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EXPLORATION OF MANGROVE WOOD FOR UTILITARIAN SCULPTURE
1.1 Background of the Study
Wood plays an essential role in the life of man and his environment. It acts as shelter, fuel, and also as a medium for recording events and preservation of cultures. Most people in various cultures and communities see wood as a natural gift from God and as such should be valued while others see wood as a means to solve their environmental challenges such as energy generation for cooking and preservation of objects.
Due to these important value of wood, there has been the falling down and utilization of wood excessively thereby posing a threat to the environment. These has caused environmental degradation such as deforestation, erosion, surges etc. these act has made the government to place an embargo on the falling down of trees to protect the ecosystem. With this action by the government, most activities have been affected. Art practices such as sculpture is not spared by this embargo as artist are in search of wood for their day to day artistic production.
Research has shown that most sculptural works produced using wood are made from some specific kind of woods in order to stand the test of time. But due to the scarcity of wood, mangrove wood is seen as an alternative source of wood for both artist and domestic users. One question that comes to mind is, how can mangrove wood be used to achieved the same production such as other wood used by sculptors? Can something interesting be made out of mangrove wood?
It is not very interesting to do what others can, to create something out of nothing in a completely new way is far more inspiring (Sergie: 2010). The above observation by the experimental artist, Sergei Bobkov, adequately introduced this project report. Before wood, clay, stone, feathers and other mediums are converted into works of art; they constituted energies of nature (Elden, 1976). In fact, artists have explored smoke, water, fabric, plastic, light, paper, leaves and every other material for sculpture that is readily available. This simply shows that materials for sculpture can be anything that could be felt or touched. Even growing grasses and trees, animals (dead or alive) and even the body of the artist himself, have been assimilated into the sculptor’s materials catalogue (Elden, 1976).
Art is a medium of self expression and a means with which the artist expresses his inner mind visually. The production of new art works bespeaks the use of new techniques to express the inner probing of the artist hence evolution of styles and techniques. Techniques is the method with which an artist, writer, performer, athlete or other producer employs technical skills or materials to achieve a finished product or endeavor (Bodison, 2016). This method is influenced by the quest for innovations and the level of technological advancement. As technology advances, opportunities for techniques in art abound as new sophisticated tools and equipment are produced overtime. This makes for the possibilities of new techniques in art to evolve, for instance, El Anatsui’s exploit in wooden panel was only possible when the equipment relevant to his technique was produced. He was able to evolve the technique of creating burnt effect and marks on wooden panel with the use of angle grinder, chainsaw and oxyacetylene welding equipment (Ukim, 2018).
Traditionally, sculpture can simply be referred to as the creating of three-dimensional forms using any of the methods of sculpture such as casting, carving, modeling; cutting and joining to work materials like wood, clay, metal or stone. In the contemporary period of radical artistic exploration of materials and processes, a lot of innovations, in terms of creative use of materials, have been noticed in sculpture.
According to Olaomo (2011) Sculpture can be defined as a three dimensional art that constitutes one of the first creative arts of man. In its narrowest sense it deals with modeling and carving of forms, but in its broadest sense it deals with subtractive and additive methods, which embody carving, modeling, construction, assemblage etching etc. Sculpture is an artwork that is three dimensional in nature, which has length, breadth and height and as well occupies space. Sculpture is reported to be one of the oldest form of art with its early monuments dating back to the Paleolithic age, its origin has been traced to Africa where in Ancient Egypt sculpture was deeply encouraged by a belief that a man’s soul remained alive as long as the person’s Image was preserved. The Sculpture of Ancient Greece reached a high point in representational art a seeking out of the inviolate harmony of the images. Today sculpture is evolving, just like other art forms but not in the direction of the ancient Greeks. Sculpture is aiming towards a naturalistic depiction of the human body.
The traditional African sculptures are designed for purpose and functions. Most of them in the past civilisation were carved to either serve physical function as door, house-post, stool etc.; while others connote spiritual beliefs and traditional rites, like ancestral figures, divination bowls, ritual drums and so on. These among other purposes are the reasons behind the production of most Nigeria’s wood carvings and sculptures. The uses of wood for carving both aesthetic and utilitarian wooden objects are signs of man’s ability to understanding the environment in which he finds himself, as well as, redefining potentials in the natural resources to his advantage. Wood has been exploited by man since the Upper Paleolithic period for fashioning tools, shelter, artistic and religious. Because of the usefulness of wood in fashioning various forms that served as utilitarian objects, such as musical instruments and household utensils in ancient times, and subsequently in the contemporary times as paper and even clothing.
The inventive role of artists encourages them to produce works of art for art sake and functional art particularly the art that portrays the culture of a people. For instance, artists like El Anatsui, using wood, aluminum and found objects tends to focus enormous attention on the language of his materials, while addressing issues relating to epic and African tradition. Enwezor (2012) confirms that Anatsui creates his art in the tense boundary between traditional and modernity, medium and process. From one practice to the next, it is obvious that the search for sculptural solutions sensitive to prevailing idioms become prevalent among artist.
Interestingly, Ademola (2006) maintains that artist’s sole responsibility is to produce either out of his inner feelings or from cultural and environmental background. Thus, the artist creates from his cultural environment and incorporates elements of African art such as symbols, forms, motifs, metaphors, parables etc. in his works. This way, art becomes interrelated with the culture of a people. In African society, art is culture and culture is art, this is because their art is active and functionally oriented.
The environment offers various objects and materials with which artists can create and recreate interesting valuable works of art. These may come from agricultural produce, animals, natural objects, fabrics and wood. One of these materials are mangrove wood obtain from mangrove tree. Mangroves are woody plants and are associated with a variety of microbes, fungi, plants, and animals, which constitute the mangrove forest community or mangal.
The mangal and its associated abiotic factors constitute the mangrove ecosystem. Duke (1992) defined a mangrove as tree, shrub, palm or ground fern, generally exceeding one and half meters in height, which grows above mean sea level in the intertidal zone of marine coastal environments, or estuarine margins.
Mangroves are trees and shrubs grow in intertidal zone or brackish water of tropical and subtropical coastal areas between 5°N and 5°S latitude spanning over 118 countries. Mangroves grow in harsh environmental conditions such as high saline conditions and are therefore also called halophytes. They can grow in extreme environment due to their morphological and physiological adaptations, including complex root and salt filtration abilities to cope with inundation of salt water and wave action. Mangroves are well adapted to grow in anoxic conditions as they experience regular inundation and saturated soil conditions. There are around 70 known species of mangroves around the globe, out of which 11 are threatened species and are listed in IUCN Red List (Polidoro BA et al, 2010). Mangrove species have its own ecosystem services; therefore, mangrove loss can impact surrounding coastal ecosystem and associated ecosystems. Mangrove ecosystem has several faunal species because they create characteristics and productive habitat for them. The biodiversity of fauna in mangrove ecosystem is high due to the availability of food resources and their detritus food cycle.