Resilience, Resistance and Revival in 20th-Century Yoruba Art
January 17–December 18, 2020
Resilience, Resistance and Revival in 20th-Century Yoruba Art examined the survival and evolution of Yoruba art and culture in Nigeria through the periods of British colonization and post-colonial independence. The artworks included in the exhibition illustrate how Yoruba art has been shaped by the twin forces of continuity and change through the 20th and into the 21st centuries.
The Yoruba are one of the largest ethnic groups in West Africa, numbering more than 40 million people. Most Yoruba live in southwestern Nigeria, where from the 12th to 18th centuries the Yoruba kingdoms of Ife and Oyo ranked among the most powerful states in West Africa. In the 19th century a series of civil wars and conflicts with neighboring ethnic groups left the Yoruba vulnerable to invasion and colonization by European powers. Yoruba lands and people largely came under the power of Great Britain, and British rule affected every aspect of Yoruba society and culture. In the arts, the diminished power and wealth of Yoruba rulers, the conversion of many Yoruba to Christianity and Islam, and the introduction of foreign manufactured goods all served to undermine the demand for and traditions associated with both secular and religious Yoruba art. However, despite the negative effects of colonization, Yoruba art endured and contributed to an increasing sense of Yoruba ethnic pride during the colonial period.
Nigeria gained independence from Britain in 1960, and in the post-colonial state art performed a new role for the Yoruba people. Faced with competition from other Nigerian ethnic groups for power and resources, art became a means to preserve and promote Yoruba identity and culture. The exhibition includes works from a series of distinctly Yoruba art movements that emerged between the 1960s and 1990s, the collective success of which ensured that Yoruba culture remains vibrant and relevant in Nigeria and the rest of the world to this day.
Resilience, Resistance and Revival was organized by the Kruizenga Art Museum in conjunction with Hope College Art History Professor Anne Heath and the students from her Spring 2019 Art 360 Class: Nina Kay, Sylvia Rodriguez, Holle Wade and Caleigh White. The museum is grateful to Professor Heath and her students for the research and presentation ideas that underpin this exhibition. The museum is also immensely grateful to all of the donors and lenders who made this exhibition possible: especially Dr. Bruce and Ann Haight of Grand Rapids, Mich., as well as Mary Vande Poel ’59 of Zeeland, Mich.; Leif Jacobsen ’60 of Sarasota, Fl.; Dr. Neal ’68 and Elizabeth Sobania of Lakewood, Wa.; and Yorgo and Kelly Demtrakopoulos of Kalamazoo, Mich.
The exhibition was accompanied by a fully illustrated digital catalog that can be downloaded free of charge from the Kruizenga Museum website.