Tuesday, 31 January 2012

Between Cultural Ethos/Consciousness and Revolutionary Aesthetics: the Music of EDAOTO.

Music, besides power, is intoxication
- Sufi Inayat Khan - 

Edaoto in a documentary film - "Ghettoration" by Aderemi Adegbite

He may not come in the mould of a Mozart.  He may not also possess the western touch of a Beethoven, or the dexterity of performance like a Michael Jackson.  Even a Barry White or Steve Wonder, may just be out of comparison with his own brand of music, yet, what is certain, without any doubt, is that he has the energy to hold an audience spellbound, the vocal vitality to create a lasting impression on whoever encounters his music either in recorded form or while he is in performance, as well as the appearance-most important of all-to symbolize two distinct elements, which will readily stand him out from a crowd so much that one will want to ask “who really is this guy?”. 
For some of us who grew up with him and know him so well, albeit to a great extent, music is simply an avenue to fulfill what in biblical parlance can be called “a calling’, knowing the kind of person he is, the energy with which he argues his point, the esteem and passion with which he holds his religious faith and zeal with which he wants to learn and acquire knowledge.  Art, music, in this sense, becomes some sort of a “devotional imperative” for a soul yearning to understand his society, his real purpose on this planet earth, and, quite predictably too, what he is meant to contribute towards the advancement of that society, first as an individual in the cosmos and second as an embodiment of the creative essence of his Creator.
Art, as seen by Zulu Sofola, is “a creative experience which is the only human experience that is nearest to God because it is in that experience that man shares very clearly in the most enduring and significant attribute of the Supreme Deity”, because, it “emanates from the soul of man, the centre of his being in which resides his divine quality as the zenith of creation”, and ultimately as “the medium through which the soul of man reaches out beyond itself to transform and make intelligible the prodding within the inner recesses for the ultimate Truth, the meaning of existence, man’s place in the cosmos, his relationship to the Supreme Creator and to his fellow creatures, and finally the ultimate end of man”(2)
Edaoto readily cuts the picture of a reggae artiste, judging from his appearance, especially his dreadlock hairstyle, synonymous with the Rastafarian movement.  However, that is where it all ends.  The lyrics of his compositions, ranging from folk tradition, to myth and vintage Afrobeats provide a basis to examine his brand of music from perspectives, chief among which is the fact that he embodies the totality of the attributes of the African oral performer. Song rendition apart, the compositions in themselves encapsulate the energy that a writer would want to channel into his creative material, especially in the arrangement of the idea into the sequence of plot and characterization towards the realization of a set out objective, otherwise known as the thematic thrust.
Central in this regard are the oral artistes – griots, bards, minstrels, ewi chanters and story tellers who-often engaged in their art-utilized the medium of the spoken word.  To Akporobaro, “the artist who performs in the medium of the spoken word is engaged in the same creative process as the modern writer who creates through the written words”, because in several ways than one, “while engaged in the process of storytelling as in the folktale or legend or in the evocation of imagery when reciting poems or creating rhythm and melody in his lyrical self expression, he shares with the modern writer the same element of creativity and language manipulation”.(3)
Edaoto’s kind of music, for its simplicity in terms of composition, effectiveness in his impact and delivery, the affinity towards the sublime often, despite the instrumentation and the blend of percussion, use of western instrumentation such as the guitar, drum set, trumpet and saxophone- components which help to achieve the heavy beats synonymous with the Afrobeats style-something striking is still very much discernable, mainly, the creativity with many dimensions, which he shares with the oral artist including, among others “the imaginative communication of experience, the communication of ideas of significant human value and the heightened organization of the resources of language towards the achievement of aesthetic effects”.(4)
Edaoto at Lagos Life Series 16, Photo by Aderemi Adegbite

