Art Student Creates Extraordinary Sculpture Made of Junk

This warrior is one part of "Off!!", a sculptural project created at the New York Academy of Art by Moses Tuki. Photo: Carl Glassman/Tribeca Trib

Jul. 10, 2015

Moses Tuki, a 30-year-old artist from Nigeria, graduated recently from the New York Academy of Art in Tribeca. His thesis project, an extraordinary sculpture, called “Off!!,”  is made of materials found in junk yards and bike shops that is a larger-than-life depiction of a helmeted warrior falling from a chariot, pulled by a horse reared 10 feet in the air.

“He'd come in with bags of stuff just about every day,” said Peter Drake, the Academy’s dean of academic affairs. “You’d go down to the shared work space and there'd be a whole new pile of gears or conduit or whatever. It’s Just amazing that he had that belief in himself that he knew he could get the thing done.”

The piece was purchased by a collector who the school declines to name. First offered $30,000 for the object, Tuki declined the money, asking instead that it go toward a residency program for Academy graduates in Nigeria.

The collector then offered $60,000, with the condition that the artist would use half of it to further his career.

Below, in an edited interview, Moses Tuki talks about his monumental sculpture and the efforts that went into constructing it.

Beyond aesthetics, a good piece of art should be able to address a problem of society. The issues of warfare, insecurity and trauma was the message I wanted to address.

But I had to be able to create the piece that would captivate people’s emotions so that they would want to spend time with it and to see through my eyes.

I had been reading about the war between Ramesses II and the Hittite Empire, with 6,000 chariots. So I decided to bring a relationship between the present and the past, using contemporary materials.

The fighter represents man. He is falling off the chariot because man is losing focus, losing track of what is right. The chariot, tilted to one side, represents society today, which is falling as a result of the problems—corruption, the quest for revenge and anger. The horse represents strength, and that sometimes we use our strength to do things that are not right, but also strength and the resiliency of man.

I had a scholarship from the Nigerian government to come to America, but the funds were not released to me because of corruption. My visa does not allow me to work and I am a man of honor and I wanted to respect the law. So my brother sent money from London and friends I made in school gave him money and clothes. They kept my dreams alive.

But I still did not have enough to live and sometimes not even enough for food. And I did not have the money to buy the materials I needed to make my project as it should be. And the school did not have a facility for welding. They said I should do something else.

I am very stubborn and when I want to do something I will not stop until I get it done. I said to myself, financial constraints will not stop me from achieving what I want to do. I am going to think of a way to get materials which cost little or nothing and put them together.

I told a fellow student, who I knew did bike repairs, that I want to work with junk. Do you know where I can get random bicycle parts for free? He said, I work in a bike shop, and this kind of materials are becoming a problem for us. We need to people to come pick up these parts. And I said, “Whoh!”

He took me to the bike store and they said, "Thank God you have come to pick up our bullshit!" and they allowed me to go to basement and pack it up. I took 700 to 800 bicycle wheels. I cut the rims to pieces. But then I couldn’t make the wheels for the chariot. They needed to be fabricated and I couldn’t do that. Then an artist friend asked to draw me in a junkyard in Red Hook. I said okay—and that’s where I found the wheel.

But I still didn’t have a way to put everything together.

One night, I was talking to God and said, “How am I going to do this?” I don’t have the resources. And, in a calm voice, He asked me a question: “My son, what do you want? Wisdom or a welding machine. And I said, “I am sorry for complaining. I want wisdom. And he said, “I am going to give you wisdom in full measure.” When I told my instructors that God had spoken to me, they thought I was crazy! But I was confident that I would create something.

I worked from 9 midnight, seven days a week. I went from one bike store to another. I went to the junk yard in Red Hook. I got rusted parts, junk metal, some from cars, different things. Twice a week, I would carry stuff  back on the subway or bus and I would be blocking the way. I would tell people I am sorry for being such a pain in the ass, but they were very nice to me, even though I was taking up so much space.

Sometimes, I got so frustrated, I felt like crying. I kept trying different ways to put the pieces together Instead of welding. I tried using nuts and bolt, but the metal snapped. Then one day, I tried using a clamp. It worked!  I rushed to the store and bought more and I realized that with these clamps, I could create it. I used more that 1,000 clamps.

No one could figure out how I did it. Then a professor said to me in class, “Do you know the gravity of what you have done? You have solved a problem no one knew how to solve.  You have found a way so you don’t have to cast. That is a real breakthrough and we have not seen anything like this before.”

People say this piece is beautiful, that it’s incredible. But I don’t care about that. What matters to me is what propelled me to make it. To try to use art to make society a better place.



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