King Shango

Oil on Wood Panel, 36" x 48"

Shango, the orisha of lightning and thunder, decided to be a king amongst the humans. His reign as the fourth Alafin of the Oya empire was one of tyrannical rule. A leader with supernatural powers, his cruelty and jealousy caused people to turn on him. Betrayed by one of his generals, the king and his family were forced into exile. Different versions of the myth exist, with Shango committing suicide or murdered by his own general. The painting focuses on the moments after his death, portraying the king’s lifeless mortal body, and simultaneously, his transcendence.

Upon his death, when Shango changed back into an orisha, he razed the kingdom in retribution, causing lightning to strike down his enemies and set the entire empire ablaze. For the initiated, the burning hazy landscape calls to mind the myth’s sensorial effects of heat mixed with the acrid smell and taste of smoke and ash.

Modeled after Caravaggio’s Entombment, Shango’s gaunt body echoes that of Christ, with the orishas Obatalá and Oshosi supporting him. Unlike the Entombment, however, King Shango includes an extensive background with African trees, such as the iroko and wild date palm, and a tropical forest, thus locating the story specifically in Africa.


Master Narrative