A very striking influence on his composition is his Ifa faith, which underlines his cultural outlook to life and his environment.  Ifa, as the storehouse of esoteric wisdom and knowledge embodies a careful and highly developed process of human intellectual development properly located in the Yoruba consciousness and serving as the cornerstone of the faith in the divine. This form of knowledge, theosophy, as it is known is a systematic formulation of the facts of visible and invisible nature which, as expressed through the illuminated human mind -Babalawo / diviner- takes the apparently separate forms of science, philosophy and religion, and, it is not just philosophical (but also) a religious system based on intuitive knowledge of the living (because) most of the utterances are either prosaic poetry or poetic prose or both interwoven in the Ifa corpus.(Ajikobi,9)
As a devotee of Ifa and one, who is versed in such spiritual process of awakening, he perceives the world in the light of the interplay of the forces and elements, with emphasis on the place of the individual in the vast universe, the knowledge of which he can never fully fathom. This in itself underscores his deep understanding of the fact that “for the African and his Afro-Caribbean progeny, religion is the essence of life” (Ojo-Ade,48) and that “religion in essence is the means by which God as Spirit and man’s essential self communicate”(Idowu,75). With music, he somewhat re-choes Nketia’s submission that in many parts of Africa, the general pattern of musical organization emphasizes the integration of music with other social and political actions, as well as with those other activities through which Africans express or consolidate their interpersonal relationship, beliefs and attitude to life, knowing that such occasions for public musical performances range from purely recreational, ceremonial and social attempt to the religious (24).
His song, ‘Aiye o fe ni f’oro’ inspired by a highly dialectic Ifa verse probes into such esoteric wisdom while, at the same time cautions against trusting any human being, knowing that man, by his very nature, is unpredictable, prone to evil thought and actions as well as deceit. Unlike the Christian Bible which has greatly maligned the belief in traditional African deities like the Eshu for instance-this much is discussed by Funso Aiyejina in a seminar paper at the Centre for Black and African Arts and Civilization (CBAAC) annual Black History Month lecture - which foresees a world of perfect harmony among plants, animals and their younger ones alongside their arrogant and ruthless neighbour man, Ifa calls for rich sense and caution in the dealings by man with his fellow man. Yet, he also understands, and, underscores this even as he cautions against reposing absolute trust in any human being that man’s experiences on earth, as well as material objects, have meaning only in relationship to elements of the other world-the world of Olorun, the Supreme Deity, and the Orisha, the deities-Eshu, Ifa, Obatala, Oduduwa, Yemoja,Sango, Ogun etc(48) This is why in the composition ‘Aye o f’eni f’oro’, these Orisha are ‘present’ as metaphors for the powers and even mortal replicas of the human race.
            Knowing the kind of world in which we live and the evil which lurks at the very centre of man’s heart as the Eleri ipin(witness of fate at creation), Ifa admonishes wisdom as deciphered from Edaoto’s composition, ‘Aiye o f’eni f’oro’, contrary to a section of the 11th chapter of the book of Isaiah in which “the wolf will dwell with the lamb, the leopard will play with the young goat, the calf and the young lion will falt together, the cow and the bear will graze on the same site, playing hide and seek together, the cobra and the nursing child will exchange friendly winks, the lion, like the oz, will feed on straw and a little child will lead and minister to them all”.  Such a world is merely an illusion and, like all illusions, can only exist in the imagination.
Edaoto’s delve into the repository of Ifa and bringing out of the song – it is more of an anthem in literary gatherings, such as WORDSLAM, Poetry Potter, CORA Stampede, the annual Ife Poetry Festival and Savannah Bar, a popular joint on Iwaya road, Onike, where he regularly performs – is a demonstration of an artist’s awareness and utilization of the cultural ideology of his people, even today in a world already taken over by foreign music genres and entertainment values.  He echoes Khan’s opinion that “music is the most sacred of all art”(3) and the understanding that there is an African identity encapsulated in the same African world existence in which there are well defined ideas of nature, human life, existence, social relations, even as much as they affect man; and, this in turn being the basis for defining and interpreting cosmic and other ecological phenomena because, man in the African world is never conceptualized as an individual per se but essentially as a part of the collectivity in spite of his unique and characteristic idiosyncrasies (Onwuachi, 16).
Culture, the very dynamic structure for the better understanding of nations and man also becomes a veritable tool for what Olaniyan calls “race retrieval and cultural apprehension” with a song like “Osaa mo, pe Yoruba ni mi” etc. Music turns into a tool to join the call for cultural revival and more specifically, the Black African movement.   Though subtle in approach, yet the message is loud and apt: there is the urgent need for all peoples’ of Black descent to retrace their steps, embrace their ‘forsaken’ old tradition starting with the names that they bear. Little wonder that Edaoto has adopted this stage name, throwing into the trash bin and refuse dump of history his Christian/Anglo-Saxon name at birth–Lawrence. Thus, Lawrence Agbeniyi becomes Edaoto, taking a cue from the very famous Black writer cum activist, Le Roi Jones, who threw away the colonial name for Imamu Amiri Baraka, because “our names tell stories/ our place get histories / Omo to so’le nu/ o s’apo iya ko”- that is, the child who scorns his heritage sets the stage for future disgrace and lament.
Edaoto at Lagos Life Series 17, Photo by Aderemi Adegbite
The Black consciousness movement which swept through the whole of the continents where Black peoples are domiciled, starting in America from the beginning of the 20th century-movement which became fully matured resulting in the famous Harlem renaissance of the 1930s,  music such as the blues and Negro spiritual was a significant component of the struggle. Together with the activities of African-American civil rights activists, who employed artists and writers of their culture to work for the goals of civil rights and equality, groups such as the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), founded in 1909, came into being to promote civil rights and fight African-American disenfranchisement, the Universal Negro Improvement Association and African Communities League (UNIA-ACL), by the Jamaican-born Marcus Garvey, who advocated the reuniting of all people of African ancestry into one community with one absolute government and the National Urban League (NUL) founded by Ruth Standish Baldwin and Dr. George Edmund Haynes, with the purpose of counseling black migrants from the South, training of black social workers, and working to give educational and employment opportunities to blacks, among other goals.
As such, Jazz music, African-American fine art, and black literature were all absorbed into mainstream culture, bringing attention to a previously disenfranchised segment of the American population while intellectuals like W.E.B Du Bois, Paul Robeson, Frederick Douglass, Marcus Garvey, Malcolm X and Martin Luther King, Jnr, in America including poets like Langston Hughes, Countee Cullen and Claude McKay and musician like Bessie Smith, as well as their Caribbean counterparts like the St. Lucian playwright, Derek Walcott and his Martinique compatriot Aime Cesaire and others strive to negotiate a better and respectable personality for Africans against denigration from their white counterparts through their poems and theatre. That same call was and still is a renewed call for the embrace of and value for our being.  It is a call to abandon any form of colonial and neo-colonial apparatus and way of life which are eroding our heritage in whatever form they are.
This, in itself is definitely political, especially in the instance that the call is implicated in the destiny and future of the people. While addressing an audience of French students in 1967 on why he has decided to utilize the possibilities of theatre in the advancement of the revolutionary and political agenda of the Negritude movement he founded with Leopold Sedar Senghor of Senegal and the Guyanese Leon-Gontran Damas , Aime Cesaire evokes historical, political and technical imperatives, much as Edaoto would want to do now, seeing how terribly eroded our African values are, particularly in the aspects of music and its promotion of lewd, utterly provoking and culturally empty lyrics and foreign idiosyncrasies. Cesaire declares that “politics is the modern form of destiny; today, history is lived politics. Theatre (music in this sense as Edaoto’s ‘art’ is concerned) evokes the invention of the future. It is, especially in Africa, an essential means of communication. It must, accordingly, be directly comprehensible by the people”(239-40)
Edaoto has hearkened to the call, being stung by that bee of memory, which always hums the music of “never forget” because of his belief that “the artist must be a teacher helping his society to regain his belief in itself”(Achebe), because the artist in the traditional African society is strategically placed in a vintage position to function “as the record of the mores and experiences of his time” (Soyinka) and helping his society to “put away the complexes of the years of denigration and self-abasement”(8).
The Afrogenius Band members at World Music Day 2011, Photo by Aderemi Adegbite

Edaoto understands that the true African is aware that station in life is not primary, rather, it is the degree of divine presence in the individual that matters (13). Music has always been an elegant art, a time-tested art, which not only stimulates the ears, but equally propels the soul and the entirety of being into levels beyond the mundane.  In African past folklore was a source, a very distilled source of wisdom and connection for the people and their ancestry which provides a vast tapestry in which is woven in terrifying images and colours, many actions and incidents that can chill, terrify, depress and, or excite the human imagination.  The Black activists knew this and so adopted it, the legendary Fela Anikulapo Kuti knew this and utilized it to the fullest in the challenge of agents of oppression - government and religious clans alike–it is just a call, a renewal of faith in the poignant weapon that never fails to reach its target – the corrupt and diseased mind.
Edaoto, might have read James for he-through his kind of music- responds to the literary critic’s submission that in situations as explosive as Africa today, there can be no creative literature(music inclusive) that is not in some way political(and) in some way protest, for, even the writer(musician in this instance) who opts out of the social struggles of his country and tries to create a private world of arts is saying something controversial about the responsibility of the artist to (his) society.(10) He knows this rather too well, judging from the vehemence of his criticism of the silence and aloofness of fellow African leaders when America, acting under the auspices of NATO and other agencies of neocolonialism and oppression invaded, albeit, blatantly the sovereignty of Libya killing Moammar Gaddafi, much as the Super power invade the privacy of other less-powerful countries of the world, and his reaction to Nigeria’s own self-styled successive Messianic leaders, whose every decisions have been nothing but irrational, chaotic and outright bereft of sane direction, much to the detriment of the impoverished masses, some of who are equally gullible.
            Little wonder that at his last monthly show at Savannah Bar, a friend- carried away by the energy of his performance that was almost virtuoso except for the back-up and instrumentation, together with the scintillating rhythm he was dishing out, supported by his AfroGenius Band-quietly walked up to me and asked, “What do you make of his music?”, and I asked in return “What do you think?” He only looked at me intently and whispered, “He is a true son of the soil!”

Achebe, Chinua. “The Duty and Involvement of the Africa Writer” in Carley, W and Kilson, M. (ed). The African Reader: Independent Africa. New York: Vintage Books, 1970.
Aiyejina, Funso. Esu Elegbara: A Source of an Alter/Native Theory of African Literature and Criticism. CBAAC Occasional Monograph, No. 15. Lagos: Concept Publication Limited, 2010           
Ajikobi, Dimeji. “Oral Tradition in African Literature”, Ed. Sophie Oluwole, The Essentials of African Studies. Book 2.Lagos: Xcel Ventures, 1998
Akporobaro . F. B.O. Introduction to Africa Oral Literature.  3rd Edition Lagos: Princeton Publishing Company, 2006.
Idowu, Bolaji. African Traditional Religion: A Definition. New York: Orbis Books, Maryknoll,1973
James, Louis, “ Protest Tradition”, in Cosmo Pieterse et al (ed) Protest and Conflict in African Literature. London: Heinemann, 1974.
Khan, Sufi Inayat. Music. New Delhi: The Sufi Publishing Company,1962.
Laville, Pierre. “Aime Cesaire et Jean-Marie Serreau: Un acte politique et  poetique” in Les Voies de la creation theatrale II, 1970
Ngugi, Wa Thiong ‘O. Homecoming. London: Heinemann, 1972.
Nketia, Kwabena. “Music in African Culture” in FESTAC 77. Publication of the 2nd World Black and African Festival of Arts and Culture. London: African Journal Limited, 1997.
Ojo-Ade, Femi.”De origen africano, soy cubano: African Elements in the Literature of Cuba” in Jones, Eldred Durosimi (ed). African Literature Today. Number 9: Africa, America & the Caribbean.New York: African     Publishing Company,1978
Olaniyan, Tejumola. Scars of Conquest/Masks of Resistance: The Invention of Cultural Identities in Africa, African-American and Caribbean Drama. New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1995.
Onwuachi Chike “African Identity and Ideology”, in FESTAC 77. Publication of the 2nd World Black and African Festival of Arts and Culture. London: African Journal Limited, 1997.
Sofola, Zulu. The Artist and the Tragedy of a Nation. Ibadan: Caltop Publications Limited.  1994.
Soyinka, Wole. Art, Dialogue and Outrage: Essays on Literature and Culture.          Ibadan: New Horn and University Press, 1988.
Lekan Balogun, award-winning writer and theatre director, is of the Department of Creative Arts, School of Postgraduate Studies, University of Lagos, Akoka.    

