Sustaining Wenger’s sacred art
Even in death, Susanne Wenger, the Adunni Olorisa, and her phenomenal contributions to art in Nigeria continue to open fresher windows of appreciation and relevance of contemporary Nigerian arts to the globe. Assistant Editor (Arts) OZOLUA UHAKHEME writes on New Sacred Art, an on-going group art exhibition featuring her works and those of her disciples.
“On a personal note, during my time in Nigeria and my tenure as managing director of Guinness Nigeria, I have come to appreciate the great talent that resides in this country and the richness and variety of the culture. All of these factors come to play in our decision to support the documentation and cataloguing of the work of Susanne Wenger and the New Sacred Arts Movement. She has given her special talent for many years, almost a lifetime, to demonstrate how arts can be borne out of the culture of their environment. Anyone who has visited the site will appreciate the magical qualities it possesses. Although there are many fascinating and historical places throughout this heritage-rich country, I know of no other, in contemporary times, that has given birth to such a rich vein of artwork.”
These were the remarks of the former managing director of Guinness Nigeria, Mr. Keith T. Richard in the foreword to Susanne Wenger: Her House And Her Art Collection, which capture the cultural depth and relevance of the on-going group art exhibition, New Sacred Art at Quintessence Falomo Shopping Complex, Ikoyi, Lagos.
Leading the pack of exhibiting artists is Sangodare Gbadegesin Ajala, a batik artist and high priest. Other artists for the exhibition include, Buraimoh Gbadamosi, a stone and wood carver, Ojewale Amoo, sculptor in cement and wood, Kasali Akangbe Ogun, a wood carver, Rabiu Abesu, a wood carver and Adebisi Akanji, a sculptor in cement. These artists according to the organizers of the exhibition are distinct and separate from the popular Osogbo art school that comprises of contemporary artists.
Sangodare is a representative of traditional Yoruba culture and the last son of a Sango priest who was later raised by Susanne Wenger after the death of his father. He did not only filled the role of Wenger’s eldest son, but has many different vocations: highest initiated Sango priest, traditional herbalist and healer and batik artist. His batik paintings are concerned with his religious experience, as his art builds a bridge between traditional Yoruba wisdom and the ever changing world of today.
Sangodare though worked with Wenger on batik, but his art is being described as ‘most inventive and successful.’ Interestingly, his work is always perceived as keeping the spirit and quality of batik at alive. As an Osogbo-based artist, his exhibitions have not been restricted to the local circuit as he has exhibited across Europe, North America, Brazil, and Cuba. In Wenger’s words, “The art of Sangodare embodies and radiates that quality which makes and keeps him a Sango priest.”
Gbadamosi is one of Wenger’s closest friends (‘soul brother’) and artistic collaborators who along with Akangbe and Abesu created most of the wooden carvings in the Osun Groves. He is best known for his magnificent stone sculptures, which are displayed throughout the Sacred Groves as well as inside and outside of Wenger’s house at Ibokun road, Osogbo. On his artistic expression and inspiration, Gbadamosi said: “My mind, heart and soul are the secret of the inspiration to produce my work. They are working together to tell me what to do at the right time just immediately I handle a stone.” Like Sangodare, he is equally widely exhibited in Europe, North America and Canada.
For Akangbe Ogun, a carpenter by training later joined Wenger erecting scaffolding and iron reinforcements for her large scale sculptures in Osun Groves. But Wenger soon recognized and encouraged his talent as a wood carver and sculptor. Along with Abesu and Gbadamosi, his distinctive carved pillars and large wooden sculptors are a dominant feature of the New Sacred Art in the Osun Groves. He is also responsible for erecting magnificent roofs, many shaped like birds with parted wings, which protect the shrines.
The artists of the New Sacred Art Movement are without exception, non-academic artists who work mainly in batik, wood and cement. Although form and style are largely flexible in the works, techniques are generally those of Yoruba tradition, thus making most of their artistic representations exclusively those of the orisa, or gods. Also dominant are the human or animal figurative sculptures.
The exhibition will run till October 24 at Quintessence Falomo Shopping Complex, Ikoyi, Lagos.
Adunni Olorisa Trust
Susanne Wenger, who was born in 1915 in Graz, Austria and dedicated her life to traditional Yoruba religious practice for over four decades, died on January 12, this year. Until her death, she has collected many works of art by the artists of the New Sacred Art Movement and other collectible pieces of traditional art at her residence on Ibokun Road, Osogbo, Osun State. As part of efforts to immortalize the name of Wenger as well as preserve her legacies, the National Commission for Museums and Monuments in collaboration with the Adunn Olorisa Trust (AOT), embarked on the documentation of the collection for posterity.
The first stage of the documentation began with the numbering of the works, mapping of their locations, and photographic documentation. Over four hundred items were listed. The outcome of this is the publication of a book, Susanne Wenger: Her House And Her Art Collection, edited by Nichola Saunders and Augustine Mrezeder-Taylor. Last April, Osogbo was alive with various activities to mark the final burial of the late Susanne Adunni Olorisa Wenger. The people of Osogbo led by the Ataoja, Oba Iyiola Oyewale Matanmi III, in collaboration with the Osun State government, have dedicated the period to commemorate her. There were other artistic and cultural exhibitions to celebrate her legacies. The week-long event witnessed a lecture titled Culture and Development: The Role of Mama Susanne Wenger in the Development of Osogbo delivered by Ambassador Segun Olusola and Dr. Oyeronke Olademo of the University of Ilorin. It climaxed with an art exhibition tagged: Susanne Wenger, Her House and Her Art, and the launch of a book by Adunni Olorisa Trust (A O T) at WOCDIF Centre.
