Literary Sunday will be dedicated to essays and arts that throw light on Christianity and its complexities in Africa.
Sundays are for church, reading essays, instagram posts of your favourite artists and books. Scrolling through my Instagram feed this lazy Sunday, I came across Victor’s post.
Victor Ehighale Ehihkamenor is a Nigerian visual artist, writer, and photographer, once described as “undeniably one of Africa’s most innovative contemporary artists” by Ventures Africa and one of “42 African Innovators to Watch” In 2017, he was selected (along with three other artists) to represent Nigeria at the Venice Biennale, the first time Nigeria would be represented in the event.
In February 2018, Ehikhamenor opened Angels and Muse, described as “a multi-modal co-working space in Lagos draped with wall murals, stained glasses, and beautiful lighting, making for a stunning visual and immersive experience.” The space, also used for artist residencies, is located in the Ikoyi area of Lagos state and contains a ‘multidisciplinary room,’ used for “workshop, training, book reading, experimental or conceptual art exhibitions, among other usages.” The project was featured on the 10th episode of the Netflix ‘Amazing Interiors’ series in July 2018.
What I love most about Victor and his art is how he marries them with religion. He opens one thing to reveal another through his work.
By recreating his works with religious symbols and rosaries, the most popular symbol of Catholicism, Victor affirms this dynamic relationship between the Church and Benin Kingdom. And as someone who is orthodox – I come from a long line of Anglicanism and Catholicism – I find it deeply intriguing and brilliant.
His Instagram post today read;
Between the bland white wafer that supposedly came from the Vatican and the aroma of cooked free-range chicken from grandma’s black soup, the scent of our innocence was nailed to a confused cultural cross. Too young to straddle both worlds, the Latin lading voice of an Irish white priest begging foreign saints to forgive us for sins we were yet to commit became louder than grandpa’s diligent prayers to our protective ancestors.
So on the fifth day of the Esan calendar week we shunned grandma’s tasty cooking because the chicken was not body of Christ. We refused to say amen to grandpa’s prayers to his grandfather because he didn’t say “do this in memory of me”. And on the seventh day of a borrowed calendar, in our pretentious piety we stretched out our young tongues to accept body of Christ, lick our lips off imagined blood and walk slowly back to our wooden benches in multiple silences to wait for the wafer to melt into our blood stream. We did this every week until grandpa’s voice and ways faded away.
I read an essay recently by Lucia Edafioka – Sing Us a Catholic Song in Nigerian Tongues. In the essay she writes about Catholicism and traditionalism. She tells the story of her grandmother who converted to the Catholic faith just before her death.
“My last dance as King before sir Harry Rawson army arrives,” by Victor Ehikhamenor
In the essay, she asks some poignant questions:
- I wondered how God could hear masses in Okpe but would not admit people with Okpe names into heaven.
- What had the Catechist told her, that made her change her mind?
- How could the missionaries preach the love of a father who could not abide what we were unless we shed ourselves completely, and became Marias and Josephs? Why did envagelization condemn, destroy and erase our cultures through oppression, and through carrot and stick approaches?
It got me thinking on the many ways we were robbed of our culture, history, identity and traditions, just so we could accept Christianity.
“Queen Idia, Angel of Kings” by Victor Ehikhamenor
She finally ends the essay with this;
It gives me a heady feeling, that after those decades of white priests celebrating masses in Latin with their backs to the congregation, our familiar home things, words, names, and imagery from within and around us are represented in the Roman Catholic Church. I am silently ecstatic that children can be baptized as Ifesinachi, Imoter, Ufuoma, Osasuyi. That God who first came to us as Jehovah, El Shaddai, Elohim, is also Oba, Oghene, Chiefu, Chukwu, Aondo; that I can now see the almighty not as an old, greying white man, but like Victor Ehikamenor’s “Ogiso,” adorned with rosaries and coral beads, our own God.
“I am Ogiso, King of Heaven” by Victor Ehikhamenor
Visit Popula.com to read Lucia’s full essay!