Quality is the first norm for art, but its final norm is love and truth, the enriching of human life, the deepening of our vision.


Fakeye, Lamidi O. -VM - Scott Rayl

Lamidi O. Fakeye: Annunciation of the Angel to Mary
Kola Nuts and Pounded Yam at Christmas
by Scott Rayl
This image is a detail from a larger carved wooden panel made by famed Nigerian carver Lamidi O. Fakeye (1925 – 2009), whose name is stamped in the middle of the composition's background panel. It is a depiction of the Annunciation, the event where the angel Gabriel visits the teenaged Mary to tell her that she will be give birth to Jesus the Messiah. It was produced by Fakeye during or after his time as part of the Oye-Ekiti artistic workshop (1947–1954), which was started by Irish Catholic priest Kevin Carroll in southwestern Nigeria. The workshop was funded by the Society of African Missions and provided art materials, work space, and commissions for the participating artists. Father Carroll's goal for the workshop was to promote the development of indigenous Christian art for use by Yoruba Catholic Churches.
Victoria Jones writes, "Father Carroll taught the artists Bible stories and encouraged them to interpret them in light of their own cultural context—marking a decisive shift away from the Catholic Church’s then-predominant missionary practice of having indigenous artists copy European works of art." This was an early form of Scripture engagement in Nigeria using visual arts! Sadly, however, the idea did not catch on and many of these beautiful pieces of art were later removed from Nigerian Catholic Churches.
I love the contextualization in this scene. In most western depictions of the Annunciation, Gabriel holds a lily or a branch from Paradise. The lily recognizes Mary's purity, while an olive branch symbolizes the peace found on earth by the dove at the end of the Noah's ark story. However, in this Annunciation image, Gabriel extends a kola branch to Mary, whom he finds pounding yams (normally eaten with soup). Kola nuts are highly symbolic among many Nigerian linguistic groups, most notably the Yoruba and Igbo (a kola fruit containing the nuts can be seen on the end of the branch). Kola nuts can be offered to a visitor as a sign of hospitality, or among friends as a token of comradeship or goodwill. Or as one writer has stated, the Igbos "believe the kola tree was the first tree on earth and therefore its fruit, the first on earth. . . [They] believe that 'kola is life', kola symbolizes peace. This is why an Igbo man would welcome you with kola nuts when you visit his home, saying 'onye wetere oji, wetere udo', which translates to 'he who brings kola, brings peace.'”
And yes, "kola" is one of the original ingredients in Coca Cola. Although eaten by Nigerians, kola nuts are very bitter in taste until chewed for a while. But kola extract was originally added to Coca Cola not for its flavor but for its high caffeine content.
Since Jesus was conceived by the Holy Spirit, just above the kola branch Fakeye depicts the Holy Spirit in the form of a descending dove. The style of the dove, Mary's head covering, and Gabriel's robe are probably based on western models. This work shows how Fakeye drew on decorative elements and styles from Africa and beyond, but seamlessly combined them into a visual language that was truly African.
Lamidi O. Fakeye: Annunciation of the Angel to Mary, carved wood panel, mid-20th century (detail cropped and adjusted by Scott Rayl), U.S. National Archives and Records Administration, licensed under Public Domain,
Lamidi O. Fakeye (1928-2009) was a renowned Nigerian woodcarver whose work spanned from the colonial era to modern times (1938-2009). He was born in Ila-Orangun in Osun State in southwestern Nigeria, the fifth generation in a family of carvers. From 1948-1954, he became apprenticed to Bamidele Arowogun who worked in the Oye-Ekiti Workshop, which was managed by Irish Roman Catholic Priests Kevin Carroll and Sean O’Mahony. The workshop was founded to pursue the “concept of ‘Inculturation’ which was ‘creation of indigenous Christian art, thereby helping a person, through artistic expression, to figure out how to be a Christian and an African at the same time’ (Bridger,2009:108). “During the workshop, Lamidi created works for both Christian and [indigenous Yoruba West Africa] Orisa religious needs as the occasion demanded while exploring longstanding art forms of Igbomina and Ekiti styles” (Edewor 2018). Beginning in 1962 he was named artist-in-residence at Western Michigan University in Kalamazoo, MI, USA. He was later appointed to the Faculty of Arts, University of Ile-Ife, Nigeria, in 1978. In 1996 and 1999 retrospective exhibitions of his work were held respectively at Hope College in Holland, MI and at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C. Lastly, Fakeye was named a UNESCO Living Human Treasure in 2008. His personal style encompassed both traditional and modern influences, featuring detailed decorative motifs on hair and clothing that was contrasted by the simplified forms and broad facial planes of the figures.
Scott Rayl seeks to better understand and promote the role of indigenous arts in the life of the global church. He graduated from Tulane University (New Orleans, LA, USA) with an undergraduate degree in Anthropology and Studio Art, and from Dallas International University (Dallas, TX, USA) with a master’s degree in World Arts. Since his undergraduate days, Scott’s careers have included graphic design and working as a Biblical artist creating paintings in traditional art styles from around the world. He currently works in the area of Scripture engagement, recently having served for three years as an EthnoArts Specialist with SIL (Wycliffe Bible Translators) Nigeria, where he helped Nigerian Christians engage with God's Word through local art forms. Some of his writings on Ethnodoxology appear in Worship and Missions for the Global Church: An Ethnoxoxology Handbook (2013). Scott is now based in the USA where he continues his Scripture engagement work as the Media & Communications Developer and EthnoArts Specialist for Storyweavers Global. Read an article by Scott Rayl on Ethnoarts Scripture Engagement here.
For further reading:
Dominic, U. (2018, June 17). The Big Deal About Kola Nuts and the Igbo people. Medium.
Edewor, U. N. O. (2018, April 25). The Woodcarving Genre of Lamidi Olonade Fakeye: A Synthesis of Multiple Artworlds. Semantic Scholar.