Akinwumi, T.M: Research Conducted

Career and Research Focus

A river that forgets its source, dries up (Yoruba proverb). By application, we should not forget the Yoruba’s past.  The question is: What was it like in terms of textile/clothing culture and history? One undertook this study over the years in order to remind us and learn of the past way of life. Consequently, my research focused on Yoruba Textiles and Costume History including the extension of knowledge gained there for fabric and dress creations (i.e art exhibitions).  Certain neglected themes on socio-cultural, religious and historical development form the motifs created on dress, textiles and in serigraphy, and these are espoused in the Exhibition Publications.  The following areas were covered in Yoruba Textile and Costume History: aesthetic development, political dimension, production development, religious imperatives, methodological expansion and bibliographic study.  There are 18 publications on Textile History (10 journals, 4 books chapters, 3 proceedings and 1 technical report) while 7 investigated Costume History (3 journals and 4 book chapters).  There were 9 Group Exhibition outings and 2 One-man Exhibitions two of which were organized separately in cooperation with New York State Council of Art and a reputable Art Gallery in New York, USA.  The areas covered are summarized as follows:

Aesthetic Development
Man’s universal search for beauty and adornment provides outlet for artistic drive and self expression in clothing.  The focus was on five articles.  The author’s works elucidate the high level of creativity achieved in Abeokuta adire (paper 35), Yaba prints and weaves (paper 1) while the robust plan for dress embroidery craft development (paper 4) was meant to achieve same.  An article shows the achievement of the same height in coiffure (hairstyle) development many centuries back (paper 10).  The conducive setting in which the crop of highly talented artists worked seems to have influenced the height achieved.  Beautiful body scarification tradition that once provided sensuous personal pleasure and cultural identity in the past has almost eclipsed (paper 31).  It concluded that the negative influence of Western civilization was responsible for this situation.

The Political Dimensions
In the past, the practice of traditional rulership was not complete until the monarch wore his clothes as symbols for dominating the subjects or asserting rulership. The focus was on certain monarchs and contemporary politicians who used clothing arts as a means of delineating social and political categories from the rest of the society. The works revealed that certain attempts were successful (paper 5) while there were some with mixture of success and failure (paper 3, 7, 29).  The studies concluded that the use of clothing arts as political propaganda tools had always met with resistance either from affected members of the public or interested government at the centre. The future use of political cloth might continue to be accepted with mixed feelings.

Religious Dimension
The theory of universality of culture group traits was questioned using the universality of non-red burial cloth practice among the Yoruba.  It was proved wrong because of the non-compliance of Ifa among the Kogi Yoruba who used red shrouds (paper 25). The dress textile symbolism associated with Ero eldership graduation ceremony shows the semi-magical transition from their former social class to the elders’ forum in the society (paper 27); it was discovered that the church might choose to symbolize certain memoirs relating to the church development on dress fabric as commemoratives (paper 11). It was concluded that textile/clothing items expressed various religious ideas.

Production Development
The growth, decline, eclipse and even total loss of production of certain hitherto unknown Yoruba famous fabrics is elucidated including their adoption by their neighbours (papers 2, 6, 8, 9, 26, 33). It concluded that multifaceted influences (indigenous faith, Islam, Christianity, Western education, etc) affected the situations painted. However a technical paper (paper 36) on a commissioned project by UNDP/SMEDAN might help the case of Adire production growth.

Methodological Expansion
Use of primarily oral traiditions (itan) in reconstructing dress history of the Yoruba who lacked indigenous system of writing, has long been considered very difficult. Using effