Yemenja - Eugene Grigsby (NEW)
About the Work

From the Artist

The subject of this print, Yemenja, grew out of research on African art and a sabbatical trip with my wife, Thomasena, to the Sacred Forest of Oshogbo, Nigeria, where we first encountered Yemenja. I had given a lecture on "African American Art and Artists" at the African Studies Center of the University of Ibadan. On the next day, the director, Bob Armstrong, invited us to go with him to Oshogbo, where we could meet Susan Wenger and see the Sacred Forest of Oshogbo. We were delighted to accept his invitation and soon found ourselves in Oshogbo where we met Susan Wenger who was known as "The White Goddess." Wenger, a sculptor, had come to Oshogbo with her husband, Ulli Berri, to establish a community center. Here she taught a group of young African artists that became famous at the Oshogbo artists. Perhaps the most famous of this group is Twin Seven Seven. Susan became totally African. After divorcing her husband she married the town drummer and became immersed in native African religions. She was the protector of the Sacred Forest and her heroic sculptural figures are scattered throughout the forest. She gave us ideas that were drawn from African folklore. She explained each of the sculptures, the spirits, and ideas that were drawn from African folklore. She introduced us to Yemenja. Susan Wenger was considered a leader of the cult of Yemenja. She explained that Yemenja was the protector of all living things in the waters and showed us the wellspring of the waters from which she came.

Bob Armstrong insisted that we visit Bahia, Brazil, where we would find more exciting material about Yemenja and other Orishas of the Brazilian pantheon of African saints transformed and intertwined with Catholic saints. In Bahia we found a wealth of material about Yemenja. One source tells us that Yemenja is the Lady of the Waters, the wife of Oxala, the mother of all the Orishas (pronounced O-ree-sha). She wears blue; shells and stones from the sea are her symbols. In the syncretism she is "Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception." Her day of the week is Saturday. She is known as the "Lady Junainer inae, Maria, Princess of Aroka." The long boat fishermen and sailors in Itaparica on the Red River have a celebration in her honor. The Fiesta of the Second of February on the Red River is famous and merited a song by the Brazilian composer Dorival Caymmi. Moreover, a good part of the work of Caymmi has Yemenja as its theme. Among the followers of the great composer many others have celebrated her. All the Sea of Bahia belongs to Yemenja. At the New Year, the beach of Copacabana is filled with her devotees sending toy boats of wood, paper, and plastic, filled with food for the nourishment of Yemenja.

I use the image of Yemanja to express the beauty, the strength, and the contributions of womanhood throughout the world, as well as the tenderness, the motherhood and the love of humankind expressed through this figure. In America, she walks with Sojourner Truth and Harriet Tubman; with Susan B. Anthony and Suffragette women; with Coretta Scott King and Maya Angelou; with Katherine Dunham and Elizabeth Catlett. Yemenja is, in my mind, the best of all that is positive and good and loving and strong and beautiful about womanhood.
—From Brandywine Workshop and Archives records 

From the Artist

One thing about the arts is the celebration of those differences and respect for differences, because if everyone was just alike, it wouldn't be interesting nor would it be art....

My efforts have continually stressed the visual impact through the relation of shapes, textures, colors, lines, and spaces, interlaced with rhythms and patterns. I seek to explore and touch upon the human qualities ingrained in each of us which cause us to react, for good or evil, towards one another. My work explores visual imagery of African patterns to imply these human qualities.
—From Brandywine Workshop and Archives records 


About the Artist

Painter, printmaker, and scholar J. Eugene Grigsby was born in Greensboro, NC. He earned a BA from Morehouse College, Atlanta, an MA from Ohio State University, Columbus, and a PhD in art education from New York University, New York City. Grigsby ...

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Offset Lithograph




30" x 22"

Edition Size

70 prints in this edition


Jim "BJ" Hughes


Brandywine Workshop and Archives


Philadelphia, PA