Authors: Ibraheem Okunade and Victoria Toluwalase
It is hard to imagine the Osun Sacred Grove without its array of sculptures depicting various Yoruba gods and way of life (and, of course, the monkeys). Most of these sculptures would merely be a mirage without the input of Susanne Wenger. Long before the Grove was declared a UNESCO world heritage site, Sussane Wenger took an interest in Yoruba traditional religion. Born on July 4, 1915, in Austria, Susanne Wenger, otherwise known as Adunni Olorisa, was an artist and Yoruba priestess. As an artist, she brought her skill and expertise to bear in the restoration of the artworks at the Osun Grove.
With the help of local craftsmen and artists, Adunni Olorisa, as she is fondly called, worked on the restoration of Osun Shrine. Her artistic brilliance was not limited to sculptures only; Susanne Wenger made art paintings and batik drawings. As a Yoruba priestess, Susanne Wenger attempted to explain the mysteries and realities of Yoruba Traditional Religion through her art. While Susanne’s most significant art legacy lies in the Sacred Groves of Osun in Nigeria, she has produced several paintings, batiks, and drawings during her lifespan. These were left, in trust, to the Susanne Wenger Foundation, where there is a purpose-built gallery/archive in Krems. Some of Wenger’s most famous works are:
Iya Mapo – Located within the Osun Grove and reputed to be Wenger’s largest sculpture. The figure portrays the Yoruba goddess of handicrafts
Oodua – A batik depiction of the creation of man with the progenitor of the Yoruba race, Oduduwa, as its focus
The Returners – An oil canvas painting produced in 1947
All in all, Sussane Wenger’s artistic exploit, especially her sojourn to Africa can best be described as a marriage of European artistry and religious devotion to tell stories of Orishas and preserve the culture of the Yoruba people.