<i>Oya, The God Who Shrank</i> is my portrait of an African deity, and it illustrates my take on her story.
Oya is the Yoruban name for the goddess of creation known throughout Africa as the <i>Rainbow Goddess</i>. In her Yoruban form, Oya created the elements of the universe at the beginning of time, conjuring entire spectra of materials, particles and forces.
Since those first days as Creator, her role as deity has been transposed many times. She has ruled over the wind, the weather, marketing, undertaking and even lung disease. And through the centuries, as her people moved across the earth, she too refracted into differing forms. In Cuba and Puerto Rico shes called Olla. In Brazil, Yansa, and in Haitian voodoo her name is Mamam Brigette or Damballah.
In this picture, however, her persona has become <i>Calidea dregii</i> - the tiny, but beautiful Rainbow Shield Bug, to be found far and wide across Africa.
Here, we see the morning sun piercing the undergrowth and illuminating Oya in her burrow. Now she is small, and modest in form, except for the regal markings she still wears. And like many of the giants of ancient myth the prime-movers, the Creators her role in society has slowly receded with the passing centuries.
Now she goes unnoticed, sitting in the fields amongst earth and root, whilst the world speeds on industriously around her. But even here, she still exerts her influence, though diminished. She is a god of small things. But still a god.
Her influence comes from her mischievous tinkering with certain plants - like Noog Abyssina (from which we get soap), and cotton, and sunflowers, and tobacco or caster oil.
As the sun rises on another day in the field, Oya will emerge from her burrow and climb the stem of the Noog Abyssina. She will climb until she reaches the seed head. There, if the mood takes her, she will pierce the young seeds, causing them to distort, falter and fall to the ground, spoilt. As a signature, she lays her eggs in a spiral pattern and returns to her hole for sunset.
And in this way, she exerts her influence upon human kind. The fates of industries, of livelihoods, lie with her. One farmers crop will fail, another will succeed. Scientists are employed because of her, tasked with developing pesticides. The quality of the soap in your bathroom hinges upon the whim of Oya the Rainbow Shield Bug.
But in her role as creator, Oya still has a job to do, as she demonstrates in this picture.
When the viewer stares at this piece, what they are essentially looking at is an abstract picture. It is a collection of random fragments, squiggles and shapes. It is a universe without structure, without anything of immediate familiarity. What they see, however, is something entirely different, and that is thanks to the presence of Oya.
With Oya in the picture, she takes these elements and molds them into an environment. Even though Oya herself uses up just an eightieth of the canvas, her presence mysteriously forces our minds to reinterpret the abstract image and construct a world for her. Once she created a cosmos, now she creates a microcosm. Stems and foliage spring into relief. Its flooded with light. The dark, cosy burrow extends out beyond the frame and envelopes the viewer as we stare out through its entrance and into the farmers field.
Oya has created, out of the disorder, a perspective we humans rarely get to see. From down here underfoot, industry doesnt seem as important. Geopolitics are too distant to imagine. It is a world normally hidden from us, yet all around us. And perhaps Oya has been here all along. Perhaps it wasnt she who shrank, but her people who grew and left this world behind.
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