Saturday, October 24, 2009

The 190th good thing about Lagos: Visiting a really unique house in Osogbo!

Susanne Wenger's house in Osogbo is like nothing I've ever seen before, but then, she was a totally unique person. We just missed meeting her, as she died this past January at the age of 93 (or 94).
Mama, as she became known, moved to Nigeria from her native Austria in the 50s and became a priestess in the Yoruba religion. She was already a recognized artist in Europe, but with her developing religious beliefs, art for her became an expression of the sacred. The artists she mentored, whose art we saw in the groves and her home, have become known as the New Sacred Artists of Osogbo. They didn't pursue commercial careers. Almost all of Wenger's movable art was moved to Austria, to be protected by a foundation, but the house is full of art and objects from her collaborators.

She was an odd woman, often painting big black circles around her eyes. One expat who mentioned meeting her said she reminded him of a racoon.

Her house kind of looked like a set piece for a haunted house film.

The house had this amazing cement sculpture fence around the front.

See the painting of her hanging on the porch framed by the fence figures?

The outside entryway.

Our guide through the house was Mama's other adopted child, Chief Doyin, who is also a High priestess and also has a Master's degree in religious studies. She plays an important role in preserving traditional Yoruba religion and culture.

The inside entryway.

The house was jam packed with really interesting art, but I can't imagine living in it.

The house is actually owned by the stone carver who lives next door and his extended family still live in parts of it. The foundation trying to preserve and protect the groves and the home are hopefully that they can keep it protected to preserve Mama's artistic legacy. The carver, who is one of Mama's circle, keeps it safe for now, but when he dies and his children all will want to share in the house, it is questionable what will happen to it.

There were parts of the home that Doyin said we wouldn't go in "for spiritual reasons."

Mama lived here till her death -- though it's hard for me to imagine a 90+ year old woman going up and down that narrow, steep and tilted staircase!

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