In the fifteenth century, the Portuguese brought Christianity to the Benin Empire, an ancient kingdom in today’s Edo State, Nigeria. Missionaries were sent from Portugal to establish churches in the kingdom. Circa 1485, a red-roofed, white-painted church was erected not too far from the king’s palace, and was named Holy Aruosa Cathedral, which still stands today. According to records, the church is one of the oldest in West Africa and the only place generations of Obas (kings) have worshipped beside ancestral shrines, which were among those raided and looted by British soldiers in 1897, an event central to Dan Hicks’ Conversation Piece provocation in this issue.DOI
In this church, there is a juxtaposition of the Christian ways of worship and the ancient traditional Benin ways of worship, a hybrid of two disparate religions. There is no clash of doctrines and instead one is enamoured by the coalescence of cosmologies. Subsequent Obas and their chiefs dressed in “traditional” Catholic priests’ fashion. The mixture of what is local and what is colonial resulted in an outfit that is a complete ersatz version of the cassock worn by Catholic priests.DOI
To this day, the Benin monarch, his chiefs, and other traditional title-holders still dress like Catholic priests. The garment now represents royalty and one of the main codes of dressing of the Benin people, of which I am a part. This is my point of departure for this body of works that fuses Catholic rosaries, coral beads, and bronze statuettes (Figs 1–5).
About the author
Victor Ehikhamenor is a Nigerian multimedia artist, photographer, and writer. He has been prolific in producing abstract, symbolic, and politically and historically motivated works. A 2020 National Artist in Residence at the Neon Museum, Las Vegas, Nevada, Ehikhamenor was also a 2016 Rockefeller Foundation Bellagio Fellow. He has held several solo exhibitions and his works have been included in numerous group exhibitions and biennales, including: the 57th Venice Biennale as part of the Nigerian Pavilion (2017); the 5th Mediations Biennale in Poznan, Poland (2016); the 12th Dak’Art Biennale in Dakar, Senegal (2016); and Biennale Jogja XIII, Indonesia (2015).
As a writer, he has published fiction and critical essays with academic journals, magazines, and newspapers round the world including The New York Times, Guernica Magazine, BBC, CNN Online, and The Washington Post. Ehikhamenor is the founder of Angels and Muse, a thought laboratory dedicated to the promotion and development of contemporary African art and literature in Lagos, Nigeria.
- Victor Ehikhamenor
- 26 February 2021
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- Victor Ehikhamenor, "Royal Religion Series", British Art Studies, Issue 19, https://doi.org/10.17658/issn.2058-5462/issue-19/cover