-PBS Documentary on the Nigerian Oshun Festival
So I’ve been working on this project lately that has required a study of different illustrations of the goddess Oshun. Oshun is one of hundreds of Yoroba Orishas, a Goddess who embodies, beauty, sensuality, healing, abundance, harmony, divination and the feminine archetype. I am discovering that there are many different interpretations of what Oshun represents but essentially she is in some ways to ancient African religions what the Virgin Mary is to Catholicism, what Venus or Aphrodite was to Romans and Greeks. But unlike those latter mentioned, Oshun, to my unending delight, is represented primarily as a very dark skinned Black woman. Her colors are represented as a constant spectrum of gold, amber, yellow and orange. She can be found near bodies of water and always carries a mirror. She likes sweet things and is often shown wearing a veil which allows her to see the world eternally as a sweet heavenly vision of beauty. Doesn’t that sound dope?
It hit me yesterday as I looked at all the googled images of her, how powerful the symbols of her identity are with regard to visual interpretations. With all the different versions out there, there are those basic elements that never change. Like the Virgin Mary, Venus or Aphrodite, artists understand that key colors, elements in nature and symbolic objetcs are what communicate to the viewer who and what this woman represents. This is art 101 obviously but I never really even understood this even in art history class. I wish it had been taught to me in this way. A Picasso version of the Virgin Mary will not look like Carravagio’s, but the basic symbolical indicators will be there somewhere whether literal, obscure, abstracted or minimized.
Blue, white, rays of natural light. Yellow, gold, mirror water nature. When we wear these colors, spend time in specific natural spaces, we can recognize that certain religions and cultures would see us as invoking saints, goddesses, gods, spirits that are represented by these things. We attribute powers to elements based on both ancient practice and natural metaphysical laws.
Why do the colors deep blue and purple represent royalty? Why does yellow invoke joy and lightness? Most of us have been conditioned to an unconscious reflexive knowledge of white as representing purity. The color black however has had the worst rap ever. Buried in decades of negative association with death, evil, abyss, black actually symbolizes the highest seat of wisdom as seen in clergymen and ministers who wear all black or martial arts masters who acquire the Black belt in the various disciplines of Martial Arts. We all know that a Black Belt can only be acquired with intense hard work and commands great respect. For me, seeing so many versions of Oshun with this dark black skin is even more of a validation and praise of the color black. It sends the message to my heart that blackness is beautiful, is sacred, is virtuous. And every version of Oshun must be dark skinned in order for me to understand that she is Oshun.