The Yoruba people of Western Nigeria have a strong sense of identity manifested in their cultural and religious practices. A central activity of Yoruba religion is the worship of the orishas – the traditional gods. The orishas include numerous divine beings with supernatural forces who simultaneously take shape in various forms and appearances. There is no hierarchy and they remain in harmony with nature. Most Yoruba towns had sacred groves in the past, areas of preserved nature for the orishas. Today the Sacred Groves of Oshogbo are such a natural conserved environment for the homes of the orishas, with shrines to worship and rituals to take place.
This hand-carved wood sculpture represents “Osonyin” and symbolizes the god of medicine. He impersonates the magic and mystical power of plants. Yoruba priests ask for his help to protect against mental and physical diseases.
“He operates the transformative eminence and potency in the herbal medicine. Osonyin is one-legged like the plant and is represented as a staff forged from iron, on whose top at least one bird attests to the tree spiritual affinity to the ethereal expanses. […] It must never lie on the ground since this would be the end of its positiveness and symbol-capacity to represent the living spirits of the plants: the plant that lies on the ground is dead.”
Significant features of the sculpture are both oversized eyes, protruding on each side of the face. These bulging eyes have become the trademark of Nigerian artist Buraimoh Gbadamosi (1936/38 – 2014), who created numerous wood and stone sculptures as a member of the “New Sacred Art” movement in Oshogbo. Susanne Wenger, the Austrian artist and founder, called “New Sacred Art” a modern art form in the ritual service of the traditional religion and philosophy of the orishas. Starting as a carpenter in the 1960’s Gbadamosi contributed with a group of other artists to the preservation of the Sacred Groves of Oshun-Oshogbo.
Osonyin is represented by an exemplary work of the modern “New Sacred Art” movement created for the Sacred Groves of Oshogbo. Iwalewahaus purchased the wood sculpture from the artist in 1988.
Universität Bayreuth, Iwalewahaus
Wenger, Susanne (1990): The Sacred Groves of Oshogbo. Wien: Kontrapunkt Verlag. p.61.
Beier, Ulli (1975): The Return of the Gods. The Sacred Art of Susanne Wenger. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Probst, Peter (2011): Osogbo and the Art of Heritage. Monuments, Deities, and Money. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.