Bamigbola Gbolagunte, Akure
Osogbo, the capital of Osun State founded in the 13th century is known for the peculiarity of its arts and culture in addition to sculpture. This may account for the high number of artists the town has produced.
The town has a history of tie and dye. Many of its indigenes developed interest in the business attracting high patronage. People from all walks of life patronise Osogbo artists in the tie and dye business, thereby improving the economy of the town and the state at large.
The presence of Osun River known for its therapeutic effects on its devotees, also contributes significantly to the popularity of Osogbo in the arts industry. The town today is the centre of arts and culture in the South West. It is also the centre of trade due to its central location making it accessible to other Yoruba towns and villages.
An artist, Mr Gasali Onireke Adeyemo, trained in the art of tie and dye at the popular Nike Arts Gallery Centre, Osogbo, said: “My art works have been exhibited in Bayreuth, Germany, alongside the works of five other artists from Nigeria. This was achieved after my tutelage at the popular Nike Arts Centre in Osogbo.
“My work made quite an impact, and many people travelled to Osogbo looking for the artist named Gasali. People who were exposed to my works later commissioned me to do works and other pieces and my artistic career truly began to bloom.
“Today, I have travelled across the United States conducting workshops and exhibitions. In the future, I plan to continue to travel worldwide, sharing the arts and culture of the Yoruba people of Nigeria.
“Patronage of scriptural works has improved in the town greatly compared with the past, as many hotels, banks and other recreational centres, which are now located in the town patronise the sculptors. Various sculptural works are taken from Osogbo to foreign countries including the United States of America. American government has employed some Osogbo indigenes to work in their art industry.
“Many young educated individuals have developed interest in the art industry unlike in the past when only non-educated people were involved.”
However, art works blossomed in Osogbo as a result of the coming of the Austrian born artist and sculptor, Susanne Wenger in the 50s. Also, other artists in Osogbo like Chief Ifayemi Elebuibon, Chief Kayode Esuleke, Alhaji Kareem Adepoju and Chief Jimoh Buraimoh still use Wenger’s house as centre of exhibition for their art works.
From the entrance of the Osun shrine to the inner groove, the art works of Susanne Wenger could be easily seen and adored by worshippers of Osun and traditionalists who besiege the shrine yearly for the annual Osun Osogbo festival. Wenger trained many people in Osogbo in the art of moulding and sculpturing; as a result of which Osogbo has produced more artists than any other town or city in the country today.
Elebuibon who is also the Araba of Osogbo, the town became popular for art and culture since the 50s as a result of the contributions of Wenger and the late drama icon, Chief Duro Ladipo. His view was corroborated by Buraimoh, Nigeria’s permanent representative on the board of the United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO). He said Wenger’s basic intention was to research into the mythology of Osun River, but she eventually got convinced about the powers of the river, which included its ability to solve every problem of life especially childlessness.
The research conducted by Wenger, Elebuibon said, included the living fish that periodically came out of the water during the Osun festival: “Her research later brought other foreigners from Germany and Australia to Osogbo who conducted similar research and promoted Osogbo arts and artists including myself.”
An historian, who is also second in command to the Ataoja of Osogbo, Chief Gabriel Oparanti, said: “Oba Larooye founded Osogbo some centuries ago. In 1370 AD, when Oba Olarooye founded Osogbo, he settled at Ojubo, a place that is now called Osun temple. Oba Larooye set up the first palace at Osun Shrine. We have three shrines; Osun, Obatala at the Osun groove and Osun at the palace of Ataoja.
“In the 13th century an incidence happened when the community was preparing for the next planting season. A tree fell into the river and there was a loud voice, saying ‘Larooye Olutimehin you have destroyed all my dying pots.’
“But the lesser spirits within the groove pacified the goddess of the Osun River by saying ‘Oso igbo pele o, oso igbo rora o.’ That is, it should keep calm over the unfortunate incidence. That was how the name of Osogbo was derived.
“The goddess of Osun advised the community to move to the other side of the river because human beings cannot live with the spirits. They obeyed the order and moved to Ontoto where they established another palace and organised a flourishing market.
“When they were at Ontoto, Olutimehin, the great hunter went on hunting expedition and suddenly saw spirits within the groove dancing round a 16-point lamp. The lamps were seen through incantations and brought back to the palace to show to Oba Larooye, the then Ataoja of Osogbo.
“When the goddess of the river heard about the seizure of the lamps, he invited Oba Larooye and Olutimehin the great hunter. He told them that the seizure of the lamps did not worry her, but they must be sure they celebrate the lightening of the lamps when the grand finale of Osun festival is about nine days to come, and the lamps must be on from 7.00pm till dawn. And that is what we do in Osogbo till date.”
The Ajagunna of Osogbo continued: “The goddess of Osun River also presented a calabash containing some antiquities to Oba Larooye and Olutimehin. The antiquities inside the calabash must not be seen with the naked eyes. The goddess instructed that a young virgin lady selected from the incumbent Ataoja through Ifa divination should convey the calabash to the river during the grand finale of Osun festival and the traditional ruler with the Osun priestess must hold the calabash to welcome a messenger call ‘Iko’ every year.”
He explained that Osogbo has developed greatly in the art industry due to the contributions of Wenger, Chief Olaniyi Osuntoki popularly called Twins Seven Seven and other notable artists. He was of the opinion that the town remains first among equals in arts and sculpture in Africa, pointing out that Osogbo symbolises dye and the main occupation of its people is tie and dye.
Osogbo, according to Oparanti is the source of “Adire Eleko,” adding that no part of the country has ever produced the kind of cloth Osogbo produces. To him, Osogbo contributed to the economy of the country more than other parts of the country in the area of sculpture, carving, paints and arts:
“The economy of the state and the country is boosted yearly as foreign investors and observers have shown interest in the Osun Osogbo festival celebrated yearly. Today, there are many hotels in Osogbo.
“Trade and commerce in the state are boosted as a result of the Osogbo arts and culture which are now developed to international standard and which attract foreigners’ year in year out. Osogbo is blessed with many people and these have effects on the economy of the state.”
Elebuibon said Twins Seven Seven an indigene of Osogbo who he described as a brilliant and talented person brought originality into music and arts works: “He raised many musicians in Osogbo and contributed to the development of its arts.
“I recall that the entrance of Osuntoki to the arts industry dated back to 1964 when he first appeared on the stage at the send forth organised by late Professor Ulli Bier in Osogbo, for an historian, Michael Crowder, who left Nigeria for Fourah Bay College, Sierra Leone. This brought Twins Seven Seven into the limelight and invariably brought Osogbo into the limelight.”
Elebuibon promised to continue from where the like of Twins Seven Seven stopped and take Osogbo arts to a lofty height. There are the Nike Arts Gallery, Elebuibon Gallery, the Ataoja Gallery and Buraimoh Gallery. At the Ataoja Palace, there is the gallery where arts works are kept and sold. These include beads and crowns made by Osogbo artists.
The markets in Osogbo include Igbona, Central, located close to the palace of the Ataoja and Idi Seke where beads and clothes are sold among others. Osogbo has gradually turned to a tourist city. Its tourist centres are Osun Osogbo Groove, Ataoja’s Palace and Susan Wenger House among others.