Cultural Exchange

By Mary Nooter Roberts
University of California, Los Angeles

Gelede with biplane, Ketu-Yoruba, Nigeria, 1978. Photo by H.J. Drewal and M.T. Drewal. Submitted by Henry Drewal. 

All African art—past and present—is a dynamically changing mix of influences, inspirations, and transformations. Even the most “traditional” art forms reflect the vitality and creative resilience of African thought in many African languages, the term “tradition” does not imply the static repetition of customs generation after generation that the word does in English. Rather, it refers to a dynamic, living process combining continuity and change. As one Yoruba scholar puts it, “innovation is implied in the Yoruba word for tradition.” Tradition is what we choose to remember and use from the past and something that is “creatively, actively, intentionally selected and constructed, not thoughtlessly preserved and repeated.” A Yoruba Gelede mask surmounted by the representation of a biplane is an obvious demonstration of the way that change is selectively represented and celebrated through art and performance.