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'Worship' Seeks Spiritual Identity : Art: Fidelia Anyia, whose work is on view in Fullerton, takes the inspiration for her ceramic vessels and wall plaques from Beni tradition.

October 29, 1994|By RICK VANDERKNYFF | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

FULLERTON — The contemporary-art world can be said to have its own set of rituals and rites, but the opening today of an exhibit in Cal State Fullerton's East Gallery will draw upon a deeper tradition.

In what artist Fidelia Anyia describes as a blend of performance art and the ceremonial, a chief priest of Benin, A.E. Ogiemwanye, will perform a cleansing and preparation of the exhibit, as he might do for a religious shrine.

The connection between the ritual and Anyia's work in the exhibit, titled "Worship Art," is not a spurious one. Anyia came to Cal State Fullerton two years ago from her home in Benin, a kingdom in Nigeria, and she takes the inspiration for her ceramic vessels and wall plaques from Beni tradition.

"My grandmother was a traditionalist," Anyia, 28, said this week. "Her father before her was a very powerful medicine man."

Although her grandmother eventually converted to Catholicism, she still performed many of the old rites, which Anyia would watch when she visited there. Later, because Anyia's mother married into Benin's royal family, she was able to witness and study palace rituals.

Ironically, her interest in the traditional has increased since she came to Fullerton, and she's become particularly fascinated with the Olokun cult.

Olokun is the river goddess and is associated with fertility, longevity and wealth. In traditional Beni society, people are conceived of a particular deity, and Anyia's grandmother "was a water person," the artist said. Her grandmother's relationship with Olokun had its practical consequences--"She could never go close to water"--as well as spiritual ones.

*

Anyia's works, collectively titled "The Olokun Series," employ symbols and forms echoing those found on pottery used in ceremonies connected to Olokun. She also uses the works to explore wider issues of spirituality.

The works address "relationships between things that exist in my culture that also exist in other cultures," Anyia said. Specifically, she said, the works are about a need for spiritual identity: "They tell a story about the human search."

Anyia studied ceramics at the University of Benin in Benin City and was taught by two master teachers--one a hand builder, one a wheel thrower.

"I try as much as possible to combine all forms of ceramics." Her "Worship Art" exhibit is one of her requirements to complete a master of fine arts degree.

Ogiemwanye, the Beni priest who will take part today, lives most of the time in Long Beach but returns annually to Nigeria to officiate over initiations.

* "Worship Art" opens today with a public reception from 4 to 9 p.m. in the East Gallery of the Cal State Fullerton Visual Arts Center, 800 N. State College Blvd. The ceremonial portion of the reception will begin at 5:30 p.m. Regular gallery hours are weekdays, noon to 4 p.m. Through Nov. 3. Free. (714) 773-3262.

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