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Osogbo and the Art of Heritage

Monuments, Deities, and Money

Peter Probst

Publication Year: 2011

Why has the home of a Yoruba river goddess become a UNESCO World Heritage site and a global attraction? Every year, tens of thousands of people from around the world visit the sacred grove of Osun, Osogbo's guardian deity, to attend her festival. Peter Probst takes readers on a riveting journey to Osogbo. He explores the history of the Osogbo School, which helped introduce one style of African modern art to the West, and investigates its intimate connection with Osun, the role of art and religion in the changing world of Osogbo, and its prominence in the global arena.

Published by: Indiana University Press

Series: African Expressive Cultures


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Preface and Acknowledgments

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pp. vii-xi

In a sense, this book began in the late 1990s when I moved from the Free University of Berlin to take up a new post at Iwalewa Haus, the Center for African Art and Culture at the University of Bayreuth in the South of Germany. In the 1980s, during the years of my study in Berlin and Cambridge (England), I had often come across references to...

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Introduction: The Modernity of Heritage

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pp. 1-12

This book studies the relationship between art and the making and meaning of heritage in postcolonial Nigeria. Focusing on the global dimension of cultural heritage, it investigates the ways in which particular objects, practices and institutions are ascribed public recognition and political significance. Specifically, it tells the story of how residents...

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1. Heritage as Source: Histories and Images of Osun Osogbo

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pp. 13-31

It was a few days after my arrival in Osogbo in July 2000. I was sitting with Jimoh Buraimoh in the bar of his Heritage Hotel. On the TV was the news of Osun State—“State of the Living Spring” as the subtitle said. “Why ‘living spring’?” I asked, and was told that the Osun River was not only the liquid body of the goddess Osun, but also the...

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2. Heritage as Novelty: Revitalizing Yoruba Art in the Spirit of Modernism

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pp. 32-56

In his seminal book Contemporary African Art, Ulli Beier avers that what happened in Osogbo in the early 1960s was “not an experiment” but was driven by the effort to “provide the artists with a living” (Beier 1968: 176). Interestingly, Beier’s correction differs from the artists’ own recollections. In my conversations with members of the first...

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3. Heritage as Project: Hybridity and the Reauthentication of the Osun Grove

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pp. 57-76

In July 2008, I attended Susanne Wenger’s birthday party in her house on Ibokun road in Osogbo. It was her ninety-third and—as it turned out—last birthday (half a year later, in January 2009, she passed away). Practically all the guests were either adopted children or members of Wenger’s New Sacred Art Group. Wenger sat between Adebisi Akanji...

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4. Heritage as Style: Travel, Interaction, and the Branding of Osogbo Art

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pp. 77-101

Does heritage have a style? Judging from the works for sale in Osogbo’s galleries today the answer is yes. The prevailing styles seem to be comprised of allusions to the rhythmic lyricism of Twins Seven-Seven, the bold colors of Rufus Ogundele, and the masked heads of Jimoh Buraimoh, all three representing the first generation of Osogbo...

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5. Heritage as Spectacle: Image and Attention in the Osun Osogbo Festival

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pp. 102-118

I have attended the Osun Osogbo festival twice, first in 2001 and then again two years later in 2003. It was truly a spectacle. The sound of Yoruba bàtá drums and the bass line of Nigerian hip hop fused. Posters and billboards of the companies sponsoring the festival reached right into the Osun grove. Surely, the degree of commercialization was...

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6. Heritage as Remembrance: History, Photography, and Styles of Imagination

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pp. 119-136

The first time I heard the religious dimension of the Osun Osogbo festival explicitly disavowed was during the closing ceremony of the 2001 festival. Ataoja Iyiola Matanmi III was standing in the VIP pavilion in the Osun grove to deliver his public address. After having welcomed the numerous dignitaries attending, he briefly outlined the importance...

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7. Heritage as Control: From Art and Religion to Media and Mediation

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pp. 137-158

Having nearly reached the end of our explorations of the art of heritage in Osogbo, it is finally time to tackle the one question writers on Osogbo have thus far avoided addressing. As we have seen, a prominent theme running through the numerous accounts of Osogbo’s entry into the Western art world is the modernist narrative of rupture and...

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Coda: A Final Note on Heritage as Presence

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pp. 159-161

In the introduction I recalled Henry Drewal’s definition of art history as the “study of the appearance of things” and asked what this appearance means under conditions of contemporary heritage politics, here defined as a field of cultural productions shaped and driven by collective identity, memory, and public representation. Let me begin with...


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pp. 163-176


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pp. 177-192


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pp. 193-207

E-ISBN-13: 9780253001672
E-ISBN-10: 0253001676
Print-ISBN-13: 9780253356116

Page Count: 224
Illustrations: 13 color illus., 27 b&w illus., 2 maps
Publication Year: 2011

Series Title: African Expressive Cultures
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OCLC Number: 747432361
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Osogbo and the Art of Heritage

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Subject Headings

  • Art and society -- Nigeria -- Oshogbo.
  • Culture and globalization -- Nigeria -- Oshogbo.
  • Art, Yoruba -- Nigeria -- Oshogbo.
  • Cultural property -- Protection -- Social aspects -- Nigeria -- Oshogbo.
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