Sunday, October 25, 2009

The 191st good things about Lagos: Visiting artists' workshops

I really enjoy looking at art, and meeting artists and seeing where and how they work is an extra-special treat, so I really enjoyed this aspect of our Osogbo weekend.

Oshogbo has been a city with artistic energy for many years. Starting in the 50's, Susanne Wenger and her one-time husband, Ulli Beier, were a spark that lit the creative fire in many people. The artists that "Mama" mentored became known as the New Sacred Artists of Oshogbo. They were at one time largely non-commercial, creating art for spiritual reasons, and mostly stayed in Oshogbo, but most are now are selling their art through an artist's cooperative. The German Ulli Beier taught at the University of Ibadan and had a pioneering role in Nigeria in drama, literature (serving as a mentor to writers such as Chinua Achebe and Wole Soyinka) and he worked to help train artists, dancers and musicians and expose their work internationally. These artists are known as the Contemporary Artists of Osogbo. Many of these artists travelled and have shown their work abroad. Still still live in Osogbo at least part-time and some have left the country.

When we visited Wenger's home, we saw this textile artist working on some adire cloth. This is a dye resist method using cassava paste.

We walked across the street to the home and workshop of this artist who works with tin sheets, pressing a relief with a repoussé technique.

He worked very quickly and freely -- each piece is unique. I bought one of these works -- a really neat image of a masquerade with lines of musicians and dancers.

Next door to Wenger's home there is a stone carver who was her very close companion, who did many of the works in her house and the groves.

We drove outside the city to the home and workshop of the wood carver Kasali Akangbe Ogun, who has shown his works outside Nigeria. He works now with his son. They lifted up the very large sculpture that is one of their current projects and talked about the spirit and power of the wood and the finished figures.

This was their "showroom."

I really liked the lines and craftmanship of this work. I first bought a little figure, but then decided I really wanted to buy a large one as well. Kasali's son carved their name to "sign" the pieces I purchased.

Posing with my works and the artist and his son. The small figure depicts Oramila, the God of Wisdom and Divination and the large one is Ososi, the God of Security.

After some time in the creative energy of Osogbo, I was seeing art everywhere. In a short walk from our guesthouse to the workshop of another artist, I loved the look of these pink clothes drying on the porch railing of this blue house.

And these 3-in-a-row boarded up windows on a building we walked past looked like art collages.

We visited the workshop home of Adebisi Fabunmi, called Bisi. He is a very inventive artist, working mostly with woodblock prints.

I loved seeing his workshop, where he sold his prints on canvas, as well as these carved logs which were really cool.

This little boy was posing next to Bisi's stack of woodblock plates. He showed us some of the plates which he has from the 60's. He is frustrated because the wood he used years ago is much stronger than the wood he can get currently, which is of much poorer quality. He can't get many presses from the wood block as it falls apart.

Bisi was invited to dinner with us at Nike's guesthouse that evening and we had a very interesting discussion about Wenger and Beier and the influence that they had on art in Osogbo. We wondered if they had gone to a different place in Nigeria if the same artistic movements would have happened there? Was it their influence, or was there something about Osogbo and the creative people they found there?

I really loved a really big print Bisi had that had a musical theme -- it looked like jazz to me. But I just didn't have a place to display it.

I bought a small piece and he signed it for me.

I really loved the beautiful batik of Shangodare, Mama's adopted son, who was our guide through the groves.

We went to the shack/workshop of a brass caster. He demonstrated his technique, molding a wax turtle that he would put on a ring base.

With a finished mold, he would encase it in "mud."

After the clay dries, it would be fired and the wax would be poured away, leaving a mold for the molten metal.

After the metal cools and hardens, he cuts away the excess metal and files the finished piece of jewelry. I asked him about using the lost wax method, which is the ancient technique that he is using for his craft. I don't know if it was a language thing, but it seemed that he had never heard the term. He said he used the method that he learned from his father.

Nike, the well-known batik artist who has galleries in Osogbo and Lagos, has a school and training ground for artists and craftspeople. We visited her workshop where techniques are demonstrated and a woodcarver told the stories behind some of his totems -- a large one told the history of Osogbo.

