Sunday 20 December 2015

For Grove’s Art, A Rescue Mission With Indigenous Expertise

By Tajudeen Sowole

Without westernised preservation laboratory, a group of Osogbo-based Sacred Grove Artists appear to have perfected the art and science of sustaining aesthetics of old cultural works.


Osogbo Iya Moopo. Photo by: Adolphus Opara
With the support of volunteers under Susanne Wenger Adunni Olorisa Trust (AOT), set up to manage the legacy of the Austrian-born artist and mentor, the Sacred Grove Artists are currently embarking on campaign of Save Our Art! Save Our Heritage! Part of the campaign to Save Our Art! Save Our Heritage is an ongoing art exhibition scheduled to end in the first week of January at Wheatbaker, Ikoyi, Lagos. Most of the works on display are that of the New Sacred Art Movement artists, a group of loyalists who derive its professional callings from being beneficiaries of Wenger's mentorship. Recall that the group, in 2009, at Quintessence Gallery, Falomo. Ikoyi, showed A Legacy of Susanne Wenger: An Exhibition of the Artists of New Sacred Art Movement.

   As commendable as the efforts of the Trust and the Sacred Grove Artists is in getting the damaged works at the site restored, observers would argue that preservation requires advance technique aided by digital technology to sustain a proper management of the works. But there is nothing to worry about. The artists, according to co-chair, Save Our Art! Save Our Heritage! Robin Campbell, need little or no such input; the traditional and native technique in preservation, which has been used for over several decades are still resilient. She disclosed that even, Julius Berger, a well-known expert company in cement came to the grove and assured that the artists were on the right track in restoration and preservation, "though gave the artists little advice." In cements, and with assistants of some of the artists, most of the sculptures in the grove, were originally produced by Wenger (1915 -2009).

    Having sustained a global tangible cultural status as well as institutionalisation of the matriarch, Wenger (1915 -2009), the iconic Osun Osogbo Grove, southwest Nigeria is, clearly, frantically being rescued from losing its artistic contents of over four decades. In 2005, the global body, United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) conferred its prestigious Heritage Site on Osun Grove. But to sustain the cultural and artistic values of the site, the AOT is using the Save Our Art! Save Our Heritage! exhibition to raise fund and keep the works of restoration / preservation of the Grove alive.
   Inside Rufkatu Hall, on the first floor of Wheatbaker, some of the over 100 exhibits were on display for preview shortly before a formal opening of the exhibition and auction. Arguably, Save Our Art! Save Our Heritage! is the biggest post-Wenger exhibition or art gathering in Nigeria. Also on display were works of non-members of the Sacred Grove such as photographer, Adolphus Okpara and painter, Polly Alakija. Two of Wenger's works: a batik donated to the event by , Berlin and a painting were also on display. The batik, a colourful print, according to Robin Campbell, co-chair of Save Our Art! Save Our Heritage!

 "will be on auction."

       Chair of Save Our Art! Save Our Heritage! Mr Femi Akinsanya confirmed the eargerness of the old artists to train young ones. He noted how keeping the artists working at the grove require funding, Akinsanya said as a voluntary organisation, "there is a limit to what we can offer." He hoped that the  Save Our Art! Save Our Heritage exhibition will help attract attention to the nedds of the trust.

  Basically, funding susteinance of the grove is a challenge, which AOT is facing. One would think that the UNESCO listing of the site provided an advantage to generate tourist destination - outside the yearly Osun Osogbo Festival - that could at least sustain the preservation of the grove. The tourism drive, according to Adesanya, was an ongoing effort, which includes working with the National Commission for Museums and Monuments (NCMM) and government of State of Osun. He assured that "once the works of restoration are done at the grove tourism drive will be intensified."

   Wenger, who spent most of her over 40 years residence in Osogbo adopted the Yoruba culture and native religion just as she organised workshops for the indigenous artists.

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