A depiction of a black Jesus can’t be all that disturbing, can it? It was for the congregation of St. Paul’s Church, Ebute Metta. This was 1966 though, so things were different.
Onobrakpeya had been invited to create fourteen panels to illustrate the Stations of the Cross for St. Paul’s Church, Ebute Metta. The priest of the parish, Father Kevin Carroll, had already begun a process of using Nigerian artists and themes for the art and decoration in the church.
A year later, Onobrakpeya, amidst some controversy, presented the panels to the church. He said his main focus in creating the panels was to show the triumph of Christ’s journey, as well as to bring the story home by indigenizing it. There was a significant use of adire to create patterns that were beautiful, African and spiritually uplifting. The characters and locations were also African.
Many of the parishioners were outraged by this seeming corruption of the Bible’s message. A black Jesus! Who ever heard of such a thing?
Father Carroll apparently had some faith in a Jesus of any colour. The panels stayed. Onobrakpeya would go on to create a set of prints based on the Stations of the Cross series. Veronica’s veil is one of them.
Things have changed since 1966. But, in some ways, things are still the same. The uncertainty about our place in the world still lingers. The battle for ownership of our stories continues.