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 belowits 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,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 quiet thoughtfulness and alert stance 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.

The Orisanla shrine house,in its dynamic tension of its exterior or Oju,face as described in Yoruba,the sinuous permutations of its passages culminating in the womb like emptiness of the upper room,suggests a range of ideas explicitly evoked by Wengers description of her aesthetic as well as implicitly in the ideational contexts in terms of which she works.

The shrine,like all the work of atelier Wenger at the Osun forest,dramatizes the organic focus of the aesthetic of this school.This aesthetics is represented by its integration of built and natural form,in all the works being created and sited in the forest.The forms developed by this school also suggest the dynamism of biological forms in the shapes they realize.This dynamism may be understood as not only demonstrative of the visible form of natural structures but of the enabling of those visible forms by the invisible power of life.Like a similar tradition in Classical Chine art,the forms suggest the permutations,the unique symmetries evoked by nature/natural forms as suggesting the pervasive presence of the creative power understood as life,but in Classical Chinese philosophies a chi,and as is represented in Classical African thought,in Yoruba as Ase in Igbo thought as Ike.

A primary filed of manifestation o this power,which includes and goes beyond life to include the maintenance of the physical universe as described by Lawal,human creativity,and what Mbiti describes as a universal force emanating from the creator of the universe which can be accessed at different levels of skill by different forms of being,from the Orisa and spirits to human beings,is the manifestation of life,particularly in the human being.This primary manifestation is emblematised in a range of symbolic forms in Classical African thought,particular forms that recall the female procreative spaces of the vagina and the womb and their association with the male polarity in harmony with which human life comes into being.

The sculptures of architecture of aetelier Wenger at the Osu forest often suggest,and at at times explicitly evoke these biological associations with life as well as their metaphysical symbolism.These works are often marked by doorways that go beyond their functional significance to evoke associations emerging from the dramatic convolutions of their form,their dramatic curves that give extra significance to the spacers to which they give access,suggesting symbolic possibilities emerging from their framing of space,the relationship between emptiness and concreteness realized in/through the balance between empty centre and shaped birders defined by the doorways,as well as the organic suggestiveness of the structures they lead into.In relation to this symbolic configuration,the Orisanla shrine house can be interpreted as a vagina-yoni-womb structural progression,in which in which movement from the entrance to the upper chamber/culminating in the upper chamber represents/could be correlated with the kinetic aesthetics of aeterlier Wenger,in which,in a manner analogous and complementary to the physical penetration into the forest,facilitating a cognitive integration into its embodiment of diverse forms of being,from the animal,to the elemental and spiritual,the navigator is enabled to penetrate into the womb like centre embodied by the upper room,in which like the creation of life represeteed by the conjunction of egg and spermatozoa in the womb,the psychlogical effect of the movement through the forest and through the shrine,culminating in the spacious ambiance of that room,illuminated in the day by a single window,suggest the possibility of what Wenger describes as the emergence of new imagintiave and spiriutual life emerging in the pilgrim through the convergence of built and natural form,as the shrines and sculptures facilitate the Orisa themselves fecundating into new manifestations.


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