Bolaji Campbell

Professor of African & African Diaspora Art, Department of History of Art and Visual Culture, Rhode Island School of Design

Consecrating Egungun Costumes

Long before Egungun masquerades are allowed in the public arena, the entire ensemble including the bundled cluster of whips, atori are first consecrated in a communal event involving the chanting of the lineage panegyrics, oriki, invocation of prayers, songs and dance as well as votive food offerings to the spirit of the departed. The ritual food offerings range from a few cotyledons of red and white kolanuts, obi abata, bitter kola, orogbo, alligator pepper, ataare, mashed corn portage or pap, eko as well as bean pudding, moin moin in addition to the sprinkling of a few drops of hard liquor, ogogoro and palm oil, epo pupa to literally wet the palate of the departed ancestors—only in this way will the spirit descend.  I intend to explore the spiritual and ritual implications of these objects in Egungun celebrations.


Bolaji Campbell is Professor of African and African Diaspora Art in the Department of History of Art and Visual Culture at RISD. Campbell holds a PhD in art history from the University of Wisconsin, Madison and MFA and BA degrees in fine arts from the Obafemi Awolowo University (formerly University of Ife) in Ile-Ife, Nigeria. He has previously taught at Obafemi Awolowo University, the University of Tennessee at Knoxville, the University of Wisconsin, Madison and the College of Charleston in South Carolina. He has received numerous honors and awards, including the Sylvia and Pamela Coleman Fellowship, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; The Richard A. Horovitz Professional Development Fund Fellowship, Institute of International Education; and a Postdoctoral Fellowship, Avery Research Center for African American History and Culture. Campbell is listed in Marquis Who’s Who in America, Nigerian Artists: A Who’s Who and Bibliography (Smithsonian Institution), L’Art Africain Contemporain, Guidebook to Contemporary African Art (Paris). He has published numerous essays in learned journals and as chapters in books. His most recent work is a book entitled Painting for the Gods: Art and Aesthetics of Yoruba Religious Murals (Africa World Press, 2008).