Yoruba mythol­ogy from an out­sider’s palette

The Guardian (Nigeria) - - MID WEEK ARTS - By Ta­judeen Sowole

AMAZED by Yoruba mythol­ogy and folk­lore, Robert Awharen has ap­pro­pri­ated the an­cient tra­di­tion in paint­ings. A self­taught artist, Awharen, a Niger Delta-born me­chan­i­cal en­gi­neer by for­mal train­ing, seems to have some­thing to show for his long stay in Lagos. In fact, the artist says he has “lived all my life in Yoruba­land,” a fac­tor that in­spired his in­ter­est in the fo­cused-sub­ject.

Iron­i­cally, the said mythol­ogy is of lit­tle in­ter­est to most Yoruba in Lagos or the peo­ple’s base, south­west Nige­ria. But Awharen’s paint­ings, which show as a body of work ti­tled Cel­e­brat­ing the african tra­di­tion from Fe­bru­ary 2 through 4, 2018, at Terra Kul­ture, Vic­to­ria Is­land, Lagos, high­light re­search by an in­quis­i­tive en­thu­si­ast of Yoruba an­cient val­ues.

While his brush move­ments on can­vas are not ex­actly a dis­tance from naive ex­pres­sion, Awharen is also an out­sider in the Nige­rian art cir­cle. How­ever, mak­ing his first solo art ex­hi­bi­tion with a sub­ject that’s rare in con­tem­po­rary Nige­rian art space is per­haps a plus for him to at­tract at­ten­tion.

Among the paint­ings for the ex­hi­bi­tion are Oba’stears, a de­pic­tion of Sango’s wife and how she be­came a god­dess, the story of cre­ation, the form­ing of man, Obatala and Oduduwa with the for­mer be­ing in charge of cre­ation while “Oduduwa is for earth,” of Ogun (the god of iron and pro­tec­tor of the peo­ple) as he dis­ap­peared into the ground, and about Osun as the rep­re­sen­ta­tion of the peo­ple when she flew as a pea­cock to Ele­du­mare.

Again, the wrong trans­la­tion of ‘ Esu’ to mean devil in Yoruba lit­er­a­ture resur­faces in the artist’s ex­hi­bi­tion. “Esu is not a devil, but he po­lices the peo­ple,” Awharen ar­gues.

“I picked this sub­ject of oral tra­di­tion be­cause it is un­der-fo­cused by peo­ple and slowly dy­ing,” he tells his guest dur­ing the preview of the ex­hi­bi­tion. “I am con­fi­dent that peo­ple will like it ir­re­spec­tive of our re­li­gious be­lief.”

He stated that the paint­ings were pro­duced from 2007 to last year dur­ing the pe­riod of his re­search on the sub­ject with spe­cific fo­cus, not­ing, “My key fo­cus is in the be­lief sys­tem, par­tic­u­larly in the gods.”

In the Artist State­ment: “Awharen had most of his ed­u­ca­tion in Yoruba­land. This was the drive for his in­ter­est in the tra­di­tion and the cul­ture and formed the ba­sis for his art­work. Work­ing mostly on oils and can­vas he main­tains his art in an ex­pres­sive form. A unique mark is the pres­ence of a heav­enly body (sun or moon) in his paint­ings rep­re­sent­ing the om­nipres­ence of the Almighty God - Olo­du­mare.”

This is the artist’s first solo ex­hi­bi­tion. He lives and works in Lagos, Nige­ria.

“The ob­jec­tive of this ex­hi­bi­tion is to pro­mote cul­tural lit­er­a­ture through an ap­pre­ci­a­tion of an­cient tra­di­tional sto­ries and oral his­tory of our peo­ple. With an aim to cap­ture this essence, the artist has used Yoruba mythol­ogy and folk­lore to project the rich­ness of this as­pect of African cul­ture.

The ex­pec­ta­tion is that this ex­hi­bi­tion will spur a deeper in­ter­est about the African tra­di­tion and hope­fully, keep the door open to many more of Nige­ria’s vast tra­di­tional cul­ture and her­itage. The Yoruba are the largest sin­gle ethno-lin­guis­tic group in Nige­ria. With a pres­ence not only in neigh­bour­ing African coun­tries like Benin and Togo but also wide spread be­yond the coast of Africa through an­cient re­set­tle­ment in places like Cuba and Brazil, where el­e­ments of the Yoruba cul­ture, re­li­gion and lan­guage can still be found.

Every Yoruba set­tle­ment main­tains its own in­ter­pre­ta­tion of his­tory, re­li­gious tra­di­tions and unique art style, but all still ac­knowl­edge the Yoruba gods.”

One of the works of Awharen ex­plor­ing Yoruba mythol­ogy

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