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Iyase-Odozi’s iconographic explorations into Benin arts

By Osa Mbonu Amadi, Arts Editor 

On the significant day of June 12, 2019, arts & culture journalists, visual arts masters and academicians, renown art collectors, curators, lovers of artworks from diplomatic missions of different countries, and people of diverse background, gathered at Thought Pyramid Art Centre, Ikoyi, Lagos, for the press preview and art discourse of the works of Princess Oghogho Iyase-Odozi in preparation for her travelling historical solo royal art exhibition scheduled for October 2019.

The title of the October exhibition is “Uhunmwen Vbe Ehinmwen and Master of the Circled Cross in Benin Kingdom”, while the theme of the art discourse was “Renaissance of the Imagery and Symbolism in Benin Iconography: Iyase-Odozi’s Art Appropriations in Focus”.

During the press preview anchored by renowned painter and art lecturer at the University of Lagos, Bolaji Ogunwo, the exhibiting artist, Princess Theresa Iyase-Odozi in her introductory remark, gave an insight into the works she created for the upcoming exhibition and her source of inspiration:

“Benin mythology is based on collections of their history, deities, ancestors, festivals, heroes and the people’s predilections,” she said. Iyase-Odozi had over the years developed interest in Benin culture and had researched into Benin Art History took particular interest in icons found in Benin artifacts.

“A key ‘Icon’ found prominently displayed across most artifacts is the Circled Cross. This particular icon appeared in basically on most of the plaques where the Oba was represented in the 15th Century. One of these works was titled ‘MASTER OF THE CIRCLED CROSS IN BENIN KINGDOM’. That struck me.

“There are several folkloric interpretations of this Circled Cross, which has a spiritual undertone used during rituals and festivals. This exhibition has for the first time in the history of Benin unraveled the unidentified Iconography and Semiotics. This is a gift from the ancestors; not just a gift, but a treasure we need to tap into to secure the future,” said Oghogho Iyase-Odozi.

What the artist did was to translate the Iconographies into 2-D mixed media paintings and transferred the intricate iconographies to textile motifs known as Iyase-Odozi EDO-BATIK.

Her works also seeks to revive the waning batik clothing culture in Benin and thereby impart some aspects of Benin culture to the younger generation through empowerment programmes. The significance of her works, she said, is that they will reposition Benin art and culture as well as attract tourists.

Works produced for the solo exhibition include 45 mixed media works; Contemporary Benin Royal Altar consisting of a mixed media painting of a typical Benin Oba, 4 huge ivory tusks, 12 totems in Edo Batik of different sizes, 4 Uhunwum Elao (commemorative heads), 10 potted plants representing the Ebe Ewere leaves used during Igue Festivals, and 4 long ancestral totems; then, the Edo Batik textile designs in different forms including 45 Edo Batik textile designs, 45 T-Shirts in Edo batik designs, and 45 scarf and mufflers.

Special guests of honour at the event were Prof. Bruce Onobrakpeya, Omoba Yemisi Shyllon; and Victor Ake Odozi, former Deputy Governor CBN and husband of the exhibiting artist. The panelists who discussed the theme, “Renaissance of the Imagery and Symbolism in Benin Iconography: Iyase-Odozi’s Art Appropriations in Focus” were Dr. Kunle Filani, Dr. Mike Omoighe, and Kehinde Adepegba.

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