Adolphus Opara opens Emissaries of an Iconic Religion exhibition in SA

Posted: July 5, 2012 in arts/culture

Nigerian contemporary photography artist Adolphus Opara is set to present a selection from his body of work, titled: Emissaries of an Iconic Religion, a photo-documentary series which brings together portraits of traditional Yoruba priests from three different western states in Nigeria.

The solo exhibition at the Cape Town, South Africa-based art gallery, Brundyn+Gonsalves, runs till August 14, having opened on Wednesday, June 27.

The Yoruba religion, with its beginnings in South West Nigeria, is today spread across the globe in its various mutations. The extent of its reach is primarily attributed to the Atlantic slave trade of 1300 – 1900 AD. Traditions stemming from this core belief are referred to as ‘New World lineages’ and include Santería, Oyotunji, Candomblé, Umbanda and Batuque, and, perhaps the most infamous, Voodoo. These wide-reaching variations are practiced in Nigeria, the Republic of Benin, Togo, Brazil, Cuba, Haiti, Jamaica, Puerto Rico, Trinidad and Tobago, the United States (especially New York City and Florida) and the West Indies (to name a few).

Emissaries of an Iconic Religion consists of 20 photographic portraits of traditional Yoruba chief priests and priestesses who are considered to be human representatives of the Yoruba Orisha. Directly translating to ‘owners of heads’, the Orisha are thought of as mediators between man and the supernatural. Opara photographs his subjects within their individual contexts, surrounded by their religious regalia. By doing so he imbues them with a sense of dignity and offers an interesting counter to the West’s, often skewed, portrayals of African religion. Emissaries of an Iconic Religion is intended to emphasise the Yoruba religion’s relevance in contemporary society.

Coming from a background in documentary photography, Opara is more inclined towards a journalistic approach and sees the artistic status of his imagery as secondary. Regardless of this stated intent, his photographs are reminiscent of Victorian portraiture and the theatricality often attributed to it.

Adolphus Opara, born 1981 in Nigeria, is a freelance documentary photographer based in Lagos, who has exhibited extensively all over the world and won numerous prizes for his photography. Most recently he was included in Tate Modern’s group exhibition Contested Terrains (July 29 –October 16, 2011).

Meanwhile, the gallery will during the same period run another exhibition, titled; SeeingEye, a group exhibition exploring the relationship between painting and photography.

The exhibition is intended to stimulate further debate around the two mediums’ status of representation and value. Spanning from painting that draws on photographic tropes such as blur, pixilation or hyperrealism, through to photographs that directly reference traditional painting subjects or task themselves with exploring the subconscious, SeeingEye offers moments of overlap.

Participating artists include: Sanell Aggenbach, Roger Ballen, Zander Blom, Alex Emsley, Matthew Hindley, Karin Preller, Andrew Putter, Matty Roodt and Chad Rossouw.

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