Wednesday, 29 April 2009



The maternal womb is considered to be the workshop where the Supreme Being causes life to germinate and grow.It is the privileged place of transcendence,the place of divine work.That is why tradition gives the rank of half-god to the woman-mother...

Earth,the feminine and maternal power,is also the receptacle of the universal power which comes from heaven through the intermediary of ji (water),yellen (light) and even dibi (darkness).

The Supreme Being in the Sudanese animist traditions created two fundamental principles which were inherent in all things:tyeeya (masculinity) and muesya (femininity).In West Africa,this principle of sexuality is applied to the members of the mineral,plant,and animal kingdoms.In this way,the sky is male,because in covering up the earth it fulfils its masculine function,while the earth is receptive,therefore feminine and maternal.Even today, "to cover up" in the Peul language means "to marry".The shape of an object determines its gender:all that is hollow symbolises the feminine ,while anything that projects outward represents the masculine.

Amadou Hampate Ba "Earth,Moon and Stars",excerpt from Aspects of African Civilisation by Amadou Hampate Ba in Parabola, 3.Fall 1989.48-9.


The Yoruba conceive of the cosmos as consisting of two distinct yet inseparable realms--aye (the visible, tangible world of the living) and orun (the invisible spiritual realms of the ancestors, gods, and spirits). Such a cosmic conception is visualized either a spherical gourd, whose upper and lower hemispheres fit tightly together, or as a divination tray with a raised figurated border enclosing a flat central surface--Henry Drewal, John Pemberton, and Rowland Abiodun, "The Yoruba World," Yoruba: Nine Centuries of African Art and Thought, p. 14.



In 2005

Polly Nordstrand (left) who is the assistant curator of American Indian Arts at the Denver Art Museum, and Moyo Okediji at a Denver Art Museum / Douglas Society event in September 2005

Moyo Okediji was born in Lagos Nigeria. Parents moved to Ile Ife when he was two. He had his primary education in Ile Ife, and went to Olivet Baptist High School, Oyo, for his secondary school. he returned to Ife for his university education in 1973, and was awarded a B.A. with honors in Fine Arts in 1977, by the University of Ife. Hereceived his MFA from the University of Benin in 1982, and returned to the University of Ife, where he became a lecturer. He founded and led the Ona Artists in Ile Ife, where he taught classes in painting, drawing, ceramics and art history. He organized several internationalconferences and symposia, and edited proceedings from some of these events.

In 1992, he left Ife for the University of Wisconsin, Madison, to study for a Ph.D. in art history. He completed his Ph.D. in 1995, and has taught Wellesley College, Gettysburg College, and the Universityof Colorado, Denver, before joining the faculty of UT Austin.

In Denver, he was also the curator of African and Oceanic arts at the Denver Art Museum. He organized exhibitions of historic and contemporary African art, published essays on the collection, andcurated the Oceanic and African galleries in the new Daniel Libeskindbuilding of the Denver Art Museum.

Okediji has also exhibited his own work as an artist in severalmuseums and galleries in Africa, Europe, and North America. He haspublished books and essays, including

The Shattered Gourd: YorubaForms in 20th Century American Art, and African Renaissance: Oldimages, New Forms in Yoruba Art.

Moyo enjoys African food, especially amala and gbegiri. But he is slowly adapting to exotic diets too.

By Toyin Falola

at the
USAAFRICA Dialogue Googlegroup

Image from

The Douglas Society at the Denver At Museum:

Tuesday, 28 April 2009


By Moyo Okediji

  • Paperback
  • Publisher: Bard Book (1992)
  • ASIN: B000J5CWE8


African Renaissance
Old Forms, New Images in Yoruba Art
by Moyo Okediji

ISBN: 0-87081-688-8
Binding: Hardcover Paper
Pages: 200
Illustrations: 20 color, 42 b&w
Published: 2002

African Renaissance: Old Forms, New Images in Yoruba Art describes, analyzes, and interprets the historical and cultural contexts of an African art renaissance using the twentieth- and twenty-first-century transformation of ancient Yoruba artistic heritage. Juxtaposing ancient and contemporary Yoruba art, Okediji defines this art history through the lens of colonialism, an experience that served to both destroy ancient art traditions and revive Yoruba art in the twentieth century.

