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Yoruba mythology from an outsider’s palette

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Amazed by Yoruba mythology and folklore, Robert Awharen has appropriated the ancient tradition in paintings. A self-taught 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’s Tears, 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.”



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