More about New Oba, 2023“New Oba is the first piece in a new series which develops the ideas and aesthetic of my previous series, East Meets West.
"In this new series, I combine Chinese and African iconography in a response to the effect China is having on the African Continent. I am curious to see how these cultures merge, if at all, whilst allowing myself a degree of creative freedom, fantasising in the creation of new imagery.
"The inspiration for New Oba began with a pair of ivory Benin leopards exhibited at the British Museum. However, my leopards have been hybridised and feature the heads of Chinese imperial lion's. Please note that the iconic, circular carved pattern on the Benin leopard's bodies has continued onto their Chinese heads.
"The leopard was once the emblem of power for the exclusive use of the Oba, or King of Benin. It is said that the King kept a number in captivity, as well as maintaining specialist guilds of leopard hunters at court.
"I see a link between the two nations through the associations between powerful wild cats and their respective rulers: the leopard at the Oba's palace and the lions guarding the Chinese Emperor's gates.
Leopards remain important among the Yoruba people of Nigeria today, and artistic depictions of them are often given as gifts to grant spiritual protection to the recipient. The Chinese have taken their Emperor's guardians across the world to protect their homes, temples and businesses.
"In New Oba, I deliberately retained the ivory colouring of the British Museum leopards. To reference the ivory and inlaid copper of the originals, I used unglazed white and inlaid black porcelain. Both beasts were hand-built, carved and devised as a matching pair. The pair are quite different is size, posture and attitude, which emphasises their gendered relationship and communication when displayed together.”
Enrique Perezalba Red, 2023