With vivid reproductions of paintings, prints, and drawings, Okediji describes how Yoruba art has replenished and redefined itself. Okediji groups the text into several broadly overlapping periods that intricately detail the journey of Yoruba art and artists: first through oppression by European colonialism, then the attainment of Nigeria’s independence and the new nation’s subsequent military coup, and ending with present-day native Yoruban artists fleeing their homeland.

Based upon extensive interviews with the artists and critical readings of the existing literature on contemporary Yoruba art, African Renaissance: Old Forms, New Images in Yoruba Art will appeal to the art historian and art collector and serve as a wonderful introduction to the canon of Yoruba art for the general reader.




The Shattered Gourd
Yoruba Forms in Twentieth-Century American Art

Moyo Okediji
  • Hardcover: 208 pages
  • Publisher: University of Washington Press (June 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0295981504
  • ISBN-13: 978-0295981505
  • Product Dimensions: 10.3 x 7.4 x 0.8 inches

The Shattered Gourd uses the lens of visual art to examine connections between the United States and the Yoruba region of western Nigeria.

In Yoruba legend, the sacred Calabash of Being contained the Water of Life; when the gourd was shattered, its fragments were scattered over the ground, death invaded the world, and imperfection crept into human affairs. In more modern times, the shattered gourd has symbolized the warfare and enslavement that culminated in the black diasporas.

The "re-membering" of the gourd is represented by the survival of people of African origin all over the Americas, and, in this volume, by their rediscovery of African art forms on the diaspora soil of the United States. Twentieth-century AfricanAmerican artists employing Yoruba images in their work have gone from protest art to the exploration and celebration of the self and the community. But because the social, economic, and political context of African art forms differs markedlyfrom that of American culture, critical contradictions between form and meaning often appear in African American works that use African forms.

In this book-the first to treat Yoruba forms while transcending the conventional emphasis on them as folk art, focusing instead on the high art tradition-Moyo Okediji uses nearly four dozen works to illustrate a broad thematic treatmentcombined with a detailed approach to individual African and African American artists. Incorporating works by such artists as Meta Warrick Fuller, Hale Woodruff, Aaron Douglas, Elizabeth Catlett, Ademola Olugebefola, Paul Keene, Jeff Donaldson, Howardena Pindell, Muneer Bahauddeen, Michelle Turner, Michael Harris, Winnie Owens-Hart, and JohnBiggers, the author invites the reader to envision what he describes as "the immense possibilities of the future, as the twenty-first century embraces the twentieth in a primal dance of the diasporas," a future that heralds the advent of the global as a distinct movement in art, beyond postmodernism.

"The Shattered Gourd is an original, searching landmark study. Through the vivid and powerful metaphor of the shattered gourd, the author explores the visual and verbal elements, textures and textualities, and the crossroads of Yoruba influences and their recurrence in African-American art." - Rowland O. Abiodun, John C. Newton Professor of Fine Arts and Black Studies, Amherst College




"Fela in Mamiwataland," a 2002 painting by Moyo Okediji

Photo by David Paul Morris for the Chronicle



The Dutchman, 1995
acrylic on canvas
48 x 72 inches
Nigerian, born 1956

The Dutchman was painted after Okediji spent time in the United States and gained greater insight into the daily realities of African Americans. He encountered firsthand how artists confronted that reality in their work. It was inspired, in part, by African American poet Robert Hayden's poem about the Atlantic slave trade titled, Middle

Jesús, Estrella, Esperanza, Mercy:
Sails flashing to the wind like weapons,
sharks following the moans the fever and the dying;
horror the corposant and compass rose.

Middle Passage:
voyage thorough death
to life on these shores.

This painting perhaps best embodies the theme of this exhibition. It may also signify Okediji's own psychic reconnection to his long
lost ancestors strewn across the Atlantic and to those who survived in the New World.

Prominent tints of blue, competing with orange complements, have dual signification — the deep waters of the Atlantic and the pain
at the root of African American blues music. Here is the Middle Passage experienced through Yoruba eyes, now opened to the
deeper aspects of that passage.

This piece was in an exhibit called:
Transatlantic Dialogue: Contemporary Art In and Out of Africa


Moyo Okediji's "The Dutchman"
By Michael Smith

With the end of the civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s came a new era in African American art, especially with painting. There was a revival of the subject matter of ancestors and the hardships Africans endured during the European Colonial period and the days of slave trading. Moyo Okediji, a Nigerian writer and artist recounted the story of the shattered Igbá Ìwà, the calabash that held the sacred water of life, in his book The Shattered Gourd (Okediji 3-5). He compares the shattering of the sacred gourd to the shattering of Yoruba culture by slave trade. He also tells this tale with his painting The Dutchman, which is similar to many other 1990s African American works with its style, use of color, composition, and subject matter.

