In a final year class at the School of Arts and Design, Auchi Polytechnic, Collins Abinoro Akporode faced a problem. He and his classmates were thinking of life after graduation, of new ways to put their HND in Sculpture to use. “We had to think of new media, new possibilities in art practice that would spark new conversations,” he tells me on the phone. As they assembled junk materials, it suddenly struck Collins that the spoon in his hand looked like a feather. He made a sketch and got down to work, sculpting a small, detailed cockerel that gulped 144 spoons.
“I enjoyed the feedback from my lecturers, friends, and coursemates, but I didn’t see how far I could go with it,” he recalls. “When I left school, I had to think of what next to do, then I realised I already had something at hand.”
That was in 2012, and in the eight years since, Collins’ sculpting has evolved from cockerels to human beings, gaining him notability on Instagram and in the art scene, and ensuring that he never had to need another job. “I call most of my works recycled/repurposed metal sculpture—‘recycled’ because some are picked up and ‘repurposed’ because some are bought and I created new functions for them. I consider my art luxury.”
Collins grew up in Agbarho, a small town in Delta State, where “almost every child in the village at the time could draw.” He was six when he and his primary school classmates began competing for who drew the best cartoons, moulding houses with clay, making carts with papers, and building things with wood. “It was children having fun, healthy competition, but it helped build my self-confidence,” Collins remembers. “But my father did not like it. He was a historian and into business. The average Delta parents would prefer that their children went into oil and gas; to them, it was where the money was. He tried to pressure me into the sciences. My mum, on the other hand, would never dictate to you so far as you are happy. She is a trader. She took all the risk to see me through when I was almost penniless in school.”
After his National Youth Service at the Cultural Centre in Calabar, Collins moved to Lagos. But even though no one else was sculpting with spoons, every gallery he submitted to rejected his work, until one in Abuja took him on.
“They complained about my finishing,” he recalls. “Someone told me there was no place for me in the future because I couldn’t do more than just birds. I smiled and told him that life is a journey, and anything that any person needs has already been made available to him along the way, so it is not up to anyone else to determine where you are going.”
The rejections made him strive to improve not only his finishing but also his concepts and their depth. “I kept researching, getting materials. I read art histories and biographies. I realized that whatever I had experienced, there were hundreds of young artists who had gone through the same, so it was only a part of the journey. Being broke as a young artist didn’t scare me to want to search for other jobs or quit my practice.”
Collins’ major inspirations are the classic Italian artists Michelangelo and Leonardo da Vinci, and, among contemporary figures, the Englishman Damien Hirst and the American Jeff Koons. “As a student, I wasn’t really exposed to Nigerian or African artists, until I started meeting a few, like Fidelis Odogwu [also an Auchi graduate] at the Universal Studios of Arts at National Theatre in Lagos. He is one person I would look at as a sculptor. There wasn’t enough documentation on our artists, except till now. There is, honestly, little writing about them in art history.”
When Collins gets an idea, he sketches it, thinks of an image—human, animal—that best projects it, creates joints to make it three-dimensional, then sources for materials for his studio construction of amateur figures, which look like buildings with hollow insides. Then he begins welding— “stitching”—the spoons, and three-quarters into the process, moves it from his studio to his living space, so “it would help me see deeper. It’s one thing to create a fine piece that could fit into any home, but it’s another thing to create a piece that means something, that has character that people can connect with.” His process could take “from several days to a week. I have a piece, The Predictor, that took a year.” He uses a technique to hide the “stitches,” giving his work a refined, burnished look.
“There was a time people thought I couldn’t do anything except birds,” Collins says. “As I practiced, I saw more structures in my imagination. The magic is the more you create, the more mistakes you make, the more you find things you can achieve with the medium.”
The number of spoons that go into Collins’ sculptures is alarming. His biggest sculpture yet, Cosmic Man, consumed almost 5,000 spoons and took three months to finish. “Having access to the right quantity and quality of spoons was a challenge for me initially,” he says. “I work with a major importer of spoons now but I look forward to partnering with one of these stainless steel companies, maybe visit China and make a deal.”
Some of Collins’ works are busts with forks for hair, sculpted with clay, cast in bronze or fibre, and wrapped in newspapers; those form his Headline series, “a collection of events in Nigeria, the newspapers are personal stories I use as part of the work.” His other series are Nonconformist and Art and Architecture, for which he combined bronze, fibre, and spoons. Last October, his debut solo exhibition Raptured took place at Om’s Flats, Lagos.
“I’m a free spirit,” Collins says. “One of the things I have trained myself to do is trusting my instinct, my artistman. I trust whatever comes to me, that there is a message in it. Once that happens to you, you are completely free, you are one with your spiritman, so whatever it gives to you, you trust it will come up great. It’s a lifetime journey for me and there is no limitation to how far I can go. With the cutlery, I have been able to create an identity. In every art I create, you’ll find a spoon. It’s my identity now.”
Otosirieze Obi-Young is Editor of Folio Nigeria, where he profiles innovators and facilitators in culture: art, business, entertainment, activism, health, food. He is a writer, journalist, curator, media consultant, former academic, and Founder & Editor-in-Chief of Open Country Mag, a new online platform covering African literature. In 2019, he received the inaugural The Future Awards Africa Prize for Literature. In 2020, he was named among "The 100 Most Influential Young Nigerians" by Avance Media. Find him on otosirieze.com or on Twitter & Insta: @otosirieze.