Saturday, 5 September 2009


This is a collage made up of images that suggest ideas inspired by the exterior and interior of the Orisanla shrine house in the Osun Forest at Osogbo designed and constructed by the school of Susan Wenger.A the centre of the composition is an image from the interior of the shrine.At the centre left is a picture of the front of the shrine house.At the top left is a sage like figure from Batabwa sculpture.At the top right is an Ife head.The extreme top right has a glowing room created by the artist James Turrell.

The interior and exterior constitute a symbolic structure that direct the visitor's visual and ideational engagement with the shrine as they navigate the structure. The sequence in which the shapes that constitute the shrine are encountered suggests a contemplative progression from the inspirational ambience of the forest,to the creative tension depicted by the shrine's convoluted exterior, proceeding to the contemplative calm of the room in which the ground floor terminates and climaxing in the upper room(not shown here)in which the elevated view onto the road below,its emptiness except for a single metal bench,and the light streaming in through its single window, evokes and inspires a cognitive elevation paralleling and inspired by the physical progression that has brought the visitor to this point in the shrine.

The visitor proceeds from the convoluted but majestic form of the exterior to the calm light and spaciousness of the interior. The convoluted shape of the shrine exterior is evocative of the juxtaposition of opposites dramatized in the story of the meeting of the Yoruba Orisa(deities),Orisanla,who embodies calm and forbearance and Sango,who is fiery, as narrated in the emblematic story of Orisanla's journey to his friend Sango,in the course of which Orisanla was unjustly abused,imprisoned and later vindicated when nature itself protested the injustice.In relation to the serenity of the interior it leads to,it may also suggest a recreative tension at the climax of ritual,in which the self is opened to realities not otherwise accessible,as Wenger puts it in Beier's The Return of the Gods,breaking into a dramatic vision of a hidden landscape of being suddenly light by lightning.

The image in the centre of the collage depicts the culminating room in the progression constituted by the first floor of the house. The room is dominated by an image suggestive of an unfolding flower. This image could be seen as suggesting the emergence of the hitherto concealed qualities of the inner space constituted by the individual's self,as evoked,for example,by the metaphoric visualization in the Hindu Upanishads,in Zen Buddhism, and the TaoistTao te Ching,which depict the convergence between the ground of being and the human self in terms of spatial form.

If visualized as empty the room could be seen as evoking latent but potent possibilities of the self. If occupied,it could be understood as embodying the realized possibilities of the self.

The impression of contemplative progression actualized through the relative positioning of the symbolic forms that constitute the shrine house is consolidated through the use of subdued lighting which enters through small spaces in the passage,thereby generating a subdued intensity. The entire passageway,in its sinuous narrowness and crepuscular illumination,suggests a deepening withdrawal from the conventional space constituted by social reality,into the numinous actuality of the forest,here embodied by the mystical suggestiveness of the shrine.

The contemplative face at the top right hand is my favorite Ife head. It recalls the sense of serenity,supramudane-above the mundanities of human life- of Buddha images-but more humanised,in keeping with the earthy numonisity of Yoruba spirituality,while the glowing room is from the artist James Turrell, exploring the symbiotic shaping of light and space..

The top left figure ,in its bearing,is suggestive of the image of a sage.

The glowing room evokes symbols of the process and the experience of illumination by understanding,by elevating experience, in imagery suggesting a relationship between the brilliance of white light and the creative power of darkness.It is the darkness of the hidden space in which life comes into being,as suggested by the story from the Orisa tradition of life being infused in the human body by the creator in a locked dark room .It is the potent silence and darkness of the womb,in which flesh and mind come into being through the mysterious power of life.It is the darkness of night,vital for rest and rejuvenation of body and mind.It is the darkness of the earth in which life germinates.It is the darkness of sleep and the unconscious,in which hidden forces work to reshape the nature of the mind,give insight into the future and unravel the mysteries of the past.It is the dark room in the Bini story in which the creator,Osanobua,asks the human supplicant to hide ,while he,the creator of the universe, conveys to the supplicant's personal spirit and arbiter of his destiny,his ehi,the supplicant's question about why the supplicant is unsuccessful in his life,since for the human being to confront the power of the ehi directly is to die.It is the dark room of contemplation and supplication,in which, cutting off the distractions that mark conventional experience,people ascend to that which cannot be seen but which broods over and shapes the visible.It is the space that makes possible the emergence of life into the light of day,out of the womb,above the earth,into consciousness.It is the pain of suffering that makes new possibilities a reality.It is death that enables the freedom to travel on.

The Ife head and the Batabwa sculpture call to mind ideas of contemplative integration.They suggest a state in which being and non-being,life and death,mind and body,past,present and future,good and evil,self and cosmos,are conjoined in a unity that sees life steadily and sees it whole.

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