18 Apr The long river of Memories – Okeruvbu By Bruce Onobrakpeya (1967)

Onobrakpeya says his father lived in Okeruvbu, a small town on the outskirts of Benin city, populated by Urhobo people. He would visit the town regularly and eventually did the etching ‘Okeruvbu’. The artwork was, in some way, a tribute to the town, his fond memories of his visits there and the inhabitants of the town. It was also a tribute to his father who lived there – the memories of their association and the bond between father and son.

The artwork in its eventual incarnation as a deep etching work on paper had a red river running across the town demarcating two aspects of what seems like abstract landscapes. It feels like a birds-eye view of the town with the river as the prominent form.

The mould tells a different story. It shows the original intent of the artist. The abstract forms become concrete, monochromatic objects. It’s now possible to see an amalgamation of forms either acquired from other earlier experiments or eventually re-used in some form in later artworks.

There is the female form on the right, later used in the artwork ‘lament’. In this instance, this female form hovers over the artwork like an angel of kindness of some sort. The rest of the artwork carries vignettes of Urhobo folklore and daily life. There is a masquerade in full tilt to the right. There is a representation  of an Urhobo legend about a tree that goes up to heaven. At the lower end there is a tortoise above a fire – an expression of an Urhobo legend about the frailty of even the hardiest of things.

These vignettes express the landscape not as an amalgamation of houses but an amalgamation of human stories and connections. The red river, prominent in his deep etching, recedes in the mould.

It still runs through the town though and tells the same story about the endless river that runs through generations.

You can see more artworks by Onobrakpeya here.