Remembering Susanne Wenger (Adunni Olorisa), 14 years after the glow, By Oyeronke Olademo
Art functions as a tool to maintain a concept of reality by giving form to the ideas/observations of the individual. These ideas/observations are translated into concrete forms through art. Also, art preserves and enhances a people’s culture for it serves as a method of record keeping and makes culture mobile.
Historical records are embedded in forms of art, which serves as a means of preserving the peoples culture. Another function of art is entertainment, a means of relieving tension through relaxation. Often times, however, there is an overlap between these functions, hence art could entertain, express a people’s idea of reality and record their history all at once. What is implausible is for art to fail in performing at least one of the aforementioned functions at any given time or space.
Art could either be visual or verbal. Visual arts consist of works such as sculptures, woodcarvings and paintings. While verbal arts are expressed through verbal and audible senses, they manifest in avenues such as songs, poetry and recitations. Works of art consist of two elements, the inner and the outer as well as two levels of knowledge, esoteric and exoteric. The esoteric knowledge level usually informs the inner element of art through Knowledge, which is informed by the artist’s intended meaning(s) for the work of art. This could be a story that goes with the work of art, the content of which may consist of private or public concerns. This knowledge is accessible to a few people, the artist and/or cultic functionaries in the case of religious art. The outer element of art gives expression to the inner element and manifest at the exoteric knowledge level for it is accessible to all. It is expressed in aesthetic values and decorations. The outer element gives the work of art its visible and audible qualities. Both elements are significant and affect the performance/presentation of any work of art.
Art, Religion In Yorubaland
The Yoruba are more apt to think of art as an act of creative imagination (oju ona) executed with skill and an understanding of the subject rather than seeing art as an object. For the Yoruba then, artistry is the exploration and imaginative recreation of received ideas and forms, usually from the divine. Art is a vital part of being and creativity is associated with the divine. This is underscored by the people’s worldview and cosmic experiences as recorded in oral texts, especially the Ifa corpus. A prime place is therefore accorded to oral traditions in any artistic enterprise among the people. The interrelationship between art and religion among the Yoruba is profound and it has been suggested that one could be taken as a pictorial abstraction of the other.
The permeating influence of religion on every sector of the people’s lives manifest in works of art as naturalistic tendencies. This artistic naturalism could be taken as not only a matter of form but also of content and as implying a naturalistic philosophy, which is rooted in the people’s cosmic experiences.
Moreover, art has always been a relevant component of Yoruba religion and culture. This is reflected in the various works of art identifiable in the history of the religion and works of art in the religion today. Such include paintings on walls, batik designing, pottery, sculptures, songs, dances, poetry, and decorations. Art was employed to achieve different pursuits in Yoruba religion traversing aesthetics and functional realities. The beauty of oral poetry renditions is not lost to any keen observer of Yoruba religion neither can one fail to appreciate the significant yet aesthetic designs made on traditional adire clothes in Yoruba land.
Art in Yoruba religion often gives credence to individual capabilities and creativity. Each artist develops his/her style. In addition, certain styles of art could be classified along regions in Yoruba land due to semblances of stylistic signatures. Instances of wood carvers who could be identified based on style are known as well as regional classifications of wood carving due to semblances of stylistic signatures.
The same is true of the verbal arts where tonal variations often exist from region to region in Yoruba land. Flourishing in the Yoruba religious space are arts of various styles and forms, which often exhibit a strong link with rituals and mythology. Examples include, hunters who recite oral poetry regularly as part of their vocation; women who design the traditional adire cloth; women who paint and design places of cultic worships; sculptors who make sculptural images for deities and wood carvers who produce relevant images in the religious space. Furthermore, art functions as a means of communication in Yoruba religion. The visual and verbal arts serve as means through which tenets, practices and injunctions of the religion are proclaimed and appreciated.
The fusion of art and religion is at the core of Wenger’s art and the singular purpose of her work is to protect the sacredness of nature. Her works present to us a mixture of architecture and sculpture.
The shrines of the gods are for them a ceremonial home while the sculptures embody their myths. Embedded in these myths are characteristics and taboos of each god. Susanne Wenger sought to reflect these features as much as possible in her sculptures of and for the gods.
According to Wenger, “the life of an artist is beyond time, devoted to one single and complex work into which every change simply brings rebirth in the same circle of being.”