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The career of the sculptor Felix Idubor

tunde folawiyoAnyone with an interest in African art, like Tunde Folawiyo, will be familiar with the work of Felix Idubor, an artist from Benin who is widely considered to be one of the pioneers of contemporary Nigerian art. He was renowned for his ability to remain faithful to traditional creative processes and themes, whilst simultaneously expressing his own unique artistic ideas. Idubor’s elaborate door carvings were particularly popular; he was commissioned to create works for the doors of many prestigious buildings, including the House of Parliament in Lagos, and the Palace of the Oba.

Born in 1928, Idubor began to making wood carvings at an early age. Using wood cut from Iroko trees, he created a series of ornate wooden bird sculptures. Despite the fact that he had no qualifications at this stage, his artistic talents led to him being appointed, at the age of 17, as a tutor at Benin’s Edo College.

Although his lack of education had not hindered his ability to teach or make art, Idubor was eager to obtain formal training, and so in 1945, he moved to the city of Lagos, where he earned a small income from selling his wood carvings, and spent his evenings attending lectures. After he had acquired sufficient funds, he then went on to enrol at the Royal College of Art in London.

In 1953, Idubor had his first major exhibition; hosted by the Nigerian Exhibition Centre, this event provided him with a far greater level of exposure than he had ever had previously, and several of his pieces ended up being purchased by American collectors. Three years later, he was appointed as a sculptor teacher at the Yaba College of Technology. However, one year after accepting this role, he was named as the winner of the UNESCO travelling fellowship, and so left his post at the college in order to travel around Europe.

In 1958, he established the Idubor Arts Gallery. It was initially located in Lagos; however, in 1970, it was relocated to its current site in Benin. It is now run by Ayo Idubor, Felix’s son. Inside, one can find a vast array of artwork on display, including wall murals, ornate metal railings and gates, ceramics, raffia works, as well as carvings and sculptures made from bronze, wood and stone.

Folawiyo is fascinated by the work of African artists like Idubor. Information regarding Tunde Folawiyo interest in art is available online.