We saw people decorating cloth with batik -- wax resist.

We saw the indigo plants they use to make the dye and the pots for traditional indigo dyeing.

We met some metal workers who made chairs and metal figures -- I bought this cute little bird to put in a garden.

We drove to the village of Irigbiji and visited palace of Chief Muraina Oleyami-- an artist and member of Ulli Beier's branch of Contemporary Artists. He had gotten to know Beier through a drama company and then started as an artist. He had just gotten back from Lagos where he had attended the premiere of a motion picture he had a small part it. He was excited about going back to his beginnings with an acting part. He had only one of his paintings on display -- he mostly works on commission, but he had some works of different younger artists who he was mentoring. I found an oil on paper that I really thought was great. He had a small museum of art and artifacts on his compound.

Right before we left Osogbo, we visited the home and gallery of the very talented artist Jimoh Buraimoh, who has pieces in some major museums and has exhibited works in many countries. He talked about how he started working with mosaic and he first made tabletops -- he showed us one that was really lovely. But he got tired of transporting them to Lagos to sell, because they were so heavy, so he started working on canvas. He was a pioneer in the method of stringing tiny beads and glueing them onto the canvas to form a picture -- there are many artists who now use his technique. But he does a lot of interesting things now with texture on his canvasses. I really liked many of his pieces, but I'm sure whatever might have been for sale would have been well out of my price range.

It was very kind of Chief Buraimoh to welcome us into his home and spend time visiting with us. I found it interesting that he travels to Houston regularly, as two of his children have settled there -- one living in Richmond, the same suburb where our son and his family now live. It's funny to think of the possibility of our paths crossing in Houston and then meeting in the far away city of Osogbo, Nigeria.


Anonymous said...

I lived in Lagos in the 70´s and also visited Oshogbo. I am so grateful for your insights and photos. Part of my heart stayed in Nigeria. Oshogbo was indeed Mother Earth habitat.

Anonymous said...

My parents lived in Lagos in the 70's and collected many pieces by artists from the Oshogbo school. I am curious about the stone carver you mention as I am sure they have two of his figures. They sit in our garden. I dont suppose you recall his name? Thanks for sharing the your experience, it certainly shone some light on the people places and techniques my parents often talked about.

Carolee said...

Dear anonymous: The stone carver who worked most closely with Suzanne Wenger and now lives and works right next door to her home (in fact, I understand that his family has some ownership in her home, or at least did at one time) is Buraimoh Gbadamosi. There's a good chance that the carvings your parents purchased are by him. If you are interested in learning more about him, you can send me a comment with your email address (I won't publish the comment so your address will stay private). I can email you some bio information with pictures I have on him from an art exhibit the artists of Oshogbo had here.

Adekunle said...

Hi! I'm happy to see a photo of my father here, Kasali, and think your blog is very nice. I made a link to your page I thought it is so nice!

joebein365 said...

More than 30 years ago I was given a batik supposedly made by Twins Seven Seven. I just noticed that on the lower right corner the letters"BISI"
Did Bisi make batiks in his early days?

Carolee said...

Hi Joebein365 -- I forwarded your comment to a friend who knows these Oshogbo artists very well and she said "I would imagine that he did some batik work as there was a lot of experimentation with different materials. He does sign his work as “ Bisi” (I am looking at one now done in 1972). If you can email me a photo of the work, I can ask Bisi when we are next there." Let me know if you want to follow up on this. I don't want to publish my email or my friend's here, but if you comment again with your email address, I won't publish it and we can get in contact that way.

Anonymous said...

Carolee, thank you so much for sharing your insights. I grew up in Nigeria and did some of these in high school. Now that I have kids of my own but no longer live in Lagos, I've been trying to explain to my "kids" about the different arts I did. I run a program called Culture of Africa for Kids Everywhere ( I'll be sharing yor experiences with my kids. Thanks again.

Santa Fe Oyibo said...

Dear joebein365. Your batik is probably not by Bisi Fabunmi but by a wife of Twins Seven Seven who began making batik in the 1970's and signed her work "Bisi".