Born into a famous family of West African master carvers, Lukman Alade Fakeye continues the legacy, creating traditional Yoruba wood carvings. His great grandfather’s Epa Society Mask is on view in the new presentation of the BMA’s African Art collection—one of the most important African collections in the United States.
Lukman recently spoke with museum educator Jessica Braiterman about growing up in his father’s studio and the Epa Ceremonial Mask that represents women’s reproductive and spiritual powers during Epa festivals.
JB: How would have the BMA’s Epa Society Mask by your great-grandfather been used?
LAF: It was a ceremonial mask worn during my great grandfather’s life time. When the time for the Epa festival arrives, the mask would be worn by one of the priests to dance and bless people with prayers. The carving of the mother depicted on the mask was used to acknowledge the important role of women in our community and to pay homage to our ancestors. The mask is always kept in a shrine when not in use for the festival and elders bring offerings for the mask and say prayers.
JB: Tell me about your training as a wood carver? When did you begin to learn wood carving and who taught you?
LAF: I spent my childhood playing with my late father, Akin Fakeye, in his workshop and at the same time studying him and my brothers, Sulaiman and Akeem, who were also working in the studio. As a young kid I didn’t realize that this was part of learning process for me. The more I stayed and played in the studio, the more I absorbed. It was like storing information in a computer memory. I used to play in the studio with abandoned tools and wood with some childhood friends and my father used to tell us stories about his grandfather and his father and other great carvers. All the stories he used to tell us inspired me to learn the family tradition.
By the time I was 9-12 years old, I would head to the studio around 6 a.m. to sweep and clean the studio before going to school. After school, I would return to the studio to eat and study my father while carving. That was my daily routine as a young boy and I was determined to learn the family tradition. Over time, my father taught me how to use different kinds of carving tools and many other things about traditional Yoruba wood carving.
JB: What were some of the hardest things to learn?
LAF: As a beginner every aspect of learning is always hard. During this stage, everything is made by hand, we don’t use machine tools. For me [personally], the hardest thing to learn was to make the base balance on the floor.
JB: What’s it like being part of a prestigious wood carving family? Was there lots of pressure to carry on the family tradition?
LAF: I am very proud to be born into the Fakeye family and be one of the carvers of the Fakeye dynasty. I think there is some pressure to carry on the family tradition, because my brother and I need to take it to the next level and maintain the family legacy and tradition to the fullest.
JB: What piece are you most proud of?
I am very proud of every Fakeye carving, especially my father’s and my uncle Lamidi Fakeye’s work because they are all beautiful masterpieces. A few of my favorites are the 13’ statue of Oduduwa at Obafemi Awolowo University at Ile Ife, Nigeria and the carved doors by my father at the Catholic mission house in Ibadan, Nigeria. As for my work, I am most proud of the 7’ long carved dining table with 6 chairs.
JB: What are your future aspirations?
LAF: To continue the family legacy and take it to the next level. I want to be able to teach youth and adults around the world about traditional Yoruba wood carving techniques and the Fakeye family history.
I would love to have a Fakeye Museum of Yoruba Art and an institute to teach Yoruba art and the Fakeye dynasty so that the family tradition continues.
The expanded and renovated African galleries debut on Sunday, April 26 during a free day-long celebration, with musical performances, art-making, gallery conversations that highlight the diversity of contemporary and traditional African art, and more.