Saturday, 21 January 2012

The Susanne Wenger Foundation in Krems Austria

Susanne Wenger  “A great Artist and an Adventuress of the 20th Century”

According to innumerable international reports on TV, film and the print-media  Susanne Wenger, who was born in the town of Graz, Austria on the 4th of July 1915, became known as the “white priestess of a sacred riverside deep within Africa”. But she was much more than that, she was one of the most important artists of post war Austria and an outstanding artist in Africa.

Because of her remote position, geographically as well as thematically, sensational stories published in Europe about her exotic and esoteric art after she moved away sometimes created misinterpretations about what she had done in Africa as an artist from Austria. She understood the philosophical message that the gods, the people and the African nature have for every human being and one side of her complex character eventually became Yoruba itself.

She lived in Nigeria for nearly 60 years mostly in the now famous stone house in Ibokun Road, Oshogbo together with her so called “spiritual family”, where she also had her studio, supporting and supported by her ritually adopted children: chief-priestess Adedoyin Faniyi Talabi Olosun and chief-priest and artist Shangodare G. Ajala. Until her death in Oshogbo at the age of ninety three on January 12th, 2009 she courageously defended all she had given to this Nigerian region and its people .

The Sacred Groves of Oshogbo in Nigeria and the works of art Susanne Wenger created could well be one of the seven miracles of the world. It all started in the 1950‘s when Susanne Wenger was called through the Ifa Oracle of the old high-priestess of Oshun, to help to restore the shrine of Idi Baba which by that time was in a sorry state of disrepair. A short time later she started work at Ojubo Oshogbo, the ancient principal temple of the river-goddess Oshun and the main shrine in the groves, which had nearly been destroyed by termites.

Susanne Wenger’s works of art, her huge cement sculptures, daringly artificial and sometimes defying architectural rules, marvellous cult shrines, houses and caves of initiation and endless walls - all depicting the metaphysical - which she created  sometimes in cooperation with a group of Yoruba artists, priests and workmen (whom she called “New Sacred Art”), became eternal reality.
Through the guidance and the dynamics of working with Susanne Wenger many members of this group later became well known artists in their own right such as Adebisi Akanji, Buraihmoh Gbadamoshi, Kasali Akangbe, Ojewale Amoo, Rabiu Abesu, Saka, Alagbede Ajibike Ogun Ni’yi to name just a few.
Chief Shangodare Gbadegesin Ajala became the speaker of the New Sacred Art movement. Adebisi Akanji was Susanne Wenger’s legendary co-builder, who worked with her on most of the monumental cement sculptures that the Sacred Groves are now famous for. Ojewale Amoo was the first to join the team, Saka crafted the spiritual Market Oja Ontotoo while Buraihmoh Gbadamoshi and Kasali Akangbe created most of the sculptures in wood and stone and are now professional sculptors of excellent reputation.

Susanne Wenger’s monumental sculptures and shrines, particularly the Obatala shrine, the Ogboni sculptured shrine “Iledi Ontotoo”, the statue of Obatala greeting, the statue of Alajere dancing for Oshun, the Chameleon fence of Ebu Iya Mopoo; the monumental figure shrines of Iya Mopoo, the grandiose “Alajere Transformation Sculpture” and the sky-high figure of Ela became world famous. The lost main entrance to Ojubo Oshogbo, the gate of “The Flying Tortoise” was one of her major works and might be rebuilt one day. Fifty years after she started her work, the Oshun Groves were declared a UNESCO world heritage site.
And it will be up to the New Sacred Art Movement, founded by Susanne Wenger at first hand, to keep her heritage of sacred art in the Oshun Groves alive.

During all these years, Susanne Wenger not only protected the natural paradise of the Oshun Groves with its mighty trees along the unspoilt bends of the sacred Oshun River, but also one of the most important spiritual centres for the Yoruba culture.

Susanne Wenger, who was a well-known artist before she went to Nigeria, was one of the founding members of the famous international Art Club Vienna in 1946. She produced her first surrealistic drawings in 1943/44 after having had nightmares when the city of Vienna, where she was living at the time, was bombed in World War II. These drawings became important to a group of young Austrian  artists who later became famous as “Vienna School of Fantastic Realism”.
(Her hatred against the Hitler Party was one of the topics of the large exhibition “Artists in Dark Times” 2001 in Graz, her Austrian hometown).