The Dutchman is a rather large painting at 48 x 72 inches. It uses a variety of colors but is dominated by blue and orange. It depicts Dutch slave trade, as evident by the slaves in shackles, the Dutch ship labeled in the upper right hand corner, and the slave trader in the upper left hand corner. The work does not clearly depict these things; they are composed of seemingly random blocks. Figures are distorted and choppy, appearing in several blocks of several different colors with several different textures. For example, the central figure at the bottom has light brown hands, darker brown arms and head leading into a blue midsection and finally, small black legs that are offset from the rest of the body. The entire work is infused with wavy lines, giving the impression of the ocean and water. The lines seem to start in the upper left hand corner and radiate outward to the rest of the painting. There are a total of eight slaves in the work, most of them packed into the top. Most of them are wearing shackles and the ones that are not appear to be jumping into the water.

The style of The Dutchman is very similar to that of other African American paintings and prints of the era. The work appears to be a collage-like assemblage of blocks of color that are vivid and eye catching. The complimentary colors blue and orange were placed next to each other to create brightness so that the painting catches the viewer’s attention. The colors are significant according to the Ackland label. The blue could symbolize African American blues music, or also the deep blue of the Atlantic Ocean. It is a sad painting, and blue is one of the tools used to convey that sadness, as blue is often associated with sadness. A similar painting is Kerry James Marshall’s The Lost Boys. In this painting the artist used a combination of violet and yellow as well as red and green to call the viewer’s attention to the piece (Lewis 294). Lois Maliou Jones’s Jazz Combo is another example of typical works of the era, with bright, solid blocks of color, which again follow a complimentary color scheme (Amaki 199). The Dutchman follows the same stylistic approaches taken by other artists of the era with solid masses of bright colors combining to form images.

The collage-like assemblage of The Dutchman alludes to the artist’s story about the shattered gourd. The pieces that compose the painting are like pieces of the gourd that was shattered. The composition of the work is a triangle with the vertex at the bottom of the painting. The vertex at the bottom creates an upside down triangle. Rather than create a sense of stability as works do with upright triangular composition, this work does the opposite. It is as if the entire painting is teetering on the point at the bottom. The painting has been turned upside down and thrown into chaos, representing the slave traders coming into Africa and turning the people’s lives upside down.

Slavery as a subject matter for the work was also typical of African American Art of the 1990s. Emma Amos’s X Flag is an example of a work that contains images of slavery, with the Confederate Flag being the central focus of the work (Britton 86). The central focus of The Dutchman is the slaves and the slave trader that appears in the upper left hand corner of the work. He can be identified as a slave trader by his gun and skin color. He is the origin of the wavy and chaotic lines that represent the water of life spilled from the gourd. It is as if he knocked over the gourd and the water spilled all over the painting. According to the museum label, “The Dutchman was painted after Okediji had spent time in the United States, gaining greater insight into the daily reality of African Americans. (Ackland)” Perhaps the daily reality of the African Americans he saw was that they had forgotten their ancestors and lost their heritage and culture. This work reconnects the artist and African American viewers to their lost African ancestors that were traded as slaves and their lost African culture. The Dutchman also reflects Yoruba art. The figures have elongated bodies and enlarged heads, characteristics of traditional Yoruba works of art.

The Dutchman is exemplary of 1990’s African American art with its complimentary color scheme, collage-like composition, and allusion to slavery. It serves to remind viewers of the pain and suffering from the Atlantic slave trade, and the way it overturned the lives and culture of the African people, sending it into disarray like the smashing of the Igbá Ìwà. The artists of the era were trying to remind African Americans where they came from in an attempt to retain some of their African heritage.

Works Cited

Amaki, Amalia K., ed., A Century of African American Art. New Brunswick, New Jersey, London: Rutgers UP, 2004.

Britton, Crystal A., African American Art: The Long Struggle. New York: Smithmark, 1996.

Lewis, Samella. African American Art and Artists. Berkley, Los Angeles, London: University of California Press, 2003.

Okediji, Moyo, The Shattered Gourd: Yoruba Forms in Twentieth-Century American Art. Seattle and London: University of Washington Press, 2003.

