Yorubaland at the Fowler

Attributed to Adugbologe, Ére Egúngún mask, before 1922. Fowler Museum

UCLA's Fowler Museum has one of the nation's preeminent collections of Yoruba and diasporic art from the late 19th century to the present. It's the basis for "The House Was Too Small: Yoruba Sacred Arts from Africa and Beyond," a sprawling exhibition of over a hundred works from Nigeria, Benin, Brazil, Cuba, and the U.S. Some of the art here will defy many visitors' preconceptions of what West African art looks like. There is an array of media and forms, from iron sculptures to costumes to a beaded baseball bat.

Zé Diabo, Candomblé Ogum Aja figure, 2015. Fowler Museum at UCLA
Felipe García Villamil, Lucumí baseball bat for Changó, 1990s. Fowler Museum

The core of the exhibition is large room of tables showing images of orishas, the spirits of the Yoruba pantheon. This is an engaging introduction to complex cosmologies. Like Zeus and Jupiter, gods go by different names. Banners show the names of orishas in Yoruba, Spanish, Portuguese, and English, minimizing one source of confusion. 

The baseball bat is Cuban artist Felipe García Vallamil's tribute to thunder orisha Shango/Changó. For baseball-crazy Cuba, the bat stands in for the traditional double-headed axe. As the label explains, "the baseball bat embodies Changó's power to defend us in our daily battles and show us how to hit a home run in life."

Installation featuring unknown makers' Candomblé ensemble for a Iemanjá priestess. Early 1980s; necklaces late 20th century. At center is a Candomblé Iemanjá doll by Tia Detinha, 1990s
Dolores Pérez, Lucumí consecration outfit for Echú Eleguá
Unknown artist, Ère Ìbejì (twin spirit figures), 20th century. Fowler Museum

For Diane Arbus and Stanley Kubrick, twins were creepy. It's the opposite in Yorubaland, where twins are divine gifts. Examples here seem to show the global influence of Kewpie dolls and Cabbage Patch kids.
Unknown artist (U.S.), Lucumí Ibeyi for Changó, 2023
Patrisse Cullors, Irete Meji, 2023

Patrisse Cullors coined the #BlackLivesMatter hashtag and, to a certain part of America, is best known as a recurring character of the Fox News soap opera. Cullors is also an artist, scholar, and practitioner of Ifa. Here she supplies a multimedia installation, Free Us. Featured is a new series of assemblage abstractions of vintage mud cloth, indigo, and cowry shells.

Patrisse Cullors, Otura Meji, 2023

As the Fowler turns 60, "The House Was Too Small" adds another ground-breaking exhibition to a long list. It runs through June 2, 2024. 

Manuel Vega, Beaded Hat, Crown for Oxóssi, 1995. Fowler Museum