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            The modern artist is in constant search of access to improve technology that makes possible the use of foreign medium, tools and devices as a result of constant demand of our growing society. This new trend has drastically shifted the focus of most African artists who clamour for the aesthetics and to ‘what is selling now syndrome’. Ikwuemesi (n.d.) concur with this view as he says “In the aftermath of post-modernism when it remained fashionable for artists to return to their roots and history in search of an identity Nigerian art, like much of other African art, has become very eclectic”. The researcher is influenced by the earthiness and spontaneity of some African art media. And if you look back, you will understand that since the emergence of cubism, the Europeans have always look to Africa for something novel. This research work titled: Development of Sculpture with Organic Forms: an Exploration with Calabash for the Exterior space, is not intended to introduce a new medium that could compete or substitute stone, steel or marble in terms of durability. It is however an exploration with organic medium to stretch its limit as to be placed out door. Let us not be deceived, nothing is actually permanent, rather great ideas attached to the most mundane of medium possesses the tendency to outlive the generation of its maker.  

This research work provides in print, the experience of the several processes the researcher undertook both in and out of the studio in a bid to establish calabash as a viable medium for sculpture that can survive outdoor. 



1.1 Background of the Study

          Most natural objects have organic shapes because they reflect the free-flowing aspects of precise species and hence their irregular shapes. Some characteristics that help us to appreciate the shapes and forms such as surface, weight and mass, material composition and position in space add to our experiences and heighten our visual pleasure. When we draw or construct shapes, we need to understand how to interpret qualities such as lightness or heaviness. There is a striking difference in the quality or value contrast between rendering a cloud and rendering a rock or a mountain form. While the former has subtle flow and diffused edge, the latter is described with sharp surface quality, coarse and edgy structure.                                                                                          

             The surface and shape of the calabash are two of many qualities that not only inform but also delight the eye. Visually experiencing smooth textured surface is often linked with past tactile encounters with the human skin. For the sightless, the tactile experience translates important impressions from fingers to brain. Both eyes and fingers can move easily across glass, finished wood, polished metal or processed gourd. However, some natural medium can be transformed into eerie or surrealistic forms by changing their texture or juxtaposition their various forms. Invariably, our psychological responses are heightened by seeing such unusual effect where shapes or forms are positioned in space to generate a force or create a feeling of repose and stability, visual strength or action.

Nature, with its almost unlimited supply of forms, is a great source of design. It has always been a primary stimulus for artist and the calabash being an object of nature, could perhaps be an interesting medium for the researcher to begin.

          In fact, there is no household item that is so responsive to human need as did the calabash in the ancient time. Its multiple functions to different people have not only made it common to all cultures but also popular. The etymology of the word came from sources that are quite equivocal. One came from Spanish ‘Calabaza, another, possibly from Arabic Car’ayabisa dry gourd or from Persian “Kharabuz, used for various large melons; or from pre-Roman Iberian Calapacia.’ When people of temperate regions used the word calabash they are referring usually to the fruit of the calabash gourd. Or bottle gourd, Legenaria Siceraria (Legenaria Vulgaris) an annual vine of the Cucurbitaceae.

According to Bailey (1956) ‘The original species of Legeneria Siceraria is probably from tropical Africa and eastern India. The Gourd families which include vine species that may exceed 700, with at least 100 different genera, are actually primordial.”

Morton (1957) adds that ‘the variously shaped and multi-coloured fruits of this species, dried and often varnished are usually utilitarian or familiar as decorations”. While some use the calabash as bird houses, food conservers, dippers or ladles and musical instruments and so on, others see it as sacred.

Another variety of the hard-shelled fruit is the crescentia cujete or crescentia alata, popular as the calabash tree. Wayne’s Word (1996) acknowledged that ‘there are two species of calabash trees that grow wild in Mexico’(p4). Similar species of crescentia cujete that is found in parts of Nigeria, however, is easily identified because it has simple leaves and gourd-like fruits. Yvonne (1995) confirms that gourds grow in most parts of Africa. When cut and dried, they are used as food bowl, serving dishes and sound boxes for musical instruments.

The word calabash and gourd have been used interchangeably over the years to mean the same thing, and they will also be used in this manner in this project report.

It is rather fascinating to note the diverse ways gourds are appreciated around the world. Modecai (1978) admits that, ‘So important were gourds to the Haitians in the 1800’s that gourd was made the national currency by the then governor of northern Haiti, Henri Christopher. To this day, the standard coin of Haiti is called the gourd

In other parts of the world, the value of gourds goes beyond finances and ventured into food and health. According to a leading authority on gourd, Whitaker and Robinson(1986) ‘early people in the new world that are diet conscious know that squashes are low in calories, high in fiber, and some are rich in Vitamin ‘A’. They can be eaten raw in Salad, or fried, boiled, steamed, pickled, candied, dried, baked or made into pies and bread’ especially by the Asians and Caribbean.

The ancient Chinese remedy for health recommends that doctors carry medicine inside calabash because it has fabled properties for healing. Whitaker and Robinson (1986) accept that the hulu is believed to absorb negative earth-based qi (energy) that would otherwise affect health hence, its use as traditional Chinese medicine core. In Hawaii, the ATM machines of University of Hawaii Federal Credit Union (UHFCU) are labeled Kalabash perhaps because they can be thought of as a large serving bowl for twenty-dollar bills. Further influence of calabash was evident on the soccer city stadium that hosted the FIFA world cup 2010. This great structure in South Africa has a shape inspired by calabash.

The Crook Neck gourds are carrier vessels for the popular liquors (palm wine, brukutu, pito, ogogoro etc) of the West African region.  Also, Kora, a harp lute used today as the symbol of the most prestigious African music award is adopted from a calabash musical instrument. On a humorous note, people in most West African countries use the title ‘second in calabash’ often to refer to someone who is the second in command.

