Susane Wenger And Femi Fatoba: Two Artists Lost From The Firmament

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In 1988, I was involved in many art events around Nigeria during which I interviewed some of Nigeria’s leading writers, sculptors, poets and so on. It was in the course of that year, that I made a half hour feature on the Osogbo Art School for Radio Nederlands. I spent two weeks in the Osun State capital, tracking artists like Twins Seven-Seven, Jimoh Buraimoh and of course, Susane Wenger. Susane had been out of circulation for weeks, because she was being initiated into one of the traditional cults of the Yoruba people at the time, and one of the essential elements of the initiation was that period of hibernation.

Susane has an adopted daughter, a lovely lady called Doyin, who facilitated my effort to get the interview which she consented to, soon after the initiation ceremony. I visited the Osun groves, which contained several artistic pieces from her New Sacred Art Movement, and it was also obvious that she was the highly revered matriarch for all the Osogbo artists that I met in the course of my reporting assignment. Susane Wenger spoke English with a very heavy German accent, and her Yoruba was similarly heavily accented. She would lace her words with incantations and dirge, as well as show profound respect for the different deities in the Yoruba pantheon of gods, showing that she was a sincere believer in the traditions of the Nigerian people that she adopted as her own. In Osogbo, there was a genuine feeling of love for the woman, who became part of the cultural history of the town from the 1950s, first as the wife of Ulli Beier and much later, the wife of a traditional and local drummer! Because I spoke German, Wenger even toyed with the idea that I could travel with her to Austria that year, for an award ceremony that was to be held in her honour that year. Her death closed a major artistic chapter in recent Nigerian history, and her remarkable residence, which was made a national monument a couple of years ago, will be a place of visits for years to come as the place where an unusual European woman, who dedicated her life to the cultures of the Nigerian people, among whom she spent the better part of her life.

I was also informed this week, that Femi Fatoba, the poet and theatre art teacher died in a car accident a couple of weeks ago. I have always felt that Femi, a member of the second generation of Nigerian poets, like Funsho Ayejina, Tanure Ojaide, Femi Osofisan, Odia Ofeimun and Niyi Osunadre, wrote some of the most lucid, accessible, even pleasantly mischievous poems, I ever read! And you only needed to meet him to find that he was as deceptively lucid, as he was funny and profound. Femi Fatoba kept a completely shaven head with a very bushy beard. He told me a story of a kid who once saw him in a market in Ibadan, and shouted: “Mummy! Mummy!! Why is this man’s head upside down”! Femi loved his country with passion, and dedicated his life to the artistic expression of that passion, as well as helping to train generations of students at the University of Ibadan. His death represents a major loss to the artistic community of our country.

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