the uli aesthetic

In her article “You Can’t Cover the Moon With Your Hands,” Sarah Adams analyzes a mural painted by female artists Mgbadunnwa Okanumee and Agbaejije Anunobi to illustrate properties of uli aesthetics, examine the dynamics of collaboration between uli artists, and highlight a philosophical tension between archival and oral-traditional forms of art historical analysis. Uli is an aesthetic historically associated with female artists of the Yoruba culture—it can be found primarily in murals and in body painting. There is not a universal style present throughout uli artworks, however aspects works have in common include their ephemerality, and ‘tension resulting from lines approaching one another but never touching, and allusions to energy and power extending beyond picture plane’ (Adams, 176). While uli represents a collective Yoruba aesthetic, Okanumee and Anunobi’s styles are individual and differ. For example, the former’s murals include organic, curvy black webs and subversion of patterns, while the latter’s murals create less dense, wider patterns. Adams and a professor, Dr. Uleh, commissioned Anunobi to paint alongside (but not over) and Okanumee work to create a collaborative mural at Uleh’s obi—they were distraught when they arrived late to find that Anunobi had significantly altered Okanumee’s old mural, because Okanumee was widely celebrated throughout the art world and had passed, so the mural was one of the last remaining examples of her work. The commissioners were upset because they valued the traditional, archival form of art history which views individual artists and objects as critical to study, whereas Anunobi and local practices privilege oral traditions and process over the object. Adams concludes that communal production does not undermine individual artists’ styles—it depends on the lens one looks at it through.


Questions for discussion:

How does one parse out differences between ‘good’ art and ‘successful’ art? (Depends on cultural lens – process v content)

Is the Zaria Rebels’ use of uli appropriate? Or is it appropriative in a negative sense? (Examine gender power dynamics – historically/culturally feminine art form utilized for national identity by masculine artists, but also uli was becoming less common w/ urbanization, Christianization)




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