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"LEO ASEMOTA: Misfortune’s Wealth"
2006-11-01 until 2007-01-20
EotLA - Estate of the Leo Asemota
London, , UK United Kingdom

The exhibition Misfortune’s Wealth at EotLA is the third stage in Leo Asemota’s on-going The Ens Project. The presentation of drawings, illustrations and apophthegms expounds on the project’s theme of the loss of intimacy between the divine and human personality as embodied in the head, the index of identity, due to the massification of society.The exhibition will be on display until January 20, 2007 at EotLA in London.

“I began developing ens in 2005, but the idea has systematically been working on me since attending The Great Benin exhibition at the Museum of Mankind in London in 1994. ens, which in Latin means “the essence”, is a word used in various phrases in Christian theology and scholastic philosophy where it stands for something that has existence, a being, an entity as opposed to just an attribute or quality. After adopting the figure of an inscribed circle inside an equilateral triangle as the projects insignia, I then assigned each angle of the triangle the source of my ideas. Misfortune’s Wealth essentially is reason advanced and sources reconciled to define the inscribed circle. Furthermore, I felt that if the circular form contained the essence of my ideas, then the ideas should definitely be further made clearer in the form. The circle then became a metaphoric, figurative and conceptual form running throughout the work.”

Leo Asemota

Focusing on the ancient Igue ritual of Head worship practiced by the Edo people of Benin, the British Punitive expedition of 1897 against the Royal Kingdom of Benin and Walter Benjamin’s essay The Artwork in the Age of its Technological Reproducibility, his ideas enclosed within its circle the varied fields of art history, astrology, mythology, philosophy and his family’s history in describing his vision for the final element in the project, FiTH WORK No.40: Ens, a unique live artwork abstracted from the ancient Igue ritual in which Asemota performs as The Handmaiden. Ritual and art were instruments of the ancient Kingdom of Benin’s political ideology in asserting the divine origins, power and continuity of a dynasty of Kings (Oba’s) which still rules today. The annual Igue ritual of head worship which is the highest rite amongst its peoples is based on their firm belief that the human form is a sculpture animated by a soul (the essence of character), a spiritual self that guides and protects the temporal self, the physical head. The Igue ritual was also the catalyst to the chain of events that led to the punishing British Expedition of 1897 when the Royal Kingdom of Benin fell under the weight of the aspirations of the British Empire. In Walter Benjamin’s essay, he explores the notion of the aura and authenticity of an artwork and its basis in ritual and the political implications effected by technology on its intrinsic value.

In reconciling his sources for the anticipated live artwork, Asemota made his drawings in Coal and Kaolin (orhue) on paper with the exception of The Field of Mortal Activity; Time, Memory* which was drawn on a sheet of iron. Each of these materials carries magical and historically symbolic meaning. Iron and Coal transformed societies and fuelled the Industrial Revolution in Britain, propelling it to the greatest commercial empire in the world. To the Edo people of Benin, Iron is a symbol of the god Ogun, a patron deity to warriors and craftsmen whilst Kaolin (orhue), a special ritual chalk, is regarded as a symbol of purity and harmony. By using these raw materials, Asemota invokes into his work, the history, imagination and strength of these essential resources that were integral to the building of empires and in promoting beliefs that strengthened the might of both kingdoms.


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