The story behind this striking sculpture in Uyo
By Pelu Awofeso
If you get to visit Uyo any time, be sure to visit the Akwa Ibom E-Library (IBB Way). Beyond the building’s inviting exterior and the aesthetics within, this place holds one of the most fascinating public art in Nigeria.
Titled The Reader 2 it is a feminine figure rising up to 30 feet and looking down at a book.
It’s the work of sculptor Ani Udosen, currently a Principal Curator at the National Gallery of Art in the state, just adjacent the library.
The story behind the work goes back to 1998, when Udosen completed his final-year project focused on the emancipation of the African woman through education.
“I tried to focus on the gender inequality as it concerns the education of women in Africa and Nigeria in particular,” Udosen told me after I had seen the exhibition at the Gallery of Art. “At the same time, I did an appraisal of some women in society that have gone far in their education exploits.”
That initial interest resulted in the composition of The Reader 1, a maiden seated on a book.
Then about a decade later (2009), he was commissioned to produce a befitting piece for the newly completed Akwa Ibom E-Library. He decided it was a golden opportunity to push the ‘emancipation’ message further, and to project a sense of what would be happening inside the building – education and learning.
“That was an opportunity to re-amplify a message that I had already put out there 10 years ago,” he said, taking a break from his current work-in-progress, the bust of Air Commodore Idongesit Nkanga, the first military governor of Akwa Ibom State and who passed away in December 2020. “So I did The Reader 2. I imagined it to be colossal, so monumental that it would be in proportion to the building that was meant to complement.”
With both The Reader 1 and The Reader 2, Ani used a style known in arts circles as cubism.
In simple terms, “it’s a way of rendering biological forms in geometry,” Ani explained. Inches from where we stood, some interns were busy sculpting their briefs for the day.
The Reader 2 isn’t the only work by Udosen at the E-Library. There’s also a smaller, less visible work he titled “Pride of Literacy”. It’s also a feminine figure done in metal.
“It’s a robotic-looking woman with a book. You find out that I do a lot of study on the subject of gender equality, trying to encourage women into higher education exploits,” he said as our conversation wrapped up.
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