New Materials and Contexts

By Mary Nooter Roberts
University of California, Los Angeles

untitled

1975

Photograph by Stephen Sprague

©1983 Center for Creative Photography, University of Arizona

Sometimes entirely new media are appropriated to continue older art forms or religious practices in an updated form. Just as Yoruba ibeji twin figures have been replaced in some cases by celluloid plastic dolls, so have Christian and Muslim Yoruba opted for the use of photography to serve the function. If one twin dies, two photographs may be taken of the remaining twin in two different outfits, and one of the negatives is reversed to give the impression that both twins are seated together. The photograph then fulfills the role of an altar, where offerings are made, prayers are recited, and affections are expressed to the deceased. Twins are minor deities among Yoruba peoples and have the potential to inflict misfortune or to bring prosperity and happiness to the family. The integrity of these beliefs and practices endures while the outward form and medium of the art metamorphoses.