SPAN raises alarm over uncertified dance instructors
By Ozolua Uhakheme
Assistant Editor (Arts)
Worried by the inherent risks children are exposed to when taught by uncertified dance instructors the founder and president of the Society for the Performing Arts in Nigeria, Mrs. Sarah Boulos has called for an effective standardization in the teaching and practice of contemporary dance in the country. She said many of the dance instructors operating in schools and communities across the country do not have the training and skills necessary to teach Nigerian children the dance foundations they require to build on for a future profession of international standard in the art of dance. She noted that certification in various genres of dance is an avenue to help theses instructors empower the children in the right way.
Mrs. Boulos who spoke on the Risks, Opportunities and the Right Move at a media briefing in Lagos, explained such deficiency in instructor could affect the bones development of children because ballet dance requires the expansion of muscles and bones unlike traditional African dances.
She however assured that SPAN in collaboration with Dance Dynamics, Nameless Dance Academy of the Middle East and Dance Guild of Nigeria is committed to empower and train the dance instructors that desire to become successful in their careers by certifying them with two programmes. She therefore charged potential dance instructors to sign up with SPAN’s certification programmes in order to enrich the children for better professional performances. “From our environmental analysis and experiences over the last three years, we have realized the need and importance to address the community on the short-comings rampant in the at education programmes of our schools especially in the art genre of dance,” she added.
Mrs. Boulos stressed that the essence of the association’s programmes is to bring dialogue together between traditional Nigerian dance and contemporary dance in order to make Nigerian children richer in dances. Nigeria dances, she said, are well known to the globe but ‘all we need is to expose Nigerians to the level where they can appreciate all the ramifications of dance without forgetting their roots.’
One of the recently certified ballet dance instructors with the SPAN is Academy, Lebanon. SPAN is a non-governmental organization that aims to set a world-class standard for performing art education and services in Nigeria, and to offer opportunities in dance, music, theatre and visual arts to talented Nigerians. As part of its activities to discover talent, the association is embarking on a special project to raise a selected team of instrumentalist and vocalist who will be groomed to become one of the best in Nigeria by renowned personalities in the arts industry. Audition is October 23, by 12 noon at Guiding Light Assembly, Parkview Estate, Ikoyi, Lagos.
Again, Uniben art school in fresh rebirth
After two major unsuccessful attempts at regrouping as disciples of an art school, some fine arts graduates of University of Benin are back on the block. This time, they are emerging as the University of Benin Trained Artists (UBTA), a platform for the sharing of artistic productivity of its members. Assistant Editor (Arts) OZOLUA UHAKHEME writes on the group’s maiden art exhibition, Treasures of Benin opening at the National Museum, Lagos on October 31
Unlike other art schools (Zaria, Osogbo, Auchi, Ife and Nsukka), the Benin art school has been unable to bring its graduates together under one formidable and broad based forum to project their artistic skills despite several attempts in the past. Yet, the Uniben art school is no doubt, a distinct and unique school, which has produced many great artists. But the non-existence of such group can be traced to the elasticity of freedom and openness granted arts students by its founding father, the late Prof. Solomon Irein Wangboje who believed strongly that artistic endeavours must not be boxed up by stylistic tendencies.
Today, that liberal approach of Prof. Wangboje is seemingly being reviewed by a group of arts graduates of the school, University of Benin Trained Artists (UBTA), who is reawakening the consciousness to carve a place for Benin art school among other existing art schools. To this end, a maiden a group art exhibition, Treasures of Benin, is being organized by the group to announce its entry into the art exhibition circuit. Treasures of Benin will open at the National Museum, Onikan, Lagos on October 31 and runs till November 6 featuring 20 artists who are expected to present either three paintings or five sculptures each depending on area of specialisation.
At a preview session in Lagos, the chairman of the group, Kenneth Njoku said the art exhibition is aimed at showcasing the artists’ views on burning issues of the day ranging from politics, to social, religion, economic and cultural. He explained that at the close of the exhibition, Uniben art school would have gotten a formidable group that would regularly share her views through exhibitions.
“Due to non-existence of a well articulated forum to project their artistic voices collectively, the University of Benin Trained Artists was formed by well meaning graduates of the great Benin art school. It was initiated by Kenneth Njoku, Ekwueme Edison, Ejeh Louis, Evans Imafidon, Edozie George and Ifeoma Anyaeji,” he said. Njoku explained that the emerging group would stand the test of time because the structures are on ground to forestall collapse. He noted that UBTA is an answer to yearning of studio practicing artists of the Benin art school, who saw the need for a formidable and broad based forum to share their artistic productivity. He added that UBTA is a group of artists who obtained their first degrees from the University of Benin and who have remained steadfast and dedicated to their chosen career. On the membership of the group, he stressed that any intending member must have five years post graduation studio practice.
Akin Onipede, a member of the group observed that though there were groups like Ekenwan art grads and AWANSCA, that went under, the latest attempt is a reawakening to carve a place for Uniben art school not with the intent of forming of stylistic traits but to make strong statement. Ames ofong exhibiting artists are Bolaji Ogunwo, Akin Onipede, Evans Imafidon, Kenneth Njoku, Okezie Okafor, George Edozie and Olojo….
The group’s aims include the promotion of research and innovation in studio practice, to contribute to knowledge and encourage upcoming artists on the gains of studio practice and to protect and promote the ideologies of her alma matter.