The Art of Restoration

Art restoration is an art form in itself.

Adebisi Akanji: Rebuilding a sculpture in Ọjà Oǹtótóo, the Marketplace (2013) by Saka AremuAdunni Olorisha Trust / Adunni Osun Foundation

Art restoration is an art form in itself

The objective is to replicate exactly the original works of art and to ensure that the works will be a lasting legacy. One of the criterion of the UNESCO designation is that the site must be maintained in its original form.

Restoration: A New Team of Artists and ArtisansOriginal Source: Adunni Olorisha Trust/ Osun Foundation

Who are the New Sacred Art Restoration Team Members?

Recruited and mentored by Sangodare Ajala, fourteen bricklayers, carpenters, artisans, labourers, men and women were transformed into a highly motivated restoration team, combining artistic talent, quality craftsmanship and dedication! Their role was to replicate the works created by the original New Sacred Art Movement artists.

CyArk: Scanning Work by in ProgressAdunni Olorisha Trust / Adunni Osun Foundation

How do you ensure that restoration replicates the originals?

Sangodare Ajala and Adebisi Akanji, both with a deep understanding of the original works of art, had been leading the restoration team.
Archival photographs of the original works were used as well.
More recently, the AOTF has also worked with the NGO CyArk to do 3D imagery of three of the main shrines and to to create a full catalogue of the art in the groves for future use.

Bintu Lamidi: A Tireless Worker in the GroveOriginal Source: Adunni Olorisha Trust/ Osun Foundation

Does UNESCO permit new works of art to be added?

One of the requirements of the UNESCO designation is that the Ọ̀ṣun Òṣogbo Groves are protected and preserved in their original state. Alterations are only permitted if required to preserve an existing structure. 

Ọjà Oǹtótóo: rebuilding sculptures by Adebisi Nurudeen (1967/1970) by Saka AremuOriginal Source: Adunni Olorisha Trust/ Osun Foundation

How do you ensure that the restored works of art will last?

1) Use only high quality materials
2) Minimize water penetration by creating drainage channels
3) Carry out routine repairs of cracks in the cement and anti-termite treatment of the wood sculptures

Sanponna: Deity of Smallpox and Infectious Diseases (1980/1985) by Susanne WengerOriginal Source: Adunni Olorisha Trust/ Osun Foundation

Two of the original sculptures prove that the theory works

Many of the shrines and sculptures required to be reconstructed completely. Only two major monuments remained in close to perfect condition after nearly fifty years: Ẹ̀là and Ṣànpọ̀nná.
The creation of both followed the three principles of building to last.

Ilédì Oǹtótóo: Shrine Wall Art before Restoration (1968/2012) by Foyeke Ajoke, Sango Tundun and Kujenyo KehindeOriginal Source: Adunni Olorisha Trust/ Osun Foundation

How were the shrine wall paintings restored?

Shrine wall paintings are a highly evolved, symbolic visual form which communicate messages to the deities.
The original NSA artists, Foyeke Ajoke and Songo Tundun, used emulsion paints but added traditional pigments during rituals.
Even so, over time they faded very badly. 

Iledi Ontotoo: Shrine Wall Painting in the Interior (1962/1968) by Foyeke Tundun and Sango TundunOriginal Source: Adunni Olorisha Trust/ Osun Foundation

Carrying on the tradition

Foyeke’s grandson, Kujenyo Kehinde Sango, who had been carried on his grandmother’s back while she created the original art in the late 1960s, was able to restore these important works of art, following the existing traces where possible.

Ilédì Oǹtótóo

Restored shrine paintings

Ilédì Oǹtótóo: early photograph with thatched roof (1968/1975) by Susanne Wenger and Adebisi AkanjiOriginal Source: Adunni Olorisha Trust/ Osun Foundation

Why is thatch not used on the roofs of the restored shrines?

Originally, the metal roof was covered each year with thatch made from elephant grass. Unfortunately, mainly due to the high cost and potential damage to the roofs, as well as the risk of fire in the dry season, thatch is no longer applied.

Ilédì Oǹtótóo: a Magnificent Centrepiece (1962/1968) by Susanne Wenger and Adebisi AkanjiOriginal Source: Adunni Olorisha Trust/ Osun Foundation

Traditional materials continue to be used

Traditional 'palm kernel' (the central rib of a palm frond) continues to be used to cover the underside of the roof and is installed by carpenters trained in this technique. It is fragile and must be treated regularly with high quality anti-termite solutions, as  do all the wood sculptures.

Arch of the Flying Tortoise: The Restoration (1965/1967) by Susanne Wenger and Adebisi AkanjiOriginal Source: Adunni Olorisha Trust/ Osun Foundation

Maintain not rebuild

Unlike in the past, where monuments like the Arch of the Flying Tortoise collapsed and had to be completely rebuilt, newly restored shrines will need only maintenance and minor repairs.

Igbó Orò Walls: during restoration (2006) by Ojewale AmooAdunni Olorisha Trust / Adunni Osun Foundation



Sangodare Ajala, Artist of the New Sacred Art Movement (1948 – 2021)

Toyin Ajayi


Adebisi Nurudeen: Lead Restoration Team Artist
Rabiu Abesu: Artist New Sacred Art Movement
Adeyemi Oseni: Restoration Artist
Raimi Taofik: Restoration Artist

Afada Musibao
Bintu Lamidi
Oladunni Keshinro
Ajayi Adeyemi
Toheeb Adebisi
Ojewale Tunrayo
Oguntoye Lekan
Wasiu Oyebanji
Sodiq Adebisi
Abimbola Kenny

Kujenyo Kehinde

Lamidi Fatai
Ajanaku Olatunji (late)

Credits: Story

'Streetview' of the shrine paintings by Google

AOT/F collection
Devesh Uba
Julius Berger PLC
Karin Troy
Gert Chesi
Gerhard Merzeder

'Quotes' in the text are all by Susanne Wenger unless stated otherwise.

With special thanks to the Tolaram Group Plc., Julius Berger Plc.; The Republic of Austria; Femi Akinsanya; Ford Foundation; Lafarge Nigeria and many individual donors.

Find out more about the AOT/F’s work by visiting our website

Your donations will support our continuing efforts to maintain and restore the works of art in the Sacred Ọ̀ṣun Òṣogbo Groves. Thank you.

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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