The Self, the Other, the Body Politic, and even the Dead Twin!

Mia shall lead us in the discussion of this fascinating article. Though long, I felt that it intersected with many of the issues we have discussed thus far in the class on the function of portraiture, the role of the artist, and of course the gaze.
1. For the Yoruba culture, what does a work of art consist of?
2. Where does the sculptural style of portraiture fall on the continuum of naturalism and conceptualism? What role does memory play in the creative process?
3. Why was the head of the Ife ruler often the largest part of the statue?
4. Is the face the index of identity in the sculpture of Yoruba?
5. What were the two liabilities in having a sculptural double?
6. Why did second-burial effigies convey a mimetic closeness to their prototypes? How was this achieved?
7. What were the functions fulfilled by sculpture in this culture? And why was naturalism eschewed in general?
8. In what way was the statuette of the deceased twin used?
9. How did the gaze work in regarding portraits in this culture? Is there a similar ambivalence in western culture?
10. What traditions have survived the invention of photography in this region?


5 responses

  1. Hello everyone!
    I apologize for the utter lateness. I found this article quite informative about image and identity from the Yoruba perspective, as well as a host of vocabulary for a different aesthetic. I hope you enjoyed the read and I cannot wait to unpack this. Some things to consider:
    1). The Yoruba draw spiritual connections between their crafted images and themselves as active, dynamic and creative people. Are there any parallels to this occurring in Western portrait production? How much does mythology and religious practice figure in the creative process?

    2). “Esu activates the face, the site of perception and communication, reflecting the feelings of pain and pleasure, hope and despair, and other passions associated with temporal existence and behavior. The Yoruba word for a facade is oju-ile, (literally the face of the house) because the facade is to a house what the face is to the body, an index of identity.” (502) Is one’s facial features and expression always indicative of our true emotions/our true self? How do the Yoruba address emotions of their subjects when creating aworan?

    3). How do the Yoruba find and justify balance between abstraction and mimesis?
    Does likeness carry weight in producing a “good,” sound image?

    4). In Yoruba culture, deportment is based on a code of ethics, and on maintaining a respectable public image via self-control. “It would be risky to allow oneself to be portrayed in a naturalistic and overtly expressive manner; there is the fear that enemies might read arrogance into an innocent smile, steal the portrait, and instigate a sorcerer to harm the subject through it.” (503) Does gaze impact one’s behavior? Do the sitters of Yoruba portraits take on the position of object?

    5). An ipade, a hunter’s second-burial effigy, as well as with other portraits, may make use of the subject’s clothing in order to be a more naturalistic representation of the person. How does adornment factor in marking identity in Yoruba portraits?

  2. “The prayer for an expectant mother: “Ki Orisa ya ona ire ko ni” (May the Orisa [Obatala] fashion for us a good work of art). The implication is that procreation, in spite of its
    biological aspect, has an artistic dimension as well: the human body is the handiwork of Obatala, a piece of sculpture animated by a soul. In other words, the body makes the spirit manifest, enabling an individual to have physical existence in the visible world.” -page 500
    I really love this idea in Yoruba art, and I feel like this could lead us on a huge philosophical discussion tomorrow. What can this intertwining idea of sculpture/art and the soul mean for European art? Can we see representations of this idea outside of African art? Can art effectively represent not only the physical existence of the body, but also of the soul?

  3. What I love about this idea is that the genesis of human life is patterned after the creation of images. Life is imitating art! I always knew we had it wrong….and then to see this carried into the modern period with a surviving twin as the proxy for the deceased twin—it is, as you say, so rich in possibilities for portraiture!

  4. The heads of Ife rulers are often the largest size of the statue because the head has a lot of power. The head, ori, is perceived as the side of the dse, enabling power, that determines one’s identity and existence. It influences behavior and personal destiny.
    The head is also known as being the lord of the body. The head is often surrounded by a crownlike coiffure or headgear.
    There is also the spiritual head,called ori inu. It localizes the dse that empowers the physical self. One myth claims that before an individual is born into the physical world, its soul must select an inner head from a collection of ready-made clay heads molded by Ajala. The one selected by an individual becomes an integral part of the metaphysical self, constituting the inner core of the physical head and determining a person’s lot on earth.n the distant past, most adult Yoruba dedicated an altar called ibori to the inner head. (501)
    In the article, spiritualism lays a high importance in the creation of art. There all all of these spiritual heads that all give insight to the creation of art and the ways in which art is created.

  5. This is so different than the Western view of sculpture, even during the Middle Ages. I would like to discuss the contrast between medieval reliquary busts and king of Ife busts and how both were used and the meanings associated with the material objects themselves.

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