A brief history of Nigeria’s famous Osogbo art movement that produced amazing artists of the 1960s
Oṣogbo pronounced Oshogbo is a Yoruba town which is sometimes referred to as the heart of Nigerian artistic culture. Its art history cannot survive without the Mbari Mbayo, a club that was established for African writers, artists and musicians in Ibadan before its concept was transferred to Oshogbo.
It all started with German Jewish academic and entrepreneur Ulli Beier. After moving to Nigeria with his Austrian artist wife Susanne Wenger, the two wanted to break the already existing divide between whites and Nigerians.
Beier made a conscious effort to know the Nigerian cultural environment and founded the magazine “Black Orpheus” in Ibadan in 1957. It quickly gained an international market and was sponsored by local and international writers and poets, with Yoruba text translations available.
Wenger, after separating from her husband Beier, formed a circle of artists known as “New Sacred Art”. She took charge of the project to rebuild the Sacred Grove of Osun in 1960 and became a guardian, nourishing and preserving the place. Today, this area is a UNESCO World Cultural Heritage Site.
Beier, after founding the first Mbari club in Ibadan in 1961, organized art exhibitions to showcase the works of the locals. It was during one of these exhibitions that he met playwright and composer Duro Ladipo who converted his father’s house to open Oshogbo’s own Mbari Mbayo club. (Mbari was an Igbo word for creation).
Oshogbo was then a town of 250,000 inhabitants, about 80 km north-east of Ibadan. Ladipo transformed his father’s house into an art gallery and theater where he produced his plays. In order for the club to attract the locals of Oshogbo, Ladipo constantly referred to Yoruba mythology, percussion, dance and poetry and quickly developed a kind of Yoruba opera, according to an account.
The Oshogbo club has evolved so much that it is not only aimed at artists and intellectuals, but also ordinary people in the community. Beier and Ladipo, with their “Oshogbo School” in the 1960s, turned unemployed school dropouts into fine artists whose works were a veritable blend of foreign influences and their Oshogbo traditions. They created fresh and sophisticated art.
The Mbari Mbayo club in Oshogbo became a home where their works would be exhibited, a move that helped the local art scene flourish and attract international markets.
This movement spawned some of Oshogbo’s greatest artists, including Rufus Ogundele, Adbisi Fabunmi, and Prince Taiwo Olaniyi Oyewale-Toyeje Oyelale Osuntoki, known as the Twins Seven-Seven, whose work is influenced by mythology. and traditional Yoruba culture, and the gods.
Ogundele’s works are a beautiful blend of European artist influence and traditional Yoruba culture. The power of Ogun, the Yoruba orisha of war, fire and iron, is a theme that runs through his works.
Fabunmi was a member of the Duro Ladipo ensemble. Whether it was his thread paintings or his urban prints, Fabunmi’s works almost always had the town of Oshogbo as a theme, and the effects of Yoruba sculpture were evident in his work as well.
Today, the history of Oshogbo’s art is closely linked to the sacred tomb of Osogbo, the scholar and entrepreneur Beier, Wnger also known as the “living goddess” and playwright. Ladipo.