Review of Exhibition at Brighton Museum 2011

Wounded Healer: The Art of Odi Oquosa.


 Artists and Gnostics practise what the priests think is long forgotten. –Hugo Ball[1]

 Words & Pictures Tim Weinberg

Artwork Odi Oquosa

 Odi Oquosa is Nigerian of Onitsha royal lineage and as such his work embodies and continues the Onitsha tradition of ‘Priest, healer and shaman.’[2]After extensive travels he moved to the UK and uses his skills to support and even treat those with mental health issues. Of his work he says the following ‘It is a metaphoric representation of myself, with insights into situations, which offers healing to the self and the environment.’[3]

So who (or what) constitutes a shaman?

Michael Tucker, a scholar of modern shamanism puts it thusly

‘Charged with the responsibility of maintaining the health of the tribe, the prehistoric shaman remains the archetype of all artists…The shaman epitomises the human need to fly between worlds – to fly beyond the everyday realm of the visual in order to conjure worlds of visionary presence and power.’[4]

This might also be put more briefly and succinctly with Mircea Eliade’s definition of the shaman as ‘the archetype of homo religious.’[5]

Odi’s art may best be described as African, re-imagined through the filter of western influences. Picasso’s work with tribal symbols and masks obviously comes to mind, while others such as Dreams in Reality (2005) are reminiscent of the ether-induced imaginings of Austin Osman Spare and Aleister Crowley. His work, quite simply, will not be restricted by expectations of form. When asked about the significance of his Nigerian background, Odi’s response is to see it realistically; in perspective, ‘I’m a very universal person’[6] is his simple response.

Odi as shaman often appears in his works, usually distinguishable by a distressed mental state and physical isolation. In Decapitation (2009) the shaman is headless, reminiscent of a Zen-like, egoless lucidity, best described by English mystic Douglas E. Harding in the similarly named On Having no Head: Zen and the Rediscovery of the Obvious.[7]

In Wounded Healer (2007) he stands alone, the center of an energy vortex both encompassing and emanating from him.

By Lunar Eclipse (2011) (which visually at least, owes some debt to Matisse’s later collages), he appears to have found some sort of balance, his figure conjuring-up myriad archetypal symbolic figures, from aboriginal art through to even alchemy and freemasonry (which the artist acknowledges.)

As with other shamen, the natural world opens up infinite possibilities for transformation and empathy, or as Odi puts it ‘rapport with the subject gives…(me)…identity within my own space ‘[8] Talking of his identification with the essential essences of animals, he goes on’ For example, the owl sees in the dark. He uses that essence to understand difficult times and the obstacles become an insight into enchanted territories.’[9] This set of correspondences can extend to all creation ‘The snake sheds away their skin (sic), like shedding away old habits and coming into new territory and coming into new ways of understanding…the otter lives in the water and on the land…what that gives him is…his child-like nature, without any sense of fear.[10] All this informs his paintings and sculptures and transforms them in ways in which ‘his creative process is always rejuvenated’[11] realising that these art-forms ‘provide the rhythm-the spiritual music that pervades space.’[12] while he sees textiles as like a spider’s web of the self, an infusion of metamorphic processes that acknowledge my ancestral heritage.’[13] As for the fish that crop up in his work, they mean he’s ‘swum really deep.’[14]

He’s also interested in ancient writings, architecture, silver-smithing, bronze-casting and throwing clay, all superficial (in the real sense of the word), phenomena, hinting at the underlying union of creation, or as Odi calls them ‘all a masquerade of manifestations.’ [15]

The Shamanistic spirit isn’t bound by gender either; through his work he can perform in different roles, some where the feminine takes precedence. The feminine is often figuratively present in his work; see ‘Lunar Eclipse’ (2011) where the shaman’s anima is quite visibly residing, under the surface of his profile.


The connection between the almost superhuman figure of the shaman and distressed mental states might initially bemuse, but in fact the connection has been duly noted ‘In every primitive tribe…we find the medicine man in the center of society and it is easy to show that the medicine man is either a neurotic or a psychotic or at least that his art is based on the same mechanisms as a neurosis or a psychosisThey are the leaders…and the lightning conductors of common anxiety. They fight the demons so that others can hunt the prey and in general fight reality.’[16]

Someone questions Odi as to the pagan feel and nature of his work, the artist’s response quite characteristic of his positive and generally optimistic outlook ‘Paganism for me is pure, but made to look negative’[17] and seems to reinforce Michael Tucker’s observation (itself echoing Hugo Ball’s earlier quote), that ‘to open oneself to the spirit of Shamanism is thus to sense the possibilities of ‘re-animating’ a world which monotheistic religion and mechanistic science have done much to deaden.’ [18]

Does modern shamanic art have a place in the treatment of mental illness? Many will scoff and a healthy scepticism is surely a good thing, but as Joseph Campbell sagely observed ‘The mythological traditions of the world have been developed and maintained…(by)…the sages, sages, prophets and priests, many of whom have had an actual experience of the ineffable mystery and all of whom have revered it.’[19]

Odi’s work, like all shamen’s is about the ‘construction and reconstruction of reality.’[20] And more specifically, in the field of mental health in which he works ‘what you might think is my downfall, might be a beginning.’[21]



Joseph Campbell. The Hero with a Thousand Faces. Paladin. 1988.

Joseph Campbell. The Masks of God: Primitive Mythology. Viking Press. 1969.

Michael Tucker. Dreaming with Open Eyes: The Shamanic Spirit in Twentieth Century Art and Culture. Aquarian/HarperSanFrancisco. 1992.



Tim Weinberg would like to thank Odi Oquosa.

Also Robert at artwerx and the staff of Brighton Museum & Art Gallery (especially Jody East), for their time and cooperation. is currently under construction.

[1] Hugo Ball (1886-1927) German author, poet and leading Dada artist.

Quoted in Jay Babcock on Julian Cope at

[2]  Beneath the Surface, exhibition guide, Brighton Museum and Art Gallery, 2011.

[3]  Ibid.

[4]  Michael Tucker Dreaming with Open Eyes pp. xxi-xxii.

[5]  Ibid, p.42.

[6]  Q&A session at Beneath the Surface, Brighton Museum & Art Gallery, 8 October 2011

[7]  Arkana Publishing 1986.

[8]  See 5 above.

[9]  Unpublished letter to author.

[10]  Ibid.

[11]  Ibid.


[13]  Ibid.

[14]  See 5 above.

[15]  See 12 above.

[16]  Dr. Geza Roheim, quoted in The Hero with a Thousand Faces pp.100-101 (see bibliography.)

[17]  See 5. above. Odi shows a cynicism towards Magic and Voodoo, arguing if they were effective then Africans could have resisted slavery and even won wars.

[18]  Dreaming with Open Eyes p.77.

[19]  The Masks of God p.54.

[20]  See 5 above.

[21]  Ibid.