From The Ackland Art Museum




Matter exists both where it is extant and where extinct. Presence and absence are marks of precience. Visibility is the monitor of invisibility, as death is the motor of life. Synonyms articulate and inundate their antonyms, The Egungun culture parades men in the choreography of apparels, thereby translating Masque-Raiding as metaphysically engaged in the gynodermic canvas. I conjure Masque-Raiders, not masqueraders with my Egungun Ilubirin or Gynodermic Canvases.

Moyo Okediji in personal communication


University of Texas Libraries News

Fine Arts Library Hosts Exhibition of West African Cultural Artifacts

egungun graphic

AUSTIN, Texas – A new exhibition of cultural artifacts from West Africa will be displayed at the Fine Arts Library at The University of Texas at Austin from Dec. 5 through March 5, 2009.

"Egungun: Diaspora Recycling" features the art of the Yoruba cultures—diasporic ethnic groups whose work reflects principles of recycling and regeneration of both spiritual and material elements.

"Egungun" refers to the Yoruba embodiment of a green aesthetic of healing, wherein the individual renews the body and spirit through the use of art.

Egungun concepts of recycling and regeneration come from their principles of deathlessness, or "aiku," which is part of an aesthetics or wealth and beauty.

With the use of textiles, sculptures, poetry, music and choreography, the Yoruba create installations and performances that propagate ideas of defiance of death, perpetual continuity, immortal regeneration and communal rejuvenation.

"Egungun: Diaspora Recycling" features indigenous costumes from the collections of Bobbi and Tim Hamill of the Hamill Gallery of African Art in Boston juxtaposed with modernist, diasporic reinterpretations of the Egungun concept by two contemporary artists, Wole Lagunju and Moyo Okediji.


The Yoruba peoples are diasporic ethnic groups that inhabit several countries in Africa,
Europe, South America, and North America. Through the use of art forms, especially the
performance of Egungun masking, they celebrate concepts of regeneration and recycling of
spiritual and material elements. These concepts of recycling and regeneration come from
their principles of deathlessness, or aiku, which is part of an aesthetics or wealth and
beauty. With the use of textiles, sculptures, poetry, music, and choreography, they create
installations and performances that propagate ideas of defying death, perpetual continuity,
immortal regeneration, and communal rejuvenation. Egungun is their indigenous embodiment
of a green aesthetic of healing, where the individual renews the body and the spirit,
with the use of art.

The installation “Egungun: Diaspora Recycling,” is an art exposition of transformation and
border crossings. The exhibition shows the art of Egungun as practiced indigenously in
Yoruba cultures. It also demonstrates the renewal of indigenous Egungun ideas by two
contemporary artists collaborating to reinterpret the concepts of masking, regeneration, and
immortality, using modernist and diasporic strategies. The works of the collaborating artists,
Wole Lagunju and Moyo Okediji, are juxtaposed with indigenous Egungun costumes
from the collections of Bobbi and Tim Hamill of the Hamill Gallery of African Art, Boston.


Monday, 27 April 2009


Ritual Progression


MOYO OKEDIJI: in the studio of Òbàtálá

Since the focus of the essay has been on diasporic artists, it is time to explore the character of anamnesis and historical transmission in the work of an African artist. To what extent is the issue of recollection relevant to African artists who are located within their specific cultural milieu. How does one recollect when one is immersed in one's ancestral culture? Under what conditions would a need for recollection arise?

In 1971 while Olugebefola was declaring his political position in the Reflection Orion exhibition, Nigeria had just emerged from a traumatic civil war and was in the process of ethnic reconciliation, rehabilitation and massive reconstruction. With a notable novelist in Yorùbá for a father, and a Yorùbá wall painter for a grandmother, Okediji was just about to commence his art education at the University of Ife, whose art department, with its all-Nigerian teachers, focused on bridging indigenous and Western artistic traditions. Raised in a home in which Yorùbá language, rites and rituals played dominant role socialization, Okediji moved to Ile-Ife between 1973 to 1977 to study art at the University of Ife. There, he met and interacted with a broad range of students from different parts of Nigeria, and with African American artists and students who either had come to study Nigerian art, or were on personal pilgrimages. The 1970s were an exciting period in Nigeria's social, economic and cultural history. Awash with petroleum dollars communities engaged in cultural revival, and the Federal Military Government initiated grandiose construction projects designed to accelerate the pace of modernization. An indigenization policy was also promulgated to expedite the transfer of economic resources and means of production into Nigerian hands. A kind of indigenization policy occurred in education too. In Ife, historians like Obaro Ikime, Segun Osoba, Akintoye, and Philip Igbafe emerged to interrogate and re-think history, and to produce a body of critical writings that restored agency to Africans, and presented African history from the agents' perspective. In the visual arts, Ben Enwonwu, then professor of Fine Arts at Ife laced his critiques of students' work with ideas on African Personality and consciousness. Meanwhile Agbo Folarin, in sculpture and textile, and Ige Ibigbami, in ceramics, pioneered the incorporation of Yorùbá stylistics in their respective media.

