Susanne Wenger

1915Graz, Austria | 2009Oshogbo, Nigeria
Susanne Wenger — AWARE Women artists / Femmes artistes

© Photo: Wolfgang Denk

— Susanne Wenger Foundation

Austrian painter and sculptor.

Susanne Wenger can be considered as one of the most versatile artists in modern Austrian art; furthermore, her artistic accomplishments also significantly contributed to the canon of modern Nigerian art. The diversity of her work shows the range of her chosen media: her repertoire ranges from photographically precise pencil drawings, surrealistic sketches and oil paintings, to batiks and monumental sculptures. S. Wenger attended the School of Applied Arts and Crafts in Graz (1927-1930) and the Graphic and Experimental Institute in Vienna (1932) before studying at the Visual Art Academy in Vienna (1933-1937). She was one of the founders of the Vienna Art-Club in 1946.
In 1949 she met the German linguist Ulli Beier in Paris – an encounter that marks a turning point in her life and artistic work. They left Europe together and settled in Nigeria in 1950, where S. Wenger, unlike U. Beier, lived and worked until her death. She contributed to various exhibitions, including the Mbari Mbayo Clubs, cultural centres for writers, artists and musicians, in Ibadan and Oshogbo. Above all, however, her engagement with the Yoruba religion and culture played the crucial role in her artistic development: Wenger was initiated into Yoruba religion and became an important spiritual reference for the worshippers in Oshogbo. In the early 1960s she founded the New Sacred Art Movement, a movement of young Yoruba artists such as Adebisi Akanji (born in 1930s), Buraimoh Gbadamosi (1938 – 2014) and Kasali Akangbe (born in 1940s) who dedicated themselves to the restoration of the Sacred Grove – a divine forest along the banks of the river Osun in Osogbo and listed as UNESCO World Heritage since 2005 – and implemented their own creative artistic forms of expression. S. Wenger and her colleagues mainly used cement to create flowing, dynamic and spontaneous sculptures, which were dedicated to the Yoruba deities. Following S. Wenger’s belief that Art is Ritual, the restored shrines and created sculptures should claim to be new, innovative and therefore modern – otherwise they did not serve the gods.

Through S. Wenger’s mix of surrealistic ideas and the spiritual concepts of her fellow artists, they created a new imagery for Osogbo’s artistic expression in the appreciation of the gods of the shrines. Anthroposophical and surrealistic ideas as references to her artistic focus in Austria could have had a significant impact on her penchant for earthy materials such as cement, ceramics and concrete, and may also have had an impact on the shapes in the Sacred Grove.
Numerous solo and group exhibitions, both in Austria and internationally, presented the works of S. Wenger. The Goethe Institut in Lagos showed Susanne Wenger: Batiks and Oil Paintings in 1984, six years later Susanne Wenger. Ein metaphysisches Abenteuer was shown at Iwalewahaus in Bayreuth, Germany. The 2001-2002 exhibition The Short Century: Independence and Liberation Movements in Africa 1945-1994, curated by Okwui Enwezor featured her Adire batik Yemoja (1958), which depicts a major water Yoruba deity and a patron spirit of women.

Lena Naumann

Publication made in the framework of the Season Africa2020.

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