Trip to: Osogbo and the Osun Groves
Date: 15-16th March, 2014
On March 15 & 16, seventeen Nigerian Field Society members embarked on journey to Osun State. We hopped aboard our borrowed Chevron bus (Thanks, Daniel!) for the approximate 2 ½ hour trip. Before we knew it, we hit our first truly Nigerian experience when the roads were under construction, resulting in a stalemate traffic situation. Oh, the joys of the upcoming election season and road maintenance!
Soon enough, we arrived at the Sacred Groves of Osogbo, a UNESCO World Heritage site, and one of the most important religious sites for the Yoruba people. The Groves contain shrines to the Orisas, or the Gods of the Yoruba, and are surrounded by lush forests and rivers with beautiful artwork hidden (and some more the obvious) throughout.
At one of the first shrines we visited, we were welcomed by a stunning woman dressed in traditional Yoruba wraps with colorful beads and strings tied in her hair. The shrine itself was a beautifully crafted bird-like structure, surrounded by statues. This mysterious woman walked into the shrine ringing a bell and bowed, showing respect to the River Goddess. After she completed her ritual, we were introduced to Doyin Faniyi, a Priestess and one of the adopted children of Susanne Wenger. Doyin continued to lead us through the forest paths, discovering more art and shrines as we hiked. In one of the larger shrines, she invited us to participate in a ritual sacrifice of Yams and kolanut. Doyin explained the works and their meanings, and also shared stories about her adopted mother, Priestess Susanne Wenger.
Susanne Wenger was an Austrian artist initiated as a Yoruba Priestess in the mid-20th century. Upon moving to Nigeria with her husband, Ulli Beier, Susanne became a savior to the Groves. She immersed herself in the traditional culture, and was invited to rebuild the ancient Shrines in the Sacred Groves with magnificent works of art. Susanne inspired, trained and promoted local artists. Together they created these magnificent works of art throughout the Sacred Groves. Ulli Beier also inspired a Movement of artists. Their influences led to both the New Sacred Art Movement (creating within the Groves and shrines) and the Contemporary Art Movement of Osogbo.
After visiting the Sacred Groves, we were fortunate to experience other artists and works of art of the Sacred Arts movement and the Contemporary Artists of Osogbo. We stayed in renowned artist Nike’s guest house, and were treated to a delicious Nigerian dinner that included bushmeat, python and swallow. After dinner, we celebrated, danced and enjoyed cultural performances from Nike’s dancers and drummers.
The following morning we continued to experience the diverse and striking art of Osogbo with a visit to Susanne Wenger’s home. The beautifully crafted building is more or less a tribute/shrine/museum/gallery to Susanne, along with studio, and a small shop displaying their work. The home is an overwhelmingly inspirational occurrence filled with the art of the artists with whom she worked in the Groves, the New Sacred Art Movement, which fills every open space in the 3 stories of the home. We were also welcomed to Nike’s Workshop, where she continues to teach traditional arts such as indigo dying, adire textiles. woodcarving, and metalwork. Nike and her collection helped us tie and dye our own works before bringing us to their gallery. The gallery, much like Nike’s Gallery in Lekki, is filled wall-to-wall with Nigerian art, both traditional and contemporary.
There is a Yoruba proverb that states, “Anyone who sees beauty and does not look at it will soon be poor.” In visiting Osogbo there is beauty hidden around every corner, inspired by the past and inspiring the present. As we traveled back to Lagos, reflecting on all the splendor we had seen, all we had experienced, and the people we had met, danced with and laughed with- it was impossible not to feel rich with the art, the culture and the beauty of Osogbo, a city that brought 17 strangers together and welcomed them, shared their art, history and culture.