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4:30 – 6PM  Wednesday, November 7, 2012

I`WA`LEWA`: Ethics and Aesthetics in Yoruba Visual Culture

To the Yoruba of West Africa, art began when the Supreme Being (Olódùmarè) commissioned the creativity deity (Obàtálá) to mold the archetypal human body from clay after which it was animated with a life-force or soul. Thus, the body makes the soul manifest on earth, in addition to defining individual existence. From the Yoruba perspective, the variation in human appearance is due partly to the unpredictable artistic temperament of Obàtálá and partly to the need for diversity in the physical world. So it is that their notion of beauty (ewà) has two aspects— the external, associated with good looks, and the internal, evident in one’s character (ìwà). And since Obàtálá “creates as he wishes,” the Yoruba tend to put a premium on “inner beauty” or character. Hence the popular saying: Ìwà l’ewà (Character Determines Beauty). This is to avoid penalizing the ugly ones for a biological fact they could not have personally prevented. Simply put, good character has the potential of making both the ugly and good looking more likeable, and vice versa. By the same token, effectiveness in use reinforces the formal quality of a given art work. The lecture reflects on the ontological significance of art among the Yoruba with a view to shedding more light on its spiritual, cultural and aesthetic implications.
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A Yoruba by birth, Babatunde Lawal is professor of African and African Diaspora art, Virginia Commonwealth University, Richmond, Virginia. He has published widely. His articles have appeared in leading periodicals such as British Journal of Aesthetics, African Arts, Word and Image and Art Bulletin. His books include The Gelede Spectacle: Art, Gender and Social Harmony in an African Culture (Seattle and London, 1996), Embodying the Sacred in Yoruba Art (Atlanta and Newark, 2007) and Yoruba: Visions of Africa Series (Milan, Italy, 2012).

Open to: General public
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CULTURAL, HUMANITIES, VISUAL ART
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