When I was originally made aware of the assignment to write a critical paper based on the piece created by Dr. Igwe, I was somewhat apprehensive about the project. My interest in art goes back to elementary school days spent walking the halls of the Brooklyn Museum and the Metropolitan Museum of Art. It was my initial feeling that my focus up to now had been more on the classics and as a result had not developed a “true” appreciation for more “modern” or abstract art forms.
It was hard to envision presenting an effective critical paper given the lack of knowledge on the subjects and the artist. Of course, however, necessity is the mother of invention. As I began to research and secure information on the piece and the artist, I found that the paper began to write itself.
It was in gaining an understanding of the artist, and his methodology and realizing what the underlying themes were in his pieces, that what initially seemed like a herculean task became much more realistic and achievable.
The piece that is the focus of this paper is called “The Essence of Man”. We were extremely fortunate in that its final resting place happened to be the courtyard on campus at Claflin University. Juxtaposed between the Science Building and Tingley Hall it links together two buildings whose functions can be seen as “essential”.
When trying to understand the theme and motivation for this piece, one can ask if this “museum” or final location for this piece has some symbolic connection to the piece itself. An understanding of the functions of the two buildings immediately adjacent to the area in which the piece is on display may give some insight on this.
If you contemplate on what things constitute the actual “Essence of Man”, one would have to take note that the Tingley Memorial Hall – which is the main business office for the college, and the James S. Thomas Science Center would arguably be building’s whose functions are part of the essence of man. At least a man (or woman) attending Claflin.
We were treated to a personal tour by the Artist who is also our instructor for this course. Dr. Kod Igwe who has been teaching at Claflin University for over 15 years. Dr. Igwe is known for incorporating elements of symbolism taking from the African and American cultures and imbuing these into his pieces.
We were treated to an explanation of this during this tour and semi-lecture outdoors in front of the piece itself. The piece when I first looked at it resembled, to my untrained eye, a bone. In fact I remember first seeing it and thinking that it looks like a bone the dog has at my house. Upon listening to Dr. Igwe, I realized that my initial impression while off, was not too far from his intent. The piece is made to resemble a human hip bone.
According to Dr. Igwe, the piece took approximately two years to complete. The entire time he was working on the piece, he did so behind an erected “fence” so that the piece itself could not be seen until the final unveiling.
We were told by Dr. Igwe that the materials he utilized in creating this piece were zonalite, some iron rods (for support) and some precious gems that he obtained directly from Africa.
These precious gems were strategically placed in areas that exposed the “marrow” and thereby the “hidden” gems. For what is the essence of the bones of man? Most of us learned that marrow is what is inside of bones and so is the” essence” of the bone.
This bone in particular was made in the shape of a human hip bone, which is actually one of the largest bones in the human body next to our skull. This particular bone is situated in such a space that it “holds us up” provides stability and balance. Again this is in keeping with the theme “The Essence of Man”.
Who or what was the impetus for creating such a piece? We were told by Dr. Igwe that he was commissioned by the current president of the university Dr. Henry Tisdale, to create a piece to honor the memory of Dr. Joseph B. Randolph, the 4th president of the school since it came into existence back in 1869.
Dr. Randolph served as president of Claflin University from 1922 – 1944. He was formerly the president of Samuel Houston College and former dean of Wiley College. As a professional educator, his emphasis was on a complete liberal arts education for the students who were inspired intellectually, culturally and spiritually to launch into varied fields. Dr. Randolph was the 4th president of Claflin University.
Dr. Igwe was asked why there had not been any statuary or memorial dedicated to Dr. Randolph prior to this piece. He expressed that it was an “omission” that was corrected by the unveiling of this piece. The family members of Dr. Randolph came in person for the “unveiling” of this work by Dr. Igwe.
I am so sure that upon seeing the piece and being given an explanation as to the mindset behind its creation, Dr. Randolph’s family must have felt a sense of peace and pride. It is in the making of the piece, the contemplation of what the theme would be, and its construction by one who’s intellect and artistic ability are elevated to the point at which a piece like this can be conceived and created.
These talents are what Dr. Randolph looked to cultivate in students attending Claflin. There could be no more fitting a tribute than for this piece to be done by this particular artist. Given his penchant for symbolism and meaning in his pieces, it and his interest in the language of art, who else would have been able to do justice to a piece being created in memory of Dr. Randolph.
This is not a piece that you look at and think…gee this looks neat, rather, I t is a piece that you look at and step back and reflect and think. What IS the Essence of Man? What is the MAIN thing that holds him together? It is in provoking thought that is not mere surface pondering, but more profound and somewhat introspective, that Dr. Igwe has accomplished his goal. He has in effect created a piece that not only memorializes an individual whose goal was to encourage students to aspire to greatness in the arts and education, but he has also created a piece that makes even the simplest of minds think. In doing so it speaks to the very essence of man. It is a piece that speaks to the soul.