Susanne Wenger: white priestess from the Sacred Groves of Osogbo, Nigeria

Susanne Wenger also known as Adunni Olurisa (1915-2009) was an Austrian artist who resided in Nigeria. Her main focus was the Yoruba culture and she was successful in building an artist cooperative in Osogbo.

Born in Graz, Austria, she studied art  before travelling to Paris in 1949, where she met Ulli Beier, a German linguist. When he was offered a position as a phonetician in Ibadan, Nigeria, shortly afterwards, they decided to marry so she could accompany him.

The couple quickly assimilated in Nigeria, he as a teacher and she as an artist, but they moved from Ibadan to the nearby town of Ede in 1950 to escape what Wenger called the “artificial university compound”. In Ede, she met one of the last priests of the rapidly disappearing, ancestral-based Olorisha religion. She quickly became engrossed in his life and rituals, even though at that time she spoke no Yoruba. “Our only intercourse was the language of the trees,” she said later.

During this period, she and Beier mentored a group of local artists that later became the New Sacred Art movement, creating many of the giant sculptural works that beautify the sacred grove.

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