The Shattered Gourd

Yoruba Forms in Twentieth Century American Art

Moyo Okediji

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  • Published: 2003
  • Subject Listing: Art History / African Art; Anthropology
  • Bibliographic information: 256 pp., 47 illus., 7 x 10 in.
  • Territorial rights: World Rights
  • Contents

The Shattered Gourd uses the lens of visual art to examine connections between the United States and the Yoruba region of western Nigeria.

In Yoruba legend, the sacred Calabash of Being contained the Water of Life; when the gourd was shattered, its fragments were scattered over the ground, death invaded the world, and imperfection crept into human affairs. In more modern times, the shattered gourd has symbolized the warfare and enslavement that culminated in the black diasporas.

The "re-membering" of the gourd is represented by the survival of people of African origin all over the Americas, and, in this volume, by their rediscovery of African art forms on the diaspora soil of the United States. Twentieth-century African American artists employing Yoruba images in their work have gone from protest art to the exploration and celebration of the self and the community. But because the social, economic, and political context of African art forms differs markedly from that of American culture, critical contradictions between form and meaning often appear in African American works that use African forms.

In this book - the first to treat Yoruba forms while transcending the conventional emphasis on them as folk art, focusing instead on the high art tradition - Moyo Okediji uses nearly four dozen works to illustrate a broad thematic treatment combined with a detailed approach to individual African and African American artists. Incorporating works by such artists as Meta Warrick Fuller, Hale Woodruff, Aaron Douglas, Elizabeth Catlett, Ademola Olugebefola, Paul Keene, Jeff Donaldson, Howardena Pindell, Muneer Bahauddeen, Michelle Turner, Michael Harris, Winnie Owens-Hart, and John Biggers, the author invites the reader to envision what he describes as "the immense possibilities of the future, as the twenty-first century embraces the twentieth in a primal dance of the diasporas," a future that heralds the advent of the global as a distinct movement in art, beyond postmodernism.
Moyo Okediji is professor of visual arts at the University of Colorado at Denver and curator of African, African American, and Oceanic arts at the Denver Art Museum.

"The Shattered Gourd is an original, searching landmark study. Through the vivid and powerful metaphor of the shattered gourd, the author explores the visual and verbal elements, textures and textualities, and the crossroads of Yoruba influences and their recurrence in African-American art."
-Rowland O. Abiodun, John C. Newton Professor of Fine Arts and Black Studies, Amherst College

List of Illustrations
Introduction: Ethiopia Awakening
What a Carving Re-members
Harlem Nostalgia
The Double-Headed Axe
(Re) visioning Africa
When Memory Fails
Crossroads to Amnesia
Conclusion: Spring and Renewal

"Thought-provoking and unique in its exploration of the cultural extensions of the African diaspora and the artistic opportunities afforded by the resulting fusion of traditions. This book is also a serious contribution to African American social, political, and cultural history."
-Library Journal