New Skills, New Friends, New Home

ACI Artist Leader Stephen Hamilton

Project: "Yoruba Empowerment in Nigeria" 2015-16

Placement: Osogbo, Nigeria

Hometown: Boston, USA 

For the past one and half month I lived and worked in Osogbo, a Yoruba city sacred to Oshun, symbolizing love, fertility, and water. I started my training in woodcarving and Batik in this beautiful city. I had the opportunity to relish in quality studio time, beginning to develop the artworks I came to Nigeria to create.

Working at the Nike Art Center was a phenomenal experience. From a small metal bowl heated over kerosene stove, I took out and applied some candle wax to guinea brocade with a small piece of foam affixed onto a makeshift brush. It was the combination of accessibility and affordability of these modest materials that allowed Chief Nike to train hundreds of Nigerians in a form of Batik that incorporates traditional adire eleko styles with contemporary design aesthetics.

Even though I eventually completed my projects, I still wish to improve my skills so I can possess the proficiency and fluidity that the other artisans hold at the center. I realize this maybe a life long pursuit! 

At the Center, I spent time learning woodcarving from Mr. Adekunle Adewunmi, a woodcarving master from the Bangbose/ Areogun lineage of carvers. The style and expertise of this lineage allowed them to become the best carvers in Yoruba. Throughout the sessions, I listened to Mr. Adewunmi’s story as a carver and the role of traditional artists in Yoruba. He told me that carving was an art that held both aesthetic and spiritual value, as many of these objects were used in sacred rituals or adorned the shrines and palaces in the Yoruba kingdoms.

I also met many interesting friends who taught me amazing things. A Young Babalawo named Awodele Onifade informed me of the incredibly complex Ifa tradition. There are a multitude of taboos and moral codes. While in Osogbo I had the privilege of meeting Moussa Kone, an artist-in-resident studying the work of Susan Wenger, an Austrian artist who came to Osogbo and immersed herself in its culture and heritage.

Moussa was from Austria and is an established ink artist who studied Yoruba religions and musical traditions. I traveled with him to witness the initiation of Babablawo, an experience that I will cherish forever. The ceremony was incredibly complex and there were both moments of strict ritual and levity as the Babalawo sung the ancient chants.

I also had the chance to meet and speak with Doyin Olosun, an Oshun Priestess and the adopted daughter of Susan Wenger. I recognized her from the CNN reports about the sacred Oshun grove. It was an amazing experience being able to meet her and chat with her about the Yoruba faith and legends surrounding Oshun, one of most prominent cultural figures. 

Working in Osogbo was an incredible learning experience that will benefit my forever. Staying there and meeting new friends inspired me to create the type of art that I want to produce. I am excited to return in March to continue learning woodcarving. For January, I will be in the village of Ogidi Ijumu, learning about weaving and natural dyeing.