While he was working and exhibiting in Germany, metal sculptor Mufu Ahmed’s friends gave him an unusual nickname: Iron Must Obey. “They called me that because of the way I work with the metal,” he says. “I use big metal shears to cut the pieces, and then I bend them by hand.”
Ahmed was born in Ede, Nigeria, and was interested in art from an early age. He trained as a teacher at St. Andrew’s College in Nigeria and then taught art in elementary and private schools. Originally he made quilts and did batik, art forms he studied at the Nike Center for Art and Culture in Oshogbo, Nigeria. But in 1991 he took a welded-metal sculpture workshop from a visiting German artist and discovered a new medium, which allowed him to exhibit all over the world. His first exhibits in the U.S. were in 1999 and 2001 at the Black Art Studio in Santa Fe, N.M., where he met his future wife, Erin, a Portland native.
Story continues below image
Many of Ahmed’s sculptures such as this lion (pictured) are of animals found in Africa. “The idea behind them, from that first workshop I took, is to bring the animals to children,” he says. “In Africa, the animals are wild, so it was a way to introduce them to children so they could learn and understand about the animals.”
After Ahmed develops an idea for a sculpture, he makes a simple drawing of it. “The drawing is an outline of the piece’s framework,” he says. “I don’t want the drawing to control me. I use it just to get the proportions right.” Then he makes a metal version of the framework, and cuts and welds smaller pieces of steel or recycled metal to fill it in.
As a public artist, Ahmed’s work can be seen at the New Columbia neighborhood redevelopment project in Portland, where he designed 22 cast bronze benches and three free-standing sculptures. “I like working with metal very much,” he says. “It’s a lot of work, but I like where my inspirations take me.” The 2-foot by 14-inch lion sculpture is $800, but his pieces range from $100 for a small bird to $8,000 for a 41/2-foot-tall galvanized and powder-coated heron for outdoor use.
Contact metal sculptor Mufu Ahmed via his website at mufuart.com.