Between 1973 and 1978 Nigerian economy boomed as oil revenues poured into national coffers. Everything seemed possible. Intent on celebrating the cultural richness of black people globally, Nigeria audaciously hosted a cultural extravaganza named FESTAC `77. Held in Lagos, then capital of the country, this Second World Black Festival of the Arts and Culture was a follow up to the 1966 First World Festival of Negro Arts held in Dakar, Senegal, and the 1968 Pan African Cultural Festival held in Algiers. FESTAC provided an extraordinarily impressive homecoming of global proportions for African and Diasporic artists, performers, writers, and musicians. The conference and celebrations made the pointed statement that Africans are a global people, and that wherever they are, they have made important contributions in reshaping and enriching cultural heritages around the global. The polyglot debates on creative expression and cultural identity that occurred at the conference provided extremely valuable cultural and artistic connections between artists from different parts of the Pan African world - Caribbean, Africa, Europe, and the Americas.

While crucial cultural links were being built, FESTAC proved to be an economic fiasco. The vast economic mismanagement that accompanied the feverish construction of venues, the staging of the cultural extravaganza resulted in harsh economic restrictions. Internal political discussions on the fragile state of the economy, and on the dangers of Nigeria's growing dependency on imported goods resulted in a sweeping imposition of import restrictions by the Federal Military Government. Ushering in an austere period, the "Low Profile" lifestyle that followed was designed to curb Nigerians' desire for foreign goods. Unfortunately, the policy impacted negatively on art students, whose programs depended largely on imported art materials that were suddenly banned. Except for the few programs on ceramics, many art programs had no alternative resources in place for their students. Consequently, many promising students in painting who could not afford the high black market cost of oil paints abandoned the program and moved into other areas of art. Creative ones like Okediji, sought alternative solutions that resulted in their rediscovery of indigenous art-making traditions.

Though located in their indigenous culture, individuals are often inattentive to the details and specificities of their cultural tradition and practices. Recollection, however, occurs when queries are raised that challenges one's knowledge of history and traditional practices, and forces cultural tradition to be learnt in the context of purposive action. At moments like this individuals seek out elders who are widely perceived to know, as Okediji did with his grandmother, Madam Oyewùnmí Okediji, when he needed to learn about Yorùbá painting tradition during the research for his master's thesis.

Upon completion of his Bachelor's degree at Ife, Okediji moved to the University of Benin to commence a MFA program with Clara Ugbodaga Ndu, the premier female art educationist. The MFA program provided Okediji with the requisite opportunity to study the painting techniques of his Yorùbá heritage. Before beginning to paint indigenously, Okediji had to learn about the colour qualities of differing soil types (clay, kaolin, and laterite) and abandon pictorial conventions in painting. To succeed in his new endeavor he had to locate favorable places to mine his supplies. From the Òrìsàìkirè and Olúorógbó women shrine painters, he learnt about the three-colour groupings of pupa (redness and yellowness), funfun (whiteness), and dúdú (darkness) as well as the principle of composing with close gradations of soil colors (Okediji 1986). While Okediji liberally borrowed the stylistics and shrine iconography of the muralists to articulate an alternative contemporized medium of expression, he differed from the women in two ways: he contemporized the technique by adding binders into his colors to give them permanency; and he expanded the range of media by executing his compositions on cotton cloth, woven jute fibers, and raffia mats rather than on walls. His new earth palette of dark indigos, hues of soot-blacks, ochre, reddish sienna, and silvery hues of kaolin gave a certain earthiness to his creative output.

