achieve, it only God knows…

After the Rain

  The Bible says light smashes darkness and darkness cannot comprehend and Jesus said i am the light of the world and if we are saying after the rain, when rain comes, it’s time for planting. That’s the time herbs and plants germinate and grow and get nourished. There is plenty of food. Then after the rain is time for harvest, but if you did not plant, what are you going to harvest? That’s a big question.

So for the light to shine, you must plant, you must sow?

  “Yes, we must sow, we must work hard so that we can reap and those of us at the verge of leaving service, it’s another pointer to us; that at the end of the day, so many people are afraid to retire because they did not work hard. They did not plant. That is why we have fictitious age in civil service. But if you have in mind that there should be time when the rain will be no more, you plan well. When the rain goes, you begin to harvest.

As artists, God has given us the liberty to state some of these things so that people can learn..

Hearing Sheep

  “Our lives today are full of disobedience; many people today are talking about ritual money, cultism, blablabla. We don’t obey, animals obey their rearers. The Bible says ‘my sheep hears my voice, they know me’….

  When I was growing up as a youth, i love soldiering. I wanted to be a soldier all my life. I told my dad after school cert. He said, “no no, I know you will be a good teacher”. He didn’t tell me, “I want you to go and do this”.  He said, “I know you will be a good teacher”. Can you see the statement? “Okay, I know you will be a good teacher”. So, it is a past participle. He has already known it that i will be a good teacher…. somebody who gave birth to you knows the circumstances surrounding your birth; knows how you came to be…

This show, can you put a cost to it?

  Eh, I was looking for sponsorship; I had in mind N2.1 million not for materials; just to package the exhibition because I know to plant these works, to bring these large monument  will  cost between N250 to N300 , 000. I was asking for that not that it was the actual cost; the finish is not in it.

How long did it take you to put this thing together?

  About four years but some of the materials are more than 18 years.

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