The BBC news of 6th January 2009 reported on ‘Nigeria biker’s vegetable helmets’ where calabash was used to avoid a law requiring the wearing of helmet on motorcycle. Unlike the bikers, the people of Argungu took a positive twist by perfecting the art of fishing on round gourds as floaters. Most especially when they display their skills annually during the fishing festival in Kebbi state, Nigeria.

Summit  &  Wides (1996) reports that, New Guinea however, has one of the most remarkable use for gourds. Interestingly, is the use of  penial sheath gourds for their males, which has considerable speculation among anthropologist about the purpose of such gourds. Yet, it is agreed that they serve more than just being a protective device for the penis but, also serve an important social function.                                                                                       

The calabash has been used to transmit words that rejuvenate the spirit of Africa in her people, but the mysteries of this great fruit linger like the myths in the tales that they carry. The religious life of the African people was characterized by the uses of certain objects and vessels during their worship sessions in the ancient times. This was due to the presence of rituals in the worship pattern of the indigenous religion and one of the most prominent vessels used during those rituals is the calabash. The same calabash serves as containers for storing concoctions from the native doctors meant to ward off evil spirits, thieves, or even to charm people. Other circumstances where the calabash is outstanding included masquerade dance theatres and burial rites, where women and children are mostly forbidden from participating.

Such uses of the calabash as the ones mentioned above have made it appear hideous, extremely sacred and repelling to some modern day Africans. The body of work intended in this research is however an attempt to pry into some of these mysteries through the explorations of calabash as a sculptural medium

1.2 Statement of the Problem

Despite its inherent qualities, prolong history of use, and commonality, work                                                                                                                                            produced in calabash are stereotypically relegated to the confines of craft, religion

or fetish, and not acceptable as sculptural pieces.                                                            

Works of art that art presented in calabashes are thus restricted to an aspect of art  

that have shallow meanings and which are produced by common skilled people”. This is because most calabash works particularly in Africa either serve one utilitarian function or the other. But this case is even made worse by the introduction of plastics as substitute containers at a relatively low price which has adversely resulted in the low patronage of calabash works for either household utensils or decorative items.

From the available literature reviewed for the purpose of this studio research, there is no evidence of free standing large scale calabash outdoor sculpture in the open space in Nigeria elsewhere. In spite of the immense potentials that the calabash holdes for creative expressions, particularly in sculpture, artists have scarcely explored the medium elaborately for their studio works. Apart from the Fulani milk maids’ calabashes which incidentally are regarded as craft, all other calabash works are mixed-media pieces where calabash is brought in as supporting element in the composition.                                                            However, subjecting calabash to critical studio explorations to discover creative potentials locked in the medium and the means to exploit the potentials have formed the thrust of this studio enquiry.

1.3 Objectives of the Study

The objective of the research is: to create free standing sculpture with whole gourds so as to accentuate the variety of forms inherent in the medium, in an attempt to establish calabash as a viable sculptural medium.

The researcher will through exhibition of the research work rejuvenate appreciation for calabash from the public.

To stretch the context of the use of calabash to such limit of being placed outdoors.

To evoke a consciousness in the minds of government and policy makers on the need to formulate policies that promote Nigeria cultural relics.

The researcher is focused on exploration with various calabash forms for display outdoors with a view to reviving a public appreciation for the medium.

1.4 Limitation

Due to low patronage, calabash is scarce thereby, making it expensive in the few places where it is found. The acquisition of the product has become perilous lately due to the civil unrest of “Boko Haram” in most parts of the northern Nigeria. And in the eastern and western parts of Nigeria the product is not found in the open market unless one travels to the villages. The challenge in the southern part of Nigeria is that of difficult challenge most especially during the calabash harvest season.

Sequel to the above, transporting calabash from several parts of the country to Enugu has been herculean. Though the material is light weight it is bulky and therefore, takes up more space that transporters had to charge higher fares or refuse transporting the items a times.

These among many other factors like language barrier between the researcher and the people in some local community where calabash is found.; and also the fear due to stigma that calabash is considered fetish makes some people unwilling to dialogue with the researcher, thus, dwindled the pace of the research.

1.5 Significance of the Study

Sculptures in open spaces in various media have been done elsewhere and especially in Nigeria. The bulk of the work of this research is an attempt to stretch the context of the use of calabash to such limit of being placed outdoors. This is in addition to bridging the yawning gap of such pieces in a material like calabash: an unusual phenomenon in the Nigerian landscape.

To pave way for other artists to venture into the medium and explore its limitless unique characteristics.

Definition of Terms

Anansi- In Ghanaian myth; an epitome of wisdom or a trick-star, prominent in Ashanti

oral culture

Burkutu- A local brew made from sorghum popular in the northern part of Nigeria.

Ha-le-mau-mau- Hawaiian sacred mountain

Hulu- Chinese word for bottle gourd

Jibue-A Jenjo (a tribe in Karim-lamido LGA, Taraba State) word for ladle

Nyame- The God of wisdom in Ghanaian myth

Obatala- The creator of mankind in Yoruba myth.

Oduduwa- A Yoruba deity of good will

Ogogoro- A local gin distilled from coconut or palm tree.

Olodomare- The Yoruba word for the Almighty God.

Pele- Hawaiian goddess of fire, hospitality, kindness and reward.

Pito-  The Hausa word for burkutu that is not yet fermented.

Poi- A Hawaiian word for portage.

Shantu- A popular musical instrument derived from calabash, usually played by women

and teenage girls in northern Nigeria.

Shinto- A Japanese cult that believes in the generative force of nature coexisting with


Zana- Mat- fence made of straw / grass that is popular as screen, wall fencing in  northern Nigeria.

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