In 1949  she travelled to Italy , Switzerland and finally to Paris where she met Ulli Beier (who died early 2011), a linguist, whom she married and, surprising all her friends among the Austrian artists, she disappeared to the town of Ibadan in Nigeria.

In 1953, Susanne Wenger published the first ever alphabet book for primary schools in Yoruba.

In 1954 she still had exhibitions in Paris, London, Zurich and Brenda.

In 1955 Susanne Wenger moved to the village of Ilobu with Ulli Beier, prior to them settling in Oshogbo, but still visiting Ede (where they had moved to from Ibadan) to participate in Obatala rituals and to rebuild the shrine for Obatala, until the death of the charismatic Obatala chief-priest Ajagemo, whom she called her great mentor.

It was in Ilobu where she wanted to live in the circle of ordinary Yoruba village people and where she started to learn the ancient technique of Cassava batik called “Adire”. Susanne Wenger combined the „cubistic contemporary“ style of her Paris  art experience with the storytelling traditional Yoruba patterns. 

Until she died, she was living and working in and around Oshogbo, now the capital of Oshun State a large town of over five hundred thousand inhabitants in  the middle of Yoruba land.

Initiated as Yoruba Olorisha Priestess, she was comprehensively fulfilled with the poetry, mythology and religion of the Yoruba people, without ever denying that she was a contemporary artist in every sense. The clear transcendent expression of her art comes out of religious thinking, spontaneous and free, as an expression of her universal understanding of art.  Another outstanding example of her unique art are her textile-painted batiks. From the beginning of her work on the huge batiks she developed her own distinctive style, which she called „spontaneous flow “.

After 1970,  when most of the major works in the Oshun Groves were well under way, she felt that she should create an innovation of her roots as a trained artist and she started a revival of her oil painting with tremendous results.

In 1982 her book “A Life with the Gods” was published, photographed by the great expert of African and World art Gert Chesi.

From 1985 on Prof. Wolfgang Denk curated monographic exhibitions of Susanne Wenger on behalf of the Austrian Government, bringing her back to Vienna to celebrate her seventieth birthday just across the square from where she had her studio forty years previously. She was decorated with the “Silver Order of Art and Science” by the Federal Republic of Austria in 2001 and the highest order of the Government of Lower Austria.

In 1995, to celebrate Susanne Wenger’s eightieth birthday, her perhaps greatest exhibition took place in the Kunsthalle Krems, Austria in the deconsecrated church of the Minorites. Several thousand visitors came to the opening, including the famous Ulli Beier, Nobel prize winner Wole Soyinka and a group of more than ten traditional Yoruba priests, dancers and drummers. Also that year Susanne Wenger established the Susanne Wenger Foundation to collect and support her art works in Krems, Austria.

There were other large exhibitions of her work including those in her hometown of Graz in 1995 and 2004, Museum of Modern Art in Prague, Czechoslovakia, Ulli Beier’s Iwalewa Museum in Bayreuth Germany in 1993 and in the Muson Centre Lagos 1996.

In 2001, Susanne Wenger was also invited to exhibit in the significant exhibition “The Short Century - Independence and Liberation Movements in Africa”  which was curated by Okwui Envezor (the Nigerian curator of “documenta IX” in Germany, the most important exhibition circle of modern and contemporary art since in 1955). This exhibition was shown in Munich, Berlin, New York and the Modern Art Museum Chicago.
In 2004 she was awarded with the highest decoration of her home state, Styria, by the State Governor and also received the “Golden Award of Art and Science” of the Federal Republic of Austria.
The Kunsthalle Krems (whose founding director was Prof.Wolfgang Denk) organised another anniversary exhibition under the title of: “Susanne Wenger - Artist and Priestess – along the Banks of a Sacred River in Africa”.

In 2005, Susanne Wenger’s ninetieth birthday was celebrated extensively in Oshogbo and Lagos and  large ceremonies were held in the Kings Palace of Oshogbo, in the Governor’s Palace and at her home in Ibokun Road Oshogbo. International guests where invited, a large number of traditional Yoruba priests of the highest order were present and even the Austrian National Television sent a team to cover the celebrations. There was extensive coverage in the Nigerian media and the Austrian Ambassador held a reception in his Lagos residence.

In 2008 she was given the great honour to be declared a Member of the Order of the Federal Republic by the Nigerian Government.

Throughout all these years since 1985, Susanne Wenger kept on working together with her people in the Oshun Groves, which in the meantime had been declared a National Monument of Nigeria. The annual Oshun Festival in the Sacred Groves of Oshogbo is the most important traditional religious Festival of Africa, attracting thousands of visitors and worshippers.

She was continuing her work at the most complex Ifa-Odu sculpture at a hidden place in the Oshun groves and also painting and drawing in her studio. Wolfgang Denk travelled many times from Austria to Oshogbo and Susanne Wenger visited Austria almost every year and stayed in his home and studio with him and his wife Martha, who became her special confidante.

In Oshogbo, after her sad passing away, Susanne Wenger was buried in her beloved Oshun Groves, and important ceremonies were held then and are still being held. Her spiritual family is taking care of the legacy of Adunni Olorisha (Susanne’s Yoruba name), mother and guardian of Yoruba traditions and religions.

The Susanne Wenger Foundation in Krems has been re-established with the support of the Lower Austrian Government under the Leadership of Governor Dr. Erwin Proell and opened with an exhibition of her work on the 8th of July 2011.

