Saturday 24 December 2011


From lost scripts, Okwuosa's Soulcentricism dwells on faiths
By Tajudeen Sowole
(First published Friday, October 03, 2008)
Diversity of faiths comes with a load of complexities: from the traditional African religions, polytheist Oriental practices, to the three monotheist faiths of Judaism, Christianity and Islam, scholars would not stop probing the mystery behind people's passion for these revered faiths.
 If religions have been responsible for a large number of conflicts, which, at different times led to monumental records of death and destruction, where then lies the authenticity of the claims of some of these faiths as serving the purpose of humanity?
Mixed media, Revelation Through the Inner Eyes (2007) by Tobenna Okwuosa
  Liberalism is the missing link, so suggests, a forthcoming art exhibition of artist Tobenna Okwuosa titled Soulcentricism: A Recovery of Ancient Universal Truths and Indigenous Scripts.    
  When the show opens at the National Museum, Onikan, Lagos, this Saturday, October 4, and ends on 16, 2008, it would argue that faiths, irrespective of their origins, should explore what people share in common and dump whatever doctrines that polarise the world.     
  Building that position on his belief that no faith, culture and people are superior to others', Okwuosa has dug into some forgotten literary evidences to support his argument.
  Before capturing Okwuosa's new body of work, one cannot but take a brief look at the role of faiths in man's life. When the gospel emerged from the Middle-East and later known as Christianity, it was used as a weapon of spiritual supremacy, brought to Europe and became one huge political tool that balkanised the region into Protestantism, Catholicism and Orthodox beliefs, leaving disturbing remnant like the conflict prone Northern Ireland.
  And more complex is the fate of the prophet, Jesus, who is yet to be accepted by his accusers and Jews brethren, over two thousand years after they nailed him to the cross.
  And that heavy loss in human and material resources had occurred among Muslims, particularly in the Middle East as a result of the post-caliphate institutionalised Sunni-Shiite dichotomy must be a shock to the prophet, wherever he is, because he apparently could not have comprehended this polarisation before his death.
  Records have it that Hinduism's extremists had been linked to destruction of lives and other human resources, in its place of birth, India, than adherents of other religions from that part of the world.
 It is also important to mention the West, a self acclaimed umpire which hides under the propaganda machinery, 'New World Order', causing more havoc to human race than anyone could ever imagine, due to its intolerance for other nations' right to economic and political expression.
Scripts, Fragments and Dots (2007) a mixed media by Tobenna Okwuissa
  From Sigmund Freud's Moses and Monotheism, Tom Harpur's Monotheism's Bloody History, to the recent, Michel Houellebecq's Platform, scholarly attempts to challenge the humane claims of these faiths are very familiar.
  These and similar complexities of faiths must have informed Okwuosa's theme of the exhibition. Perhaps, the artist's show is the first of its kind from the visual arts scene, in this part of the world, to revisit the cost and role of religions in the quest for a peaceful world.
  Significantly too, the show is opening just two weeks after the United Nation's International Day of Peace, usually marked across the world every year on September 21.
  During the preview of the exhibition held in Lagos recently, works meant for the show revealed that scrolls which played a significant role in the emergence of these faiths, is being adapted by Okwuosa as part of the medium built in each of the exhibits. Although the artist's version of scrolls looks very much like an architectural design for a window blind, the message is not lost, in the fragmented leather and fabric that make for easier folding. 
  And they are not mere aesthetics, as he explained: "These fragmental pieces are metaphorical representations of the balkanizations we find in races, tribes, religions etc and the act of sewing them on a single support is a process of reunification and recovery."
  It took the artist's visit to the library of the National Museum of African Art, Smithsonian, Washington D.C., U.S. during his residency programme to discover what he described as the ancient truth about man and his essence of existence on earth.
  His findings, he stressed, convinced him that the world belongs to one race-the human race.
  "There is really one common language; the language of the heart. And one religion; the religion of love and one Supreme Lord who is known by different names such as Allah, Yahweh, Krishna, Chukwu, Olodumare among others. I am certain that the elusive world peace will be achieved if we begin to celebrate these commonality and not balkanise them," Okwuosa argued.
  No practice, particularly in spirituality, should look down on others, he advised, supporting his findings with what he called a proof of equal gifts to all as in ancient African scripts like Vai, Mende, Loma, Kpelle, Bassa, Bamum, Bete, Djuka and others he found during the said visit in 2005.
  Motifs representing these scripts were used in the works such as The Lord's Prayer in Banum Scroll, Mutilated History, Lost and Found, An Orange Rectangle in a Blue World, among others.
 These, he argued, explain that Africa had its letters just like other civilisations of the past, adding that the inventors of these scripts attributed their inventions to revelations through spiritual realm of the dream state. He was however quick to add that, "they might have been informed by traditional ideographs, pictographs, Roman and Arabic alphabets and numerals."
  As old as the scripts are, referring them as ancient, the artist said is a mere relative term. He believes that they are "modern because the oldest, Vai, was invented about 1833 while the others were invented in the first half of the 20th century."
 Still touching on the nerves of theology, he has a group of exhibits with sub-theme, The Reincarnation Series. These works, like Lost and Found III, Another Beginning II, Lost History, Lost Identity and Different Part of a Life Time represent the artist's thoughts on an issue that monotheistic faiths treat with caution.
  He explained: "In the reincarnation series, I have explored the cyclical pattern of life-birth, growth, death and rebirth. I created this series by subjecting finished paintings to "death" after which I gave them new bodies in which exist their "souls" and fragments of their past." 
Lost and Found, mixed media (2007) by Tobenna Okwuosa
   If the west thought that making an entrepreneurise of faith as done with Christianity would blur the line of conflict, Okwuosa's Soulcentricism: A Recovery of Ancient Universal Truths and Indigenous Scripts disagrees. It took the so-called cradle of modernity to the cleaners: "With full understanding that the human body is animated by the presence of the soul, I have submitted myself to my real identity, the spirit soul. Surely, when our activities do not align with the principles of the spirit soul, 'things fall apart.' We have seen an increase of this with the introduction of the western spirituality, secularism and materialism in different parts of the world."
  However, like Houellebecq who was sued by four Islamic organisations in France and the Human Rights League of that country over his book, Platform, Okwuosa may also have his hidden agenda. Although his works, unlike the French writer who was accused by the human right community of "Islamophobia" may not be blasphemous, one may not be wrong to suspect Okwuosa because of his faith.
 His claim of having submitted himself "to my real identity, the spirit soul," is connected to his confession that he practices Vedic Culture, another Oriental faith from India, built on structures of segregation, castes of adherents.
Tobenna Okwuosa
 Okwuosa, a lecturer at the Department of Fine and Industrial Arts, Niger Delta University, Wilberforce Island, Bayelsa, Nigeria was a visiting artist to Worcester State College, Worcester, Massachusetts, USA.
  While in the US, he had two shows, solo and a group entitled, The Igbo World, at the Worcester State College, Worcester, Massachusetts and Nigerian Prelude and Refrain, which held at the Fscott Gallery, Sudbury, in the same state. He further extended his ambassadorial art voyage to the Fowler Museum, University of California, Los Angeles, (UCLA) where he gave a lecture on Nri (Igbo) Cosmology and Religious Beliefs within the context of his art.
  On his return home, Okwuosa shared his American experience with fellow artists at a lecture he called My Art, My USA Experience held at the Nu Metro Media Store, Silverbird Galleria, Victoria Island, Lagos.

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