26 Feb Isiaka Osunde: Retracing the footprints of a legend

Perhaps, the bronze bust of a grim-faced young lady, sporting a threaded plaited hairstyle, only tangentially alludes to the zeitgeist. But with the 1964 sculpture, titled “Nigerian Girl”, Isiaka Adams Osunde earned his stripes for stunningly reenacting a period-specific trend for posterity.  

So much may, in any case, have changed since the Edo State-born and Lagos-raised sculptor produced this work. Nonetheless, the themes, around which most of his works in public collections – like the wood sculptures, “Intimacy II”, “Unity”, “Dancing Masquerade” and “African Mother” – revolve, still resonate across generations.

That Osunde’s renown still lingers long after his death in 1997 is a tribute to his great talent and application. The artist, born on December 27, 1936, was first trained at the then Yaba Technical Institute in Lagos from 1955 to 1957. He then spent a brief period at the Nigerian College of Arts, Science and Technology in Zaria, after which he travelled to Ukraine, which was then in the now-defunct Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR).

While in Ukraine, he studied at the Kiev State University from 1960 to 1961. From there, he moved to the Academy of Fine Art in the Soviet city, Leningrad (which has now reverted to its former name St. Petersburg). At the Academy, where he studied from 1961 to 1964, he obtained an MFA in sculpture.

He also spent brief periods in the US, and at the Middlesex Polytechnic in London in his quest for further education.  

Osunde’s visibility in both local and international exhibition circuits further burnished his credentials as a leading contemporary Nigerian artist. Ditto his being an active member of the Society of Nigerian Artists (SNA) and the International Association of Artists.

Besides participating in a commemorative exhibition for the Nigerian independence celebrations, titled Contemporary Nigerian Art, which held from September 20 to October 2, 1960, he was also featured at the second Indian Triennial in New Delhi, India in 1971. In 1973, he was part of an exhibition, titled Contemporary Nigerian Sculpture, which was held to mark the 10th anniversary of the University of Ife (now, Obafemi Awolowo University), Ile-Ife and another at the University of Lagos in 1974. Among the other milestone exhibitions he featured in were: Sculpture by I. A. Osunde and Ceramics by O. H. Abiola, organised by the Society of Nigerian Artists, Lagos on November 10, 1975; the Nigerian Contemporary Art Symposium, Nsukka 1976, held at the Institute of African Studies of the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, from March 22 to 25 in 1976; National Art Exhibition, at the National Theatre, Lagos, from October 2 to 9 in 1976; the second Festival of Black African Arts and Culture ( tagged, FESTAC ’77) in Lagos; Exhibition of Works by Contemporary Nigerian Artists, held at the National Theatre, Lagos, from September 4 to 9, 1977; National Art Exhibition, at the National Theatre, Lagos, from September 30 to October 7, 1978; a Society of Nigerian Artists’ exhibition at the Goethe-Institut, Lagos, in February 1981; Ausstellung Nigerianische Kunst der Gegenwart (Exhibition of Contemporary Nigerian Art) in Bonn, Germany, from August 9 to 18, 1982; Offerings from the Gods, at the National Theatre, Lagos, from June to July 1985; First Masters Art Exhibition, organised by Continental Merchant Bank, Lagos, from November 17 to 27, 1987;  Towards a Greater Nation, at the Italian Cultural Institute, Lagos, from December 5 to 19, 1987;  Reflections: An Art Exhibition of the Society of Nigerian Artists, at the National Theatre, Lagos, from December 16 to 30,1988 and Furniture and Interior Decoration, Textile Design and Fabrics, Paintings, Sculpture and Drawings, at the National Museum, Lagos, from June 10 to 24, 1989.

As a lecturer at the Yaba College of Technology, Lagos, from 1964 to 1984, Osunde was one of the catalysts of the evolution of the Yaba Art School. With Yusuf Grillo and Kolade Oshinowo, he nurtured the growth of artists such as Abiodun Olaku, Bunmi Babatunde and Edosa Ogiugo.

He rightfully earned his seat of honour among such legendary sculptors as Erhabor Emokpae, Ben Osawe and Felix Idubor, who acknowledge the influences of the Benin Kingdom sculptures on their works and were renowned for implementing new ideas and forms in Nigerian sculptural art in the 70s and 80s.

His commissioned works include a mosaic mural at the International Labour Organisation’s headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland; sculptures and carved panels, depicting aspects of Nigerian culture at the Nigerian High Commission in Accra, Ghana; the bust of Professor Thomson at the Lagos University Teaching Hospital, Lagos; a wood sculpture at the Nigeria Room of the Food and Agriculture Organisation in Rome, Italy as well as a sculpture, titled “Festival” at the Murtala Mohammed International Airport, Lagos. 

Okechukwu Uwaezuoke