Making and appreciation

The Yoruba people occupy the western part of Nigeria, Benin Republic, part of Togo and Ghana and also live in the diaspora. They are prolific in the creation of art in several areas. There are carvers of wood and calabash; potters, brass and copper casters and iron workers; goldsmiths; house builders and other workers in clay (and presently cement architecture) – not to mention weavers and dyers of diverse cloths. Furthermore there are the modern tailors, seamstresses, hair-weavers and so on who have added colour and beauty to humanity.

There is a great deal of controversy over the meaning of “art”. The use of the word is somewhat misleading in all cultures of the world, but especially in Africa. The concept of art as it is defined in Europe, which refers to things created and set apart only to be looked at, seems to have little or no relevance in African societies. Creative art in Africa and in particular in the Yoruba world is more symbolic in the areas of function, and expressions of hierarchies in society and community. 

Aesthetic relates to perception by the senses as to possessing, or pretending to possess, a sense of beauty. The Yoruba society is highly organized in networks of hierarchies that also command a balance and structure. The balance and structure are products of some expressed words, phrases, terms and idioms of the language.

Viewing the Yoruba art, therefore, is viewing a condensation and composite of meaningful language, which includes idioms, folklores and folktales, legends, the religion and beliefs, the structure of the society – lineages, even totemic.

It is of the view that what is art was first derived from that intangible thing that is the “creative word”, which was first from Olorun (the owner of heaven) or Eledumare (the owner of the source of creation in the Yoruba pantheon) who formed the earth by creative words. Rowland Abiodun was of the view that “Yoruba Art and Language will serve as an enduring source of knowledge and wisdom for scholars and the general public (especially through museum audiences)”. There are challenges to these and some other assumptions of his on the academic field.

The making of art in the Yoruba world has its meaning laid in the following:

Function – objects have no function or meaning until the meaning is imposed on them; it has to be characterized because it has no writing culture. The meaning must be graphically and properly expressed. The character – Iwa (to be) –  is the attribute of beauty. It is in the character that is the beauty radiates.

Metaphor – a medium of expression at another level of naming; the storage of facts and meaning for expression.

Appreciation – In appreciating the beauty of the Yoruba art, you need the eyes (oju) and the head (ori). You need the physical eyes (oju ode) as well as the inner eye (oju inu, "insight") to be able to appreciate the art. Both are needed with the understanding of the idioms, phrases and parables of Yoruba. 

The head (ori) as well must be of the physical (ori ode) and the inner (ori inu).  There is the need to have all the combination of all of the above stated character to be able to appreciate the beauty and aesthetics of the Yoruba art.

©Will Rea