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Date: c. 1910 to c. 1938
Artist: Olowe of Ise, Nigerian, c. 1875 - 1938
Medium:Wood, pigment, and paint
Geographic Location: Nigeria, Effon-Alaiye
Dimensions: Overall: 19 1/2 x 10 1/4 x 14 1/2 in. (49.53 x 26.035 x 36.83 cm)
Credit Line: Dallas Museum of Art, The Eugene and Margaret McDermott Art Fund, Inc.
Object Number: 2004.16.McD
This elaborate wooden bowl, called an olumeye, was used to serve kola nuts to the visitors of a Yoruba [YOUR-oo-buh] palace or other important residence. Carved by the master sculptor, Olowe of Ise, this olumeye displays several innovations in the tradition of olumeye carving which include bold geometric designs, painted features, the four kneeling females elevating the bowl form, and the four small birds carved in high relief on the bowl’s lid. With the exception of the lid of the bowl, the entire sculpture, including the head which moves freely in the “cage” of connected female forms on the sculpture’s base, is carved from a single block of wood.
1. There are a number of other functional objects carved from wood in the DMA’s collection. This drum, from the Senufo peoples of Côte d'Ivoire, Burkina Faso, and Mali is played for a number of different reasons: calling people to ceremonies or providing a rhythm while young men hoe the fields. What might be some of the advantages of using wood to create sculpture?
2. This stool (kipona), from the Luba peoples of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, is, like the olumeye, carved in the image of a female. What is the function of the female figures on each of these carvings, and how is this function reflected by their pose or gesture?
3. This olumeye is part of a ritual which takes place between guests and hosts in the Yoruba culture. Find texts which describe the proper hospitality procedure in several different cultures. (The Odyssey, for example, describes this relationship in ancient Greece, but even more contemporary texts, like Emily Post’s Etiquette, might offer another perspective.) Write an essay comparing and contrasting the defined roles of guest and host in several different cultures.
4. Consider how you welcome guests in your own home and create a work of art which is meant to facilitate the welcoming of guests into your home.
|Listen to a sound clip from the audio tour.|
|Listem to a poem about Olowe of Ise.|
This collection contains many pieces of Yoruba art, including other carvings by Olowe of Ise.
Many works of art seen in museums have a religious or ceremonial significance that may not be readily apparent or easily understood. Because many of the beliefs, values, and traditions associated with these objects are complex or unfamiliar, teaching about these objects can be challenging. In a diverse and global world, it is important to maintain a high level of cultural sensitivity in the classroom and to promote cultural literacy. Presented here are several guidelines for teaching about the beliefs, values, and traditions related to these works of art in a sensitive and respectful manner.
- Consider the Museum Setting
Remember that these objects were not originally intended to be displayed in museums and many served utilitarian as well as aesthetic functions. Some objects were never meant to be preserved and others were only supposed to be seen by a small, elite group within the source culture. These issues make it all the more important for educators to provide relevant contextual information surrounding these objects. Older students can consider the ethical implications of the placement of these objects in museums, from the colonial expansions that encouraged their acquisition to the educational benefits of publicly accessible art.
- Provide Context and Narrative
When discussing works that carry a religious or ceremonial significance, it is important to consider the original context in which the object would have been used. Where appropriate, emphasize that many of the ceremonies and religions studied are living traditions that are still practiced today. Additionally, providing a narrative through contextual storytelling engages students in learning about a culture or religion different from their own in a nonthreatening way.
Equally important to context is geography. Emphasize the diversity of the continents and encourage students to remember that Europe, Africa, Asia, and the Americas are made up of many countries and cultures. A great starting point is to locate where students live on a world map and then locate the country or region from which the artwork comes.
- Use Inclusive Language
Use language that is inclusive, and avoid indicating your own cultural or religious biases. By remaining neutral, all backgrounds can be respected and no one treated like an outsider. Avoid setting up a dichotomy of “us” and “them” when discussing these cultures and arbitrary categories such as “western” and “non-western.” Instead, be specific, and categorize the objects by country or religion. Specificity steers students away from the trap of oversimplifying diverse continents such as Asia or Africa into homogenous regions that serve as the “other” of the “western” world.
- Carefully Select Vocabulary
When discussing works of art with cultural and religious significance, avoid terms that carry a derogatory tone or that have typically been used to disparagingly describe works of art from other cultures. Avoiding loaded terms will discourage a value hierarchy between cultures and encourage both unbiased accuracy and sensitivity. Examples include: idol, myth, tribe, artifact, fetish, primitive, non-western, etc. This list is in no way exhaustive or without exception, and it is important to select words carefully when referring to various cultures or religions.
Insensitive vocabulary is sometimes compounded by the fact that there may not be English equivalents for the names of religions, belief systems, or peoples from other cultures (i.e. many of the belief systems practiced by various peoples throughout Africa).
- Avoid Decontextualizing Activities
Remember that religious and ceremonial objects have a very specific purpose and their own cultural context. Avoid the inclination to design open-ended, “make your own” exercises where the objects are directly appropriated and removed from their context. (i.e. make your own Hindu god or African spirit) Keep in mind how certain activities could be viewed as disrespectful or even blasphemous by peoples from the culture being studied.
- Find Common Connections
Humans throughout time and all over the world share a fundamental unity of experiences that reflect common concerns, instincts, and desires. We all seek to understand the world and our place within it. Universal themes and commonalities may be found among diverse peoples. Invite students to search for meaningful connections between the culture studied and his/her own. While honoring a common human experience, also encourage students to embrace particular nuances and maintain the integrity of differences of each culture or religion. Understanding both similarities and differences between cultures allows students to be more compassionate, culturally sensitive, and literate.
- Consider the Study of Cultures
In the last century, scholarship regarding Asian and African cultures and their associated religions and practices has expanded immensely. Information that was once scarce or obscure is now more accessible than ever and can provide greater understandings about the art and culture of these peoples. European and American art making and record keeping mostly emphasize the individual artist or artistic movement. This may differ from standards in African and Asian cultures. Consider the role art plays in various cultures, why makers may or may not be identified, how record keeping varies, and why some cultures emphasize certain aspects of objects and their history over others.
Breuilly, Elizabeth, and Joanne O’Brien, Martin Palmer, Martin E. Marty. Religions of the World: The Illustrated Guide to Origins, Beliefs, Traditions, and Festivals. New York: Facts on File, Inc., 2005.
Mbiti, John. African Religion and Philosophy (African Writers), 2nd sub edition. Hinemann, 1992.
Nash, Robert. Teaching Adolescents Religious Literacy in a Post-9/11 World. Information Age Publishing, 2009.
Prothero, Stephen. God is Not One: The Eight Rival Religions That Run the World—and Why Their Differences Matter. Harper One, 2010.
Prothero, Stephen. Religious Literacy: What Every American Needs to Know-- and Doesn’t. San Francisco: Harper, 2007.
Ray, Benjamin. African Religions: Symbol, Ritual, and Community, 2nd edition. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.:Prentice-Hall, Inc., 2000.
Said, Edward. Orientalism. Vintage Books, 1979.