Although it’s very difficult to establish the exact time bronze casting started in Benin, but it can be traced way back to the time of the first royal dynasty of Ogiso. During that time, the Oba was in charge of all bronze casted in the city, until the British invasion in 1897 which also saw most of the artwork stolen. Igun street which is the home of Bronze Casting, is one of the 31 guilds of the Oba of Benin which is very exclusive and impossible to penetrate, all members of the guild are related by a common ancestor and descendants of “Ine Nigun”, who is the custodian of the street and the bronze casters.
The name Igun Street is a shortened form of Igun Eronwan which means the place where bronze works are created. It is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site. Festac 77 which was the second Black and African Festival of Arts and Culture, had most of its bronze works on display from Igun Street.
Lesson in Bronze Casting From Master Craftsman Omoruyi Igbinosa
Depending on how you see it, bronze casting is relatively easy, it just takes a lot of time and attention to details to come out with a good cast.
Haba Naija contributor Bubemi Ekengbuda got a quick bronze casting crash course from Omoruyi Igbinosa; mastercrafts man and bronze caster with over 12 years experience working with Bronze in Igun Street. Mr Igbinosa learnt his craft skills from his father.
First of all Mr Igbinosa gets some red sand and mixes it up with clay so it would become solid, then he molded it into the shape of the object he planned on making, then he left it to dry,
After its dried, Omoruyi got some wax, this wax is obtained fresh from the beehive, it actually smells like honey, the wax was melted a little bit and he then used it as coating on the already moulded red sand, after waxing, he then used some more red sand on top of the wax, this was done, so that when the casting is finished and the first sand is removed it would now get a hollow shape i.e its going to form an empty hole under the image.
The Next stage was what he called the “Lost Wax Process”, this involves putting the object in the fire for the wax to melt away.
After the wax was melted away, he gets a casting pot, and also the main raw material which is Brass, it was then put in an oven which was surrounded by coal and a fan which would blow the fire till the brass melts into liquid form.
After it was melted, the ground was dug very deep, and the image was put inside the hole, then he poured the melted brass on the image. After about 2 hours, it was brought out and he began to chisel it to bring out the features of the image he had been making.
Before Omoruyi igbinosa begins any job, he makes a little sacrifice to the Ogun, god of iron to ask for his blessings, this is a ritual practised by generations of Igun Street Bronze Casters.
Prices of finished bronze works starts from as little as N8,000 to well over hundreds of thousands of Naira.