Built in the late 1960’s and early 1970s on the site of an abandoned school, Ilédì Oǹtótóo is the assembly point for the Ògbóni, Yorùbá traditionalists associated with the Earth deity. This remarkable structure is composed of three enormous roofs which rise against the sky like giant lizards, representing the forces of the earth before mankind.
It is one of Susanne Wenger’s most complex and sensitive architectural creations.
‘Like the rest of Susanne’s architecture, this building fully stands up to her own ultimate test: it forms part of the forest, it grows like a spectacular tree, and in spite of its unusual shape this building does not impose itself on its surroundings. Rather it is like a concentration, a heightening of the atmosphere around it.’ (The return of the Gods, Ulli Beier, 1975, page 80)
The centrepiece of Ilédì Oǹtótóo are the powerfully sculpted high posts that support the roof and symbolically protect the inner sanctum of the shrine. These magnificent carved wooden columns were created by Kasali Akangbe, Buraimoh Gbadamosi, Saka Aremu, Lamidi Aruisa and Rabiu Abesu. Each artist has his signature style. Kasali Akangbe’s sculptures have lean, elongated facial features. Buraimoh Gbadamosi figures have large bulging eyes that also appear in his stone sculptures which are dotted throughout the Groves. Rabiu Abesu’s works feature pronounced jowls and a strong sense of tranquility. Saka Aremu carved small, rounded heads with compact features.
The exterior walls are elaborately sculpted in cement with ‘rapturously emotional scenes’ to use Wenger’s words, depicting interactions with the deities. The flow of the Ọ̀ṣun River and the connection between earth and water are seen and felt throughout the sculpted exterior and interior of this magnificent shine.
Beneath the sloping roof of the left wing of the Shrine is a sculpture of the unique greeting gesture of the Ògbóni Society members. Arms are extended placing the left (feminine) fist on top of the right (masculine) fist. The Ògbóni salute each other and the earth by bringing their clenched fists together three times, with the thumb concealed in the palm of the hand. Next to it on the left is the alluring sculpture of a waterlily.
Underneath the roof at the opposite end, Ọbàtálá, the god of Creation and Light, rises from the white elephant’s forehead - symbolizing that divine transcendence originates from Mother Earth. The entry to the Shrine is underneath the middle roof and the door is in the shape of a giant paw print, referencing the connection of the Ògbóni Society to the earth.
This Shrine has had many restorations over the decades but had nearly completely collapsed when the New Sacred Art Movement artists, led by Adebisi Akanji - Susanne’s artistic collaborator on all her major monuments - and Sangodare Ajala - the leader of the New Sacred Art Movement - rescued and rebuilt it in 2012. Twenty-three artists, artisans and labourers worked on the restoration over an eight-month period. The roofs and all the cement walls were completely recreated using high quality cement and iron reinforcement rods and netting.