Honoring Ancestors in Africa and Beyond: Arts and Actions, April 6-7 2018

Whirling Return of the Ancestors:
Egúngún Arts of the Yorùbá in Africa and Beyond, January 24-April 8, 2018

Experience the full exhibition! 

(Videography by Aaron Granat)


A multi-sensorial exhibition displaying the sights, sounds, and motions of Egúngún Arts, and a multi-disciplinary Symposium exploring sensory aspects of specific African ways of honoring ancestors.

“E KABO!/Welcome! — We welcome you to the exhibition “Whirling Return of the Ancestors: Egungun Arts of the Yoruba in Africa and Beyond” and the 2018 African Studies Symposium “Honoring Ancestors in Africa and Beyond: Arts and Actions.” Every culture has its ways of remembering, mourning, honoring, and celebrating those who have departed. Over the two-day Symposium, we will consider a wide range of examples of arts and actions from Africa and the African Diaspora, witness performances by Egungun masqueraders from Oyotunji African Village, SC, and hear from a Ghanaian artist who creates coffins reflecting the lives of individuals. Let us explore these death traditions as we celebrate life — as Yoruba say “the world is a marketplace (we visit briefly), the otherworld is home.”
-Symposium organizer — Henry John Drewal, Evjue-Bascom Professor
Please visit ‘Program’ page for full details.

Whirling Return of the Ancestors

Gallery Exhibition

In conjunction with the symposium, the Ruth Davis Design Gallery hosts the exhibition Whirling Return of the Ancestors, a dynamic, multi-sensorial exhibition of sights, sounds, motions, and emotions. The exhibition presents the rich and varied artistry of Egúngún masquerades and other arts inspired by a tradition that honors and celebrates the power and eternal presence of ancestors among Yorùbá peoples of West Africa. This connection between the living and the departed is expressed in a Yorùbá saying: “The world is a marketplace [we visit], the otherworld is home.” (Ayé l’ọjà, ọ̀run n’ilé).

Whirling Return of the Ancestors was researched, organized, and curated by students in the fall 2017 Art History Curatorial Studies-Exhibition Practice class taught by Evjue-Bascom Professor Henry Drewal. The project was developed in collaboration with the Ruth Davis Design Gallery in the School of Human Ecology (SoHE) and resonates closely with SoHE’s vision to inspire global intercultural experiences, reach new audiences, and welcome creativity through synthesizing research, outreach, and engagement.

Please visit the ‘Gallery Exhibit’ page for more information. (Program>Gallery Exhibit)

Honoring Ancestors in Africa and Beyond: Arts and Actions

About The Symposium

Henry Drewal has been developing his theory and method called Sensiotics – the study of the senses in the creation and shaping of persons, cultures, histories, and the arts – focusing on Yoruba-speaking people, or the followers of Mami Wata. The disciplines of art history, visual culture, anthropology, and other disciplines in the arts and humanities, as well as neurosciences, have in the last two decades taken a distinctive “sensory turn” – a perspective that has brought together artists, humanists, and scientists to explore how the body-brain-mind processes sensory data.  The Western academy has for too long based its model on a mind-body duality, yet recent research, writing, and experimenting suggest that the body-brain-mind is a unified system in which sensory experience is constitutive of cognition.

It is this perspective that will be explored during the symposium. It is geared to a multi-disciplinary academic audience of students and faculty and staff, and the general public in a two-day, multi-sensorial event involving not just “talking heads,” but sensing body-minds. The symposium will feature a series of short oral presentations (15-mins each) by renowned University of Wisconsin-Madison alumni scholars of African and African Diaspora arts and other distinguished scholars. Using the scholars’ own original data, we will mine the sensory aspects of specific African ways of honoring ancestors – arts and actions, past and present.

The symposium will also feature an Egungun masquerade performance by members of the Oyotunji – a vibrant Yoruba community in the USA, who hold an annual series of festivals for ancestors and divinities. The most elaborate is their Egungun festival honoring the spirit of ancestors. An ensemble of musicians and masqueraders will perform at the symposium.

See ‘Symposium Schedule’ page for full details. (Program>Symposium Schedule)

Public Events – Past and Future

January 24th, 12 noon: Gallery exhibit tour with Henry Drewal

January 25th, 5 – 7 pm: Gallery exhibit opening reception

Thursday March 1st, 6pm: Honoring Ancestors in Madison

Wednesday March 7th, 12pm: Africa at Noon – Second Line Music of New Orleans

Sunday March 11th, 2pm: Gallery exhibit tour with Henry Drewal

See ‘Related Events’ page for full details! (Program>Related Events)