African Culture: A Look Into The Famed Osogbo Art Movement Of Nigeria That Produced Great Artists In The ’60s

by Duke Magazine

Osogbo is a Nigerian city. Oshogbo is a Yoruba town that is sometimes considered the cultural capital of Nigeria. Its art history would be incomplete without the Mbari Mbayo, an Ibadan-based club for African writers, painters, and musicians that was later expanded to Oshogbo.

It all began with Ulli Beier, a Jewish German professor, and entrepreneur. When he and his Austrian artist wife Susanne Wenger moved to Nigeria, they hoped to bridge the divide between Whites and Nigerians.

Beier made a concerted effort to become acquainted with Nigerian culture, founding the ‘Black magazine in Ibadan in 1957. With Yoruba text translations available, it quickly garnered an international following and was patronized by local and international writers and poets.

After splitting from her spouse, Beier, Wenger created the “New Sacred Art,” a group of artists. In 1960, she took on the task of reconstructing the Osun Holy Grove and became its custodian, caring for and protecting the site. That region is now designated as a UNESCO World Cultural Heritage Site.

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Beier, who created the first Mbari Club in Ibadan in 1961, organized art exhibitions to showcase local talent. Duro Ladipo, a dramatist and composer who remodeled his father’s house to start Oshogbo’s own Mbari Mbayo club, met him during one of these exhibitions. (The Igbo word for creation was Mbari.)

Oshogbo was a 250,000-person metropolis around 50 miles (80 kilometers) northeast of Ibadan at the time. Ladipo turned his father’s home into an art museum and a theater where he staged his plays. According to one story, Ladipo used frequent references to Yoruba mythology, drumming, dancing, and poetry to appeal to the inhabitants of Oshogbo, and the club rapidly turned into a form of Yoruba opera.

The Oshogbo club grew to the point that it no longer catered solely to artists and intellectuals, but also to members of the general public. With their ‘Oshogbo school,’ Beier and Ladipo developed unemployed primary-school dropouts into excellent painters whose works were a true blend of foreign influences and Oshogbo traditions in the 1960s. They made art that was both innovative and refined.

The Mbari Mbayo club in Oshogbo became a venue for them to exhibit their work, allowing the local art scene to flourish and appeal to worldwide markets.

Rufus Ogundele, Adbisi Fabunmi, and Prince Taiwo Olaniyi Oyewale-Toyeje Oyelale Osuntoki, popularly known as Twins Seven-Seven, were all part of this movement, and their work is influenced by traditional Yoruba mythology and culture, as well as gods.

The works of Ogundele are a perfect blend of European artist inspiration and ancient Yoruba culture. The Yoruba orisha of war, fire, and iron, Ogun, is a subject that runs through his art.

Fabunmi was part of the Duro Ladipo group. Fabunmi’s works nearly always included the city of Oshogbo as a theme, whether they were yarn paintings or city prints, and the Yoruba sculpting effects were also visible in his work.

The Oshogbo Holy Grave, scholar and entrepreneur Beier, Wnger, often known as the ‘living goddess,’ and dramatist Ladipo are all part of Oshogbo’s art heritage today.

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