Emory Report

Feb. 8, 1999

 Volume 51, No. 19

'Beads' exhibit will bring richness of Africa to light

Yoruba-speaking peoples are among the most numerous in Africa, with an estimated population of more than 25 million. Their arts and religion have also flourished in the Diaspora and are at the heart of African-American traditions in Cuba, Brazil and the United States. Much of the Yoruba fabric of life--social, political and religious--is revealed through its beaded arts.

The exhibition "Beads, Body and Soul: Art and Light in the Yoruba Universe," presented by the Carlos Museum Feb. 6 to April 11, is the first to focus on a wide range of Yoruba beaded traditions in West Africa and the Americas, both past and present.

Organized and produced by the Fowler Museum of Cultural History with support from the National Endowment for the Arts, "Beads, Body and Soul" is the result of more than 25 years of fieldwork in Africa and the Americas by Henry Drewel, Evjue-Bascom Professor of Art History and Afro-American Studies at the University of Wisconsin, and Babalorisa John Mason, founder and director of the Yoruba Theological Archministry, New York. Drewel and Mason are also the authors of the handsomely illustrated exhibition catalogue, available in the Carlos bookshop. Sidney Kasfir, the Carlos' faculty curator of African art, serves as the onsite curator for the Atlanta showing of the exhibition.

The array of beaded objects found in the exhibition speaks to an evolving artistic tradition and considers the web of ideas and images that shape the Yoruba universe. Yoruba concepts of color and light are embedded in their art; beaded works are not just about luster and luminosity--they are also about illumination and transformation. Colors have meanings and express ideas about character, that of spiritual forces as well as humans. The identity of rulers and priests is constructed in part through beaded regalia. Distinctive beaded forms also celebrate the spirits of ancestors and a host of divinities known as orisa.

"Beads, Body and Soul" features vibrant, colorful examples of Yoruba beadwork from Africa and the Diaspora, including crowns and ceremonial objects, masks, divination implements, contemporary paintings and sculpture, necklaces and even royal thrones. Field photographs place the objects in context and invite visitors to explore how beaded works of art actively function in Yoruba life and thought.

"We are certain that our visitors will be delighted by the beauty and intrigued by the power of the works included in this stunning exhibition," said museum Director Anthony Hirschel. "No culture has employed beadwork to greater effect, and the tradition loses none of its vitality in its adaptation in the areas of Yoru`ba´ influence in the Americas."

In conjunction with "Beads, Body and Soul," the museum will present a variety of programs of interest to the University community and wider Atlanta audiences, including a four-week adult beading workshop conducted by Yoruba artist Jimoh Buraimoh, whose works are featured in the exhibition. In addition, Buraimoh will work daily in the galleries to create a bead painting and answer questions from the public. He will also conduct workshops for children, present gallery talks on the exhibition and work with teachers.

Co-curators Drewel and Mason will speak about the exhibition on Sunday, Feb. 7, at 4 p.m., followed by a reception. Yoruba talking drummer Bisi Adeleke will perform and conduct rhythm and percussion workshops for children. On March 21, from 4-8 p.m., the museum will present "The Spirit of Africa Family Festival" featuring drummers, dancers, storytellers, musicians and artists who will bring the vast and rich arts of the African continent to life.

For more information, call 404-727-4282 or visit the Carlos web site at <www.emory.edu/CARLOS>.

--Joy Bell

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