”Emissaries of an Iconic Religion” installation view. Photos: Jude Anogwih
Religion’ opened on March 11th at the Centre for Contemporary Art, Lagos (CCA,Lagos), and
will run through to April 21, 2013. A first major solo exhibition in Nigeria by
the Lagos-based photographer, fifteen
images from the twenty strong Emissaries
series made between 2009–2011, offering a unique and visually compelling
photographic portrayal of the custodians of indigenous religious beliefs are featured.
Through this body of work, which pushes the boundaries of contemporary
portraiture, Opara highlights some of the existing tensions between the
cultures of animist belief and organized religion.
and denigration of traditional religion instigated by colonial and missionary
rhetoric, and more recently by the most dominant and visible forms of the
religious belief system in Nigeria and across the continent, Islam and
Evangelical Christianity. These issues of power and representation are at the
fore of present tensions and civil unrest between what is characterized as the
Muslim north and the Christian south.
Opara’s work. It stands apart from his Rugbol(2009/10) series, or his ongoing
projects Shrinking Shores(2011-) and Cocoa(2011-)in its contextual assertions
and stylistic composition. The composition of the images by Opara align closely
with the formal photographic portraits of prominent Yoruba people in Nigeria as
well as with the art historical conventions of portrait painting.
luxuriant colours, placing the subjects frontally within the composition, as
well as subtly highlighting the symbols and paraphernalia of their positions,
Opara attempts to re-assert the importance, the centrality and the vitality of
local belief systems despite the incursion of external pressures.
the regions of South-Western Nigeria Opara engage our identities in the 21st
century and its inherent meanings. Whilst a return to traditional belief is not
advocated, an engagement of their role within contemporary society is
locally and internationally. Recent exhibitions include Contested Terrains,
2011, Tate Modern, London; African Lace, 2010, Museum fur
Vulkerkunde, Vienna, Austria; African
Photography Encounters, 2011, Bamako, Mali; The Tie That Binds Us,
2012, Tiwani Contemporary, London among others. He has undertaken assignments
for notable organizations and his works have been published in magazines, books
and websites including the BBC, World Press Photo ENTER, New African Magazine
and Nigerians Behind the Lens, the first Fine Art Photo book showcasing contemporary photography from
Lagos. The exhibition is generously supported by the British Council, London.