THE JUJU PEOPLE
In 1897, the Kingdom of Benin was invaded by British troops in what would go into history books as the Benin Punitive Expedition. Thousands of people were massacred, the capital city was burned down and thousands of historic and religious objects dating back to the 13th century were looted.
Several other kingdoms and peoples of Africa would face a similar fate. This violent and forceful takeover of Africa by Europeans was religiously justified by the whiteman's borden to civilise savage and barbaric Africans.
Today, religious objects from Benin Kingdom (currently Edo State, southern Nigeria) alone, amounts to over 5,000 artefacts in more than 150 institutions in about 20 countries around the world. They are collectively referred to as the Benin Bronzes. The popular political and cultural mood in Europe that allowed for colonialism to flourish in the 19th and 20th century is no longer prevalent today. Yet, more than 100 years later, the stories and practices preserved in artefacts like the Benin Bronzes in museums remain obscure and unknown to most outside of Edo.
The Juju People is a contemporary painting project to reclaim and reimagine African religious beliefs and identities. It will focus on the peoples of Edo in southern Nigeria, famous for its looted Bronzes. The project will include creating paintings to depict different Edo ‘Juju’ deities, ancestral spirits as well as of the peoples and their environment. Each painting is being inspired by research, artefacts, historical records, my upbringing in Edo and modern-day juju practices in Benin City, Edo. For the latter, I am working with my elder brother, a well-known Benin City based journalist and TV/radio broadcaster. He has carried out audio and video interviews with juju priests, general believers and practitioners in Edo. Besides informing the creative process in part, these audio and videos resources will be compiled into a short film to to be exhibited as part of the project.
The project is my attempt to :
Provide contemporary content and contexts to the discuss of African art, African religion and tradition, and African identity in the diaspora;
Offer some insights and explanations to African artefacts (primarily, Benin Bronzes);
Offer visual and tangible artworks to record the evolution of African religious beliefs and practices [in Edo];
Show the influences of mainstream religions on contemporary juju practice as well as the influences of juju practices on the former in Africa.
Technicalities & Techniques
About 20 predominantly acrylic figurative paintings of different sizes on canvases will be created as part of the Juju People project. In keeping with the religious practice depicted in each painting, colour will play more than an ecstatic role. Similarly, self-portraits and photographs of only members of my family have been used after appropriate traditional rites were observed.
As of January 2023, one painting, Uhu - Head Deity) has been completed while four are being worked on. They are Iyé - Matrilinear Deity, Ohen - Priest, Olokun and Ogun are being worked on. Other works will include, Édion - Ancestral Altar, Ésu, Eziza - Whirlwind Deity, and more.
Exhibitions for the Juju People project will typically include some or all of the paintings, a catalogue detailing the technical processes and religious stories captured in the project, a short film showing modern juju practice and interviews of juju priests and believers carried out in Edo.
Complete this form to collaborate on the #JujuPeople project.