The purpose of the Susanne Wenger Foundation is to keep her heritage, consisting of her art and her life philosophy, alive. It is vital to collect, restore and save as much about her life as possible and provide the basis for research.

Susanne Wenger’s philosophy - about all nature as one, being part of something spiritual, the spirit of Art and the spirit of Religion as manifested in the Sacred Groves of Oshogbo.

The late Susanne Wenger, the unforgettable and outstanding Artist and Philosopher, liked to state: “Our works are maybe just leaves of the tree of life, given to the Logos, which is the sacred centre of the universe and the origin of all life.

Monday, 2 January 2012


(Being a review of the book Endless Roads by Ralph Tathagata)

Reviewer: Dagga Tolar
Book Title: Endless Roads
Published by: Image Books, an imprint of Image & Heritage
Year: 2011

“This rape is not gentle\ It is more violent than a metaphor” [P.8]
This is the opening lines of the title poem Endless Roads, a first collection of poems of a poet with a voice that rings with meteoric sound capable of straying the listener’ away from meaning in a romantic confront with the rich texture of his vocals and sounds. In faithfulness to the import of rhythms to poetry, which can in no way be sacrificed, which explain why those who know the poet cannot but seek to share in the pleasure of his successful visit of his written words and verses to the printer in the issuing of the book Endless Roads.  Now we can see for ourselves, if his lines can only in his own voice, ring with meteoric sound. Straight away I challenge us all to find out for ourselves by grabbing a copy. 

This collection Endless Roads is an interlocking thread of love, poetry and country that throws itself up as a trinity in intercourse with itself, submerged in its between, are elegies and dirges for Gani Fawehinmi[P.17], For Cyprian Ekwensi [P.20], For Sam Adile  [P.21], For Oturah Abalogu [P.27]. The poet uses these deaths to tell the same story of country at war with its own making, unmaking itself at very cost that the same people must again pay with their own lives for the failure of the country that they are in no way responsible for…
Let me first quarry at the thought of the poet on what he defines as poetry and what functions he saddles on the craft, in Dynamite [P.1], the very first poem in the collection, the poet informs us that: “I do not wish to present a bouquet of reminiscences” [P.1], not when the “…robbing us of all mindfulness…” is ongoing, he tells us, we “… will never cease to hear [the poet] voice”.

In Pestilential Voice [P.3], the poet announces his manifesto, when he writes “let me seek my strength in memories\And not recollections of events”, he does not intend to just chronicle, or play the dumb historian on us all. In Five Incantations [P.2] the poet we are told must “fight and sing” he therefore beckons on “… the moon to flow in our veins instead of blood.”

The poem cannot end, Life like a Growing Poem [P.28] sees “The sea of [his] poem lies cold on the stone of silence”. But the poet who surrenders to silence, cannot even end the poem, he shudders himself out of the reach of the richness of life that goes on growing the poem nonstop. In the Tears of a Lost Poet [P.29], we meet with “…a people\Hanging upon the waters [of their own tears]\...cry of nothing\...complain of nothing\...demand of nothing\...sing of nothing\[and]…listen to the silence of the gods”, but a poet must not join this league, he must cry, his tears “…must clatter like a butcher’s knife\And cut the fingers building oblivion”. In Forsythia [P.30], the poet must as “a singer” offer tremor and quake to silence
True “…a poet\ Isn’t a messiah\ Even though I have\Answered prophesy…” [P.14] the poet own vision of words in some cases cannot be enough to resolve some contradictions. In To Wole Soyinka [P. 31] Ralph Tathagata wonders into our hearing the question “why did Christopher Okigbo abandon poetry\Conscript himself at last in the Biafran Defence Force” to brings his own prophesy to fruition or is it in recognition that questions can be set in words, but the poet who seek answers must set himself beyond and outside of words. Can this also answer for the question, “Why has Chinua Achebe adopted such a cold mien on Nigeria \Such that he exhales dispassionate breaths every mystifying morning”? Is Soyinka, indeed the whole lot of the first generation of wordsmiths any wiser from a vision that set out and armed with the alphabets as weapon, even when in the life of the mentioned threesome are too good examples to demonstrate otherwise. Can we truly conclude that they fail their original summon and must now chew their failure at impurity, with frustration at efforts wasted as “cannibalistic spirits are still prowling\ In the corridors of power…” finding for themselves alone the “paradise” for which the rest of us must pay with our “well-being”.

But what type of vision is this submission to the purity of the word, in Ralphabets [P.32], we behold the complete innocence with which “children are practicing their alphabets” in the very face of the “sulphuric” desire for “the devil English”. “Alphabets are better than thunder”, the Poet’s motto to war is completely disregarded by the Boko Harem craze for vengeance for its killed leader Mohammed Yusuf, in its choice of bomb to unravel the might of the “thunder” of the Nigeria state. As the growing list of dead victims are but fellow victims of the thunder of the same tyranny of the thunder of the state, when alive. “Bombs cannot understand the obsession of thunder”, neither can thunder rattle the bomb to submit to its will. From the foregoing nothing is clear, the Boko Harem’s aim or the enemy’ aimed is not any clearer. Is this then the sense in which the supremacy of the word, the power of the poem over all principalities high or low is established for all times?

But there is a slip, which the poet in discourse cannot disagree with, “the power of alphabets\...[to] move… blood in the rain\[And] wipe away …tears” cannot be the mere practices at “alphabets”, for no amount of words without the vision to empower and will the people in the alphabets of the possibility of change, with the conviction to stand up into the arena of struggle and storm heaven in unison with the singular purpose to democratically share the wealth of nature for the benefit of all, so long will the continuous drift into an amnesia not cease. In this sense the poet without the above vision for change, suffers a fate worse than that of the first generation of wordsmiths, for when the country finally implodes even words would suffer the unexpected condemnation into permanent silence.

Does the poet treats the theme of love, any different from how the country treats the poet both as poet and human, I join the poet to offer no answer whatsoever than state that in Fingernail [P.14] the poet opines that “Love is an idiopathic neurosis”. This seems on the surface not to make any common sense, but as things stand love is the very tonic that keeps us all going in this theatre of absurdity known as Nigeria, and yet we are incapable of putting our head into love to begin to understand how love can still happens, and we go on with our live. We are incapable of thinking love through to mean love outside of the bedmatics of love making, not when as protagonists in this act of life we are permanently in the ill, the only mercy being our slavish surrender to the brutish reign and arrangement that allow us to go on living without a heart at life and without life at the heart of our existence. And so, the poet fall over with no choice whatsoever to Reverence [P.12] “…for sex is the prayer that returns me to the whole\ Reverence and again reverence”.

The poet does not be grudge the rest of all those out there, who so choose to make their conjugal vows through the generation of a gyration of pleasing and praising noisy sounds in supplication to a divinity. Indeed history is on the side of the poet, having not stopped count of how time and time again the Holy Father even outside biblical apotheosis comes down heavy with his sack load of holy oil in spirit form with a protruding penis in Holy Communion with the praying patients. Is it that God, is in the know of the therapeutic effect of sex, or very much like us is also out to validate his own divine essence or like the man he has been made to be is taking advantage of the woman to just offload his sack load.

In the poem Crossing Iyang Bridge [P. 11] the thought of man is not an inch outside of his own selfish scheme to unburden himself and “rain” heavy “downpour” into the “open gorge”, even when the woman chooses to be partner with the man and the twosome are together, in crossing a common bridge, always it is the woman who worries her head away about the home, about how in the face of nature we are so vulnerable, “it might rain on the rock upon which we lie”, this point of crisis and possible disaster is man’s own “hope”, the rain offers an excuse to fall the self on the woman, without concern whatsoever that the woman might just feel otherwise, or worst still, men we are simply afraid to expose the fact of our own weakness in issues in relation to the affairs of the heart. In the poem Broken Wind [P.13] “…the wind break\Without a word”, if you do not know what this means, the poet waste no time to educate himself further of his quest, in words that are not any less clearer in broken words, “With words broke in the wind …” . He can only remind himself of the “seashells at the bottom of the sea” and “If you deny me the coral\I will curse the day I was born.” In this self-confession, the poet uncovers the very raison d'ĂȘtre of men’s failures at word, men are scared stiff at being rejected by women, they would rather not broach the subject, even a poet is not any  better off here, men gross over this failure of communication by just wanting to “jump into your bottomless pit” [P.9], this fact of “rape” is further brought home, when  the poet brings us to the bigger picture of the country who as a woman suffers nonstop rape at the hands of a ruling elite who seems never to ever get tired.

But this elasticity of untiring nonstop rape by the ruling elites on the country is not there for the male in his forage with female specie to draw on, for we know what the answer is when we ask the  question, who the first to be tired is? And the answer comes forth with no dispute whatsoever, and yet men, we go on saying women are the weaker sex. But this is just an aside, one need return to the central thrust of what the poems suggest both in meaning unintended by the poet and in meaning locked up in the reserve of the mind of the poet unable to grapple with the right diction to untie the single motif of how we are so dissatisfied with life, that we all seek outside of ourselves to become whole, the diversion away from life and the pain its pails on us, the poet does not in anyway dismisses Karl Marx’s “religion is the opium of the people”, he pronounces sex as a long ago in use opium, very much sociologically documented.  For so many, this is the only means of validating one’s existence. So we rush at it, “Intercourse is esoteric” [P.14]

But if there are complains to be made in the poet treatment of the theme of love, it is to point out that woman is completely missing as a being of her own, are reverence by man is framed on fact that “her wetness envelops the seeds” [P.12] of procreation. We can therefore only glimpse love from ends that are in relationship with love for other purposes outside of love. This fault is not of the poet’ making, for the poet has only known one manner of love that offers him “As a breakfast of love for crocodiles” [Ashes in the Wind P.23] to be devoured. Any wonder why love for so many men, is nothing but a marauding penis, jumping into “bottomless pit” and women suffer a bedlam on themselves as “beauty screws insanity” [P.14], without any choice whatsoever. Are there no safe or sane penises to do the screwing of the beauties abound, must the Beauty outside of legend, in real life also be saddled the beast? This is one question outside of the theatre of love making and copulation, what the poet refers to as “the heavy chainsaw of sticky screwing” [A Night with Remi P. 9] that makes more meaning in its transmutation into a metaphor for the country Nigeria. The interlocking thread of love thrust itself into the heart of the woman and the country, and each must necessarily be self and the other at the same time.

Poets and metaphors are friends, but then who say they don’t find time to become enemies and disagree with each other spinning a confusion that cannot coast meaning to clarity. This explains why poets are permanently engaged in a war against words, armed with no other instruments than words. And metaphors come in handy as an enriching arsenal in this long unending battle against meanings that impact nothing on life in a world dominated by the blind rage of constructs that deconstructs the rest of all of us.
Let’s now take on the country, the last of the tripod of themes covered by the collection, which grandiosely offers a standing field for both poetry and love to play themselves out, by so doing the country dialectically growing its own self into being in the field of the others, for how else can the poet have done justice to the issue of love and poetry, if the country was not fully at hand, in the same vein that the other two also avail themselves for use by country to allow the poet to bring his meaning to clarity. So it is therefore not ill conceived that the same woman is offered by the poet as the symbolic imagery in her diagnosis of the country Nigeria.

In the poem Evacuation [P.4], she completely and freely offers her whole feminine structure to the country, “Squeeze my thighs\Open my body to the sky\Pierce me whole”, you cannot but wonder if this is a self-induced orgasmic quest or the rebirth so envisioned by the same crop of ruling elites, who in their “… demented wolves and carnivores cats” [P.2] clothing devour the country to a “carcass” and yet would not let go. What cleansing is this evacuation then all about, when we are gifted with same failed historical personalities to prey us further. In the name of a second coming, the messiah burst “Open … body [of the country] to … sky” to “airs” himself into our “… twenty first century”. This is where it all ends, the vigils for change to end the years of locust and looting, the price paying of incarcerations, gunshots and killings, the death of June 12, all these rich stock of tragedy and dictatorship. The poet is not fooled; there is a handover though, a “Bleeding baby born….\ Make a ceasefire”. The dawn of a new beginning is here with civil rule, we are on the move, to the same “… nowhere\... the state of oblivion\ Where tired Generals” lay siege on the “Ballot boxes” can we expect anything less when those that need be evacuated for the country to be birth anew, sit over the process/progress as midwives .

As if this is not enough the poet is not yet through with sorrowing womanhood, in the poem Crisis of a Widow’s Destiny [P.5], this woman of a country becomes a widow. Do we mourn or rejoice on behalf for this loss of husbands, one gives up the ghost in mid-act atop the bottom wound of the apple ends from India, another with a hollowed heart suffers loads on his lean structure the syphilitic sniffing of the entire rot and failure of the country of all the others before him, with face caking off on camera, yet would not surrender the saddle, flies out, creeps in under the cover of the dark in a lifeless state, only for the country to behold his lifeless remains in green white green. To be husbanded by a rapist of a ruler is death enough for the country, but the heart of a woman is an organ of humane’ construct that she cannot but mourn the death of her husband, compulsorily when as wife they were both partners in crime.

As a country, death heralds in new suitors of rulers who would not let Hajia of a country, a 24 hours mourning period before harassing her with a “a bowl” of promises and caring that would restore her beauty, resurrect all the unfulfilled and failed dreams of former husbands and enable her to wear her long sought after crown of “the Giant in the Sun”. So on account of these sweet words, the woman allows a new husband to come atop the cream of her existence, only to so soon plainly discover that the whips of guns employed by the former husbands has now been replaced by the scorpions of “Nothing but dynamite” to explode her essence the more into nothingness, in his rabidly ravaging bid to take his turn to the full in chopping the country dry and coast home with the award of being better than former husbands. Is this not the scenario that is playing out with the attempt by the Jonathan regime to impose more untold hardship on the citizenry in the name of fuel subsidy removal?

The agony for the country is an unending one in a journey embarks on an Endless Roads. This is the title poem, and the first line commends itself to a fitting summary for the hollowed state of the country. The poet friendship with metaphor is threaten by violence that forces the latter to want to scarper but what choice do words have than to in the end submit themselves for use by the poet. The “… rape[on the country] is not gentle\ It is more violent than a metaphor” [P.8], this is on account of more ingenious ways employed by the new rulers to arrive at the same end of leaving the country prostrate.

“Nigeria are you a criminal or a martyr”, the rapist/victim being addressed, interestingly in official records, the rapists who died in office are nothing but national heroes, even the criminal of a General who fathered the destruction of his own widow first born in an air mishap to guarantee for his own first born the inheritance of his accumulated loots, earns a national burial with flag at half-mast befitting of a status of a martyr. Who then is the criminal? Is the victim, who gets “… dragged on the street\And violated in [her] pubic hair] and dangles an “axe” at our “throats” and “chopped-off [our] voice”. To say there are more questions than answers is to surrender to a clichĂ©, when in actual fact what need to be said is that in Endless Roads, poetry indeed becomes a question, not begging for an answer for there are no answers to be sought on the pages of the memories, the sad memories of an unending tragedy, when the question posed is the country Nigeria, a country so seemingly incapable of going beyond the means of the alphabets of words phrasing the question, “When will you change” or is this a question that poetry or the elites can pose and fail, for change and transformation of society demands nothing short of a revolution organized and lead by the oppressed and suffering working masses in a struggle to dump neo-liberalism in the “dust bin of history” and replace it with an economic arrangement that nationalize the commanding heights of economy under the democratic management of the working people .