Contested Terrains: Adolphus Opara

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Adolphus Opara

Centuries of missionary activity in Africa, coupled with the recent growth of the Pentecostal movement, have contributed to the widespread misrepresentation of traditional religious practices in Nigeria. Indigenous philosophies and the belief systems that influence daily life have been either ignored or disparaged. In his photographic series Emissaries of an Iconic Religion, Adolphus Opara aims to redress this cultural negation. His portraits of diviners from the Osun and Osogbo regions of South-western Nigeria invoke the symbols and narratives of indigenous religious belief, as well as its relevance and function within the community.

Opara presents the custodians of the Yoruba Orisa spiritual deities in a dignified and powerful light. The spiritual authority of each priest or priestess is visually heightened by their commanding pose and the surrounding religious objects. Opara’s compositions are closely aligned with both the formal photographic portraits of prominent Yoruba people in post independence Nigeria and with the conventions of European portrait painting. These large-format, painterly images, with their rich colours and classical compositions, attempt to re-assert the importance and vitality of local belief systems, despite external pressures.