Recollection is a process to knowledge and self-knowledge. Okediji's major work of the period was the circlescopes series, which utilized the circle as the primary shape of creative exploration. Striving to become visible to himself as a conscious subject of history, he defiantly abandoned the rectangular surfaces of hardboards on the ground that such shapes force us to conceptualize the world as necessarily square. His selection of a circle as the appropriate shape of creation is intimately connected to the pre-figurement of the moon and sun in his psychic imagination, and in Yorùbá folkloric tradition. Under awakened consciousness, the circle becomes a relevant medium for presenting planetary events since the Yorùbá conceptual scheme takes the spherical rotund form of the calabash as the shape of the world. Opting for circular canvases of cloth, jute or raffia to create this optical effect, he confronted class biases with his unconventional style of painting. This bias was further amplified when he irreverently tacked his paintings onto the ubiquitous round flat basket trays used by tomato and pepper sellers for hawking their wares.

Nearly all the paintings in the circlescope series are free-flowing abstract designs that are sometime evocative of El Salahi's linear style and sometimes of Obiora Udechukwu's Uli drawings. Though some of Okediji's works have a geometric quality, others are fluid images suggestive of human beings, Ifá divination paraphernalia, trees, lizards, faces, bicycles, combs, and houses (Series Figs. 5-15). These are either juxtaposed against each other, or superimposed one on top of the other.

Reconnecting with his local history, Okediji's series on Yorùbá Genesis portrays an anamnestic dialogue with the metaphysical roots of his reality. The seven clay/mud paintings in the series are pictographic narratives of different stages of Yorùbá cosmological account, beginning with Olódùmarè, the Supreme Force of the universe, moving over the watery void to commence creation fig. 5, to the last stage when archetypal Ife became inhabited. The anamnestic objective of this work is to assert the centrality of Yorùbá conception of the world, and to check the rapid erasure of Yorùbá values and beliefs by either Christian or Islamic ideas. Explaining the series, Okediji states:

In the beginning was Olódùmarè. At that time in the beginning, the earth was full of water.39 Water covered the face of the earth; and Olódùmarè sent the Òrìsà [divinities], to populate the earth below (fig. 6). There was Òbàtálá [divine sculptor], there was Ògún [the intemperate Òrìsà of iron, instantiating the destructive-creative principle], there was Òsanyìn [the Òrìsà of herbs, pharmacognosy, and herbal medicine], there was Òrùnmìlà [the patron of Ifa], and others. Òbàtálá, who had a tendency of getting drunk, was initially the leader. At one point during the expedition to earth, Òbàtálá got drunk and slept off. Ògún40 then stepped forth and took the mantle of leadership from the intoxicated Òbàtálá, and proceeded on the journey to earth.

When the divinities arrived at the gap or entrance between òrun [the invisible otherworld] and ayé [the visible world], Ògún had a chain, a chameleon [recall Olugebefola's visual reference], a fowl, and some earth. Ògún sprinkled the earth on the surface of the water, and the fowl scattered the earth. Wherever the earth touched, that place became land41 and the other part remained water. Using the chain, the divinities then descended to earth, and settled in Ile-Ife.42

The paintings in this series affirm a cosmic principle of relatedness of life. It establishes vital connections between the Òrìsà, the animal and vegetal kingdoms (fig. 8 & 9), between geography and identity, between life force and power, and between creation and art. The mud-paintings visually present the salient stages of the creation process, as well they raise important philosophical questions about the relationship between art and life.

The multivocal layers in Okediji's itàn (narrative) reflexively introduces a discursive element of the concept of itàn that, Olabiyi Yai charged is usually neglected by scholars of Yorùbá culture (Yai, 1994). He contends that accurately represented, Yorùbá attitude towards tradition and history are not stable or static as is routinely supposed. It is not a narrative of stable facts, but an interpretive history of events that reflects a set of shifting sometimes conflicting interests. Okediji successfully captures this element in his visual itàn since he is aware of competing versions of the cosmological narrative. Like Wole Soyinka from Western Yorùbá land, Okediji, an Òyó indigene, accords greater emphasis to the creation narrative that gives greater importance to Ògún whom, is portrayed as superseding Òbàtálá and Odùduwà, the preeminent Òrìsà in Ife. This Òyó-based counter-narrative differs from the conventional account in eastern Yorùbá land including Ife, where Odùduwà is heralded as the preeminent Òrìsà that successfully completed the expedition to Ife. Although both accounts treat Olódùmarè as the Supreme Creator, the First Principle, and the primary organizing force of the universe, the points of divergence in the narratives occur at points where different political states utilize specific deities to promote spiritual legitimacy and to anchor certain historical narratives and political developments. Though on the one hand, Okediji's narrative seems to discursively counter the dominant tradition in Ife. On the other hand, regional challenge is discursively muted in the Ife version since the Oòni's propitiation of Ògún during the Olojo festival of rededication seemingly anticipates and domesticates this counter history.

Invariably, while Okediji's cosmological narrative subtly engages in a meta-level discourse on the genesis of Yorùbá. It also illuminates cosmic issues about creativity and art to which the verb tàn (to tell, narrate) alludes. The content of his visual representation grounds creativity on a metaphysical plane in which the Supreme Creator is an ungendered, non-individuated Being and the basis of creative order. This Supra-Force Olódùmarè is identical to the ungendered creative Ra in Egyptian cosmogony, but different from the gendered Jehovah/God of the Judeo-Christian faith.43

In Okediji's account, as it is in biblical account, creation is initiated through sound and it has two moments or characteristic traits: the first moment, emphasizes collaboration and functionality; and the second moment, highlights the infusion of life-energy into matter to bring the creative process to a completion. This comes across in the following account:

In the beginning were Olódùmarè and the other divinities. Olódùmarè asked Òbàtálá to create the human body. After Òbàtálá [viewed as masculine] created the human body, he did not create orí, but [in the collaborative spirit] delegated the duty to Àjàlá called Alámò tí nm'orí [the-sculptor-that-makes-the-head]. Àjàlá made all sorts of heads and after, would fire them when the clay was dry. Of course, it is only the fired head that is good, but not everyone knows that.

Àjàlá was a debtor. When "the spirits of people" moved from Òbàtálá 's studio to Àjàlá's studio to choose their orí, as soon as they knocked on the door, Àjàlá would quickly run out to hide thinking that it is one of his creditors. The "spirits of people" would enter the studio only to find Àjàlá absent. After waiting awhile, "they" would go ahead to choose any head. [In ignorance, yet exercising their agency] some of these "spirits" would choose the very fresh looking, unfired head.

They would take the head/orí and set out to earth only to develop problems at the zone of transition between òrun [the invisible otherworld] and ayé [the visible world] where there is a lot of rainfall. The rain falling on the unfired head would gradually cause it to disintegrate. By the time, the person gets to earth and sets out to live their life, he or she will not prosper. Whatever positive achievement would have resulted from their endeavors, would have to be converted to sweat to rebuild their damaged orí. Those who, on the other hand, chose a fired head will prosper as they would not have any problems. Their fired well-prepared head would have withstood the potentially destructive effects of the rain in the zone of transition.44

In this first moment of the Yorùbá notion of art when Olódùmarè asked Òbàtálá to create the human body. Olódùmarè sets creation into motion by means of vocalization or the word. Okediji addressed the metaphysical resolution of matter and spirit since human beings are constituted of both spirit and matter. Olódùmarè's utterance to Òbàtálá constitutes ofò the power word or utterance that makes things happen. This notion of power sound or utterance is identical to the concept of Ka (in ancient Egypt), the logos (in Heraclitian philosophy), and the Word (in Judeo-Christian religion). Not only is creativity a divine attribute in these traditions, it is an activity with transformatory consequences. Olódùmarè creates the world in collaboration with other forces: Òbàtálá and Àjàlá expand creation by producing humans and orí; Ògún leads the way to ayé to populate it; people extend creation by recreating themselves as we saw in the art of Montgomery.

In the second movement of the notion of art, human beings have the potential of becoming fully realized beings on the provision that they obtain an orí inscribed with a specific ìwà (character) by Orí the Òrìsà of destiny. In this complex network of interdependency, a divine model for creativity unfolds with spirit being infused into matter for creation to terminate. Possessing ìwà (character or being), each object attains actuality in the context of use, where its efficacy is evaluated. This stage occurs for humans once the spirits move to ayé to function according to the ìwà (character) of their orí. This principle of functionality is crucial to Yorùbá conception of art, and begins where art conceptually ends for the Eurocentric mind. Thus the currently privileged Eurocentric view of art as consisting of inanimate objects and events without utilitarian value is a very limited view of art. Within the broad life-oriented framework of Yorùbá artistic scheme, art possesses the principle of multifunctionality which, interestingly, displaced Africans in the New World retained, and are invoking when works are produced as a means of (re)membering themselves.

Text and images from Nkiru Nzegwu "Memory Lines;Art in the Pan-African World" Ijele: Art eJournal of the African World (2000) at