Ayokunle Odeleye - ASCENSION to a higher state of being
KENNESAW, Ga. (Feb 1, 2018) — Ayokunle Odeleye is an imposing figure. Tall and lanky, the professor of sculpture commands a presence inside and outside of his classroom at the School of Art and Design. That formidable presence is readily evident in his emboldened, multi-dimensional public art.
His most recent commission, Ascension to a Higher State of Being, reaches 30 feet into the sky, as it to defy gravity and escape the earth’s forceful pull. Located off a quiet street in downtown Norfolk, Virginia, the cold steel stands in firm resolve, providing a stark contrast to the clear blue sky.
The five-piece installation, including the four concrete structures leading to the steel sculpture, was installed in November 2017 and revealed to the community in February of 2018 as part of a Martin Luther King Day celebration. Ascension is dedicated to the downtown community off Church Street in Norfolk, as well as to the greater black community of Norfolk.
Odeleye said, “This area around Church Street was built and financed by black people; it was a very self-sufficient community, yet they were still fighting for basic rights, especially in the 1950’s.” The sculptor delved into the rich history of the area by interviewing eight different groups and asking what was significant to them, and why.
He then took those ideas and incorporated them into all five pieces, including the smaller, concrete pieces. These smaller structures act as a pathway to the main piece and are inscribed with various community statements.
For example, one of these pieces represents the Attucks Theatre (named after the first African American killed in The Revolutionary War, Crispus Attucks) from 1919, which was designed, financed, and operated by African Americans. “The concrete forms act as signage and allow the community to have a voice on historically important items,” said Odeleye.
Symbolism plays a large part in the steel piece as well, including a female climbing the upper part of the structure to “symbolize [how] immigrants from all over the world had to figure out how to move up the social structure; this was particularly true of blacks and women,” said the artist. An image of a man holding a hammer symbolizes the working class. Many in the Norfolk area work for the U.S. Navy, so navigational guides called sextants are prominent. The African mask at the top of the piece “symbolizes the contribution of African Americans,” said Odeleye.
“The community indicated that spirituality sustained them, so I used a symbol of a church; the raised fist indicates activism and fighting for civil rights against the massive resistance of politicians of Virginia to defy racial integration in the schools in the 1950’s. Rather than integrate, they just closed the schools,” explained the artist.
A professional sculptor for almost forty years, Odeleye typically maintains two to three art projects at a time and creates public projects at his Stone Mountain studios almost every year. For the Norfolk project, three Kennesaw State sculpture students (Megan Pace, Andrea Stocker, and Tiffany Hoffl) and faculty/staff members Page Burch and Chris Dziejowski assisted in casting, welding, and fabrication over the two-and-a-half-year project. Much of his work may be seen across the country, including his renowned 2013 bust of W.E.B. Du Bois at Clark-Atlanta University.
Ascension Photo Gallery