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Master Carver of Niger Delta

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Pius Obudu Waritimi’s award of Master Carver of the Niger Delta at ArtMiabo International Art Festival (AMIAF) 2024, held in Ebonylife Place, Victoria Island, Lagos from 29 April to 1 May this year, is a testament that love conquers the arts. We first met as undergraduates in the University of Nigeria at Nsukka in 1980 when I was a freshman studying Mass Communication and he was a 300 level Fine and Applied Arts student. Throughout the 44 years I have known him, his passion for fine arts has been indeed palpable.

Upon graduation and completion of the mandatary national youth service, Waritimi immersed himself in creating works of art in his Otobo Gallery on Aggrey Road in Port Harcourt, even after picking up an appointment as lecturer in the Rivers State College of Education at Ndele. During the few years I was unemployed after my graduation and national youth service, I use to spend quality time in his gallery watching him work as well as typing a novel I had written in long hand with a typewriter he had appropriated from his father. He would spend the whole day carving and painting for display in his gallery or producing fibre glass sculptures and graphic works for the few clients who commissioned him. He also embraced utilitarian art, producing carved wall clocks, walking sticks, chairs and coffee tables.

It was a labour of love as he never bothered to parade the government and corporate offices in Port Harcourt to solicit for patronage. He just kept the doors and windows of his gallery wide open and dedicated himself to his work. His was the people’s gallery with no restrictions to entry. Passers-by seeking reliefs from long treks would walk in to satisfy their curiosity and spend a short while gazing at artworks on display. Eventually I moved on to a job in Enugu where I stayed briefly before switching to another job in Lagos where I spent many years and subsequently relocated to Abuja for yet another that I retired from. However, on my occasional travels to Port Harcourt over the past 35 years, I use to visit Waritimi’s gallery and would always observe that there were some works I had never seen there before. By then, he had been redeployed to Niger Delta University at Amassoma in Bayelsa State as a result of the creation of the state from old Rivers State.

During these years Waritimi gravitated to wood carving. His works engage a broad range of issues in our society – poverty, corruption, police and military brutality, insecurity, environmental disaster in the Niger Delta and so on. Without any scheme to promote himself, he has become highly respected among artists and collectors in the Niger Delta region. Visitors to the high courts in Yenegoa, the Bayelsa State capital, would hardly fail to behold his imposing “Lady Justice” fibre glass sculptures which are innovatively attired in local outfit.

Although he has participated in a good number of exhibitions in the past, his invitation to this international art festival with the theme, ‘Sculptors Odyssey’ and the award therefrom is special. His most outstanding work on display at the event was The Fisherman’s Parlour, a set piece of carved chair, stool, benches, table, standing mirror, water pot, paddle and rack of fishes against a background of a gas flaring pylon and a montage in which most prominent is the photo of the executed environmental activist Ken Saro-Wiwa. The other awardees at the event were Dr. Adeola Balogun, Dr. Dotun Popoola, Olabisi Adebayo and the now late modernist master, Ben Enwonwu. The awards were presented to the winners by the master printmaker, Prof. Bruce Onobrakpeya and renowned textile artist, Mrs  Nike Davies Okundaye.

Spiff is a communications consultant in Abuja

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