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 an ongoing contemporary painting project I started in 2022 to reclaim and proclaim my African religious identity. It consists of the creation of several paintings using myself and family members as models to paint stories of deities, gods and religious characters of the Edo cosmology & mythology that inspire its traditional practices and beliefs.
I have carried out extensive research as a part of the project. Besides using a large collection of literary and media materials related to the subject, I drew from original Benin Bronzes created as shrine objects for religious, traditional and historical purposes. On the ground in Benin City (Edo, southern Nigeria), my brother, Hillary Odia-Nosa, a well known journalist and radio/TV presenter, carried out interviews with about 10 ‘juju’ priests and worshippers in their shrines . Videos from these interviews will be made into a short film and shown during exhibitions of the Juju People.
Through this project, I will be creating contemporary and visual materials that will add to existing tools for understanding African traditions and beliefs especially for the African diaspora.
As of July 2023, one painting, UHUN (Head Deity), has been completed while three others, IYÉ (Mother Deity), OLOKUN and OHEN (The Priest), are being worked on.
While I continue with the creation of the artworks, I am equally seeking partnership with museums, galleries and other notable art institutions for the exhibition of the Juju People.