Kresge Art Museum
African Art: Western Eyes

Obembe Alaye, Chief Ologunde of Eton-Alaiye

Veranda Post: Equestrian and Female Caryatid
Veranda Post: Equestrian and Female Caryatid, before 1939
Wood, pigment
MSU purchase, funded by the Friends of the Kresge Art Museum, 2000.3
Until recently, Western museums documented African artworks by simply noting the ethnic group or geographic region where they were collected. This practice obscures the individual identity of the artist and the historical specificity of an object. A noticeable exception is the sculptural tradition of Yoruba master carvers. Especially well-documented are the carving workshops of such towns as Efon-Alaiye. During the first quarter of the twentieth century this artistic center located in the Ekiti province of Nigeria experienced a cultural renaissance after a series of wars that had previously destabilized the region. Local leaders sought to establish their authority and prestige by commissioning Obembe Alaye and other artists to embellish their palaces with lavish architectural decorations. Drawing on Yoruba sculptural traditions that can be traced back to the 12th century, Obembe Alaye was the celebrated master carver who actively competed for commissions with other well-known workshops for royal patronage.

Obembe Alaye carved this veranda post as part of a larger architectural program that symbolized the prestige and power of a Yoruba kingdom. A central component to royal palaces, courtyards enclosed by figurative veranda posts were the setting in which the king conducted important matters of state.

The image of an equestrian warrior being supported by a female figure is a recurring theme in Yoruba art and serves as an allegory for the ideals of spiritual, economic and political power that depends on the harmonious relationship between male and female forces. The prowess of the warrior, essential to the establishment, defense and expansion of political power, rests upon a symbol of motherhood, which embodies the future promise of Yoruba communities.

Yoruba cultural heritage now extends to Brazil, Cuba, Trinidad, Haiti and the United States since the Atlantic slave trade of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries brought large numbers of Yoruba peoples to the Americas.