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Sacred exhibition in honour of Susan Wenger…

By Japhet Alakam &Omolara

The works and legacies of one of the greatest gifts to the Nigerian art community and one who devoted much of her time and energy to the preservation and propagation of Yoruba culture in the 20th century, Susan Wenger popularly known as Adunni Orisa shortly after her death, came alive again last week as a group of artists known as The New Sacred Art  Movement, an artistic movements founded by the late culture priestess stormed Lagos from Osogbo for a unique exhibition tagged; A Legacy of Susan Wenger: An Exhibition of the Artists of the New Sacred Art Movement.

The exhibition, which opened on Saturday 10th October  at Quintessence Gallery Ikoyi, Lagos. will run till 24th October 2009.

The Austrian born Susan Wenger who was originally trained as a draughtsman and graphic artist came to Nigeria with her husband, Ulli Beier and later got remarried to Ajegemo, a powerful Obatala priest who initiated her into the traditional Yoruba religion- the world of the Orisha.


The New Sacred Art Movement in the vision of its founding mother, Susanne Wenger comprises of a group of traditional artists who  worked with the late Orisha votary in the Sacred Groves of Osogbo creating sculptures and monuments of immense spirituality .

The artists include eleven of the original artists of the Movement who worked with Susanne Wenger and eight others, who joined the Movement in later years and  continued this remarkable tradition of New Sacred Art. The exhibition which is the first of the group since 1995 is sponsored by the Adunni Orisha Trust(AOT), a charitable Trust established to preserve the legacy of Susanne Wenger and the New Sacred Art Movement .

Taking newsmen round the exhibition, Robin Campbell, a member of the trust and coordinator of the exhibition said that “the exhibition is to honour Susanne Wenger and the many works she did.” Adding that “Wenger paid more attention to culture. She is of the view that culture plays a significant role in any given society.

She focussed more on culture than religion.She took pride in the culture of Osogbo and did it in a way that you can still practice your religion, whether you are a Muslim or Christian. ” Campbell also explained that AOT was established to promote the legacies of Susanne Wenger and since its inception the body has been working to make sure that the sculptures and monuments of  Wenger are  maintained.

“many of the works of art for sale cover a range of media from sculptures in wood, cement, bronze, metal, batik, drawings and textiles.” She said.The present  exhibition showcases about 146 works by the group including two of the original works of Susanne Wenger.

The group which exhibited widely in Europe with Susanne Wenger in the 70’s, 80’s and early 90’s is doing this exhibition in honour of Susanne Wenger who died in January 2009 at the age of 94. Interestingly, thirteen members of the movement who worked with Susanne in the Osun Groove of Osogbo came for the exhibition in honour of the late art icon.

New Sacred Art is art created, in Susanne’s words, as an “expression of the sacred”, inspired by the force of nature experienced in the Osun Groves of Osogbo and by Yoruba traditional religion. It is not art made for personal acclaim or commercial success or  social or political expression.

Similar to traditional Yoruba ritual woodcarvers of times past, the artists of the New Sacred Art in the words of Susanne’s former husband, Ulli Beier, are inspired by “ the same mythology, the same cultural context, using the same symbols, speak the same archaic language, and yet they produce totally different forms, completely different images”.

The Movement started in the 1960s when Susanne Wenger started to work in the Groves with local craftsmen, carpenters, carvers, bricklayers, blacksmiths and painters who eventually, by observing her artistic work, were inspired to become more creative in their own expressions.

The exhibiting artists include  Adebisi Akanji, a bricklayer who actually taught Susanne the technique of cement sculpturing and became her invaluable assistant in creating the monumental sculptures in years to come. Adebisi Akanji is exhibiting his remarkably inventive cement sculptures as well as drawings in pen and ink.

Others are Shangodare Gbadegesin Ajali, Susanne’s eldest adopted son. Shangodare is the last son of an important Sango Priest who upon his father’s death was brought to Susanne Wenger to raise  in the  true Yoruba tradition. Shangodare worked with Susanne on wax batiks and also developed his own unmistakable style of colour batiks.

Among the works being  exhibited is the Igungun Festival which examines the cultural display during Osun festival.
Adedoyin Talabi Fanyi, Wenger’s adopted daughter’ s work which she described as Sacred painting of Osun si also on display.

Other works of art exhibited are stone works by Buraimoh Gbadamosi, wood carving by Kasali Akangbe, Rabiyu Abesu and Oyewale Amoo ,bronze work by Kasali Oladepo, and metal work by Ajibike Ogunyemi.


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