The following fourteen linocut prints were created in 1969 by Nigerian artist Bruce Onobrakpeya (b. 1932) of the Urhobo people. They are in the Collection of the SMA African Art Museum in Tenafly, New Jersey. The photos were taken by my husband, Eric James Jones.
Notice how the executioners are not ancient Roman soldiers but twentieth-century British colonial officers. Likewise transplanted into a different historical context, Jesus and the friends he meets along his way to Calvary are African, dressed in adire, with the women in headscarves. By situating the crucifixion narrative in colonial Africa, Onobrakpeya makes it more recognizable to his people. They themselves are witnesses to the event—devotees of the Christ who mourn his wrongful death—but also co-sufferers with him in their endurance of oppression.
The theme of salvation that’s expressed in this stations series is both personal and political. Onobrakpeya encourages Africans to see themselves as key players in the modern-day enactment and spread of the gospel. Christ’s sacrifice was as much for them as it was for any other people. And it brought about salvation not merely from individual sins but from the kingdom of this world. It frees us to live as citizens of another kingdom, to submit to the rule of a different lord, one who will never exploit us or crush us but whose every law is for the flourishing of earth and humanity. Love, peace, righteousness, reconciliation—these are the laws of Christ’s kingdom, the fruits of his grace.
Other African artists have done their own versions of the Stations of the Cross, but one of the things that makes Onobrakpeya’s unique is his use of color and patterning. Greens, blues, reds, and yellows explode into the background, as do checkers, spirals, zigzags, dots, and other geometric shapes, repeated from the figures’ garments. Such abstraction adds to the mysticality of the event.
For some other fine examples of Nigerian Christian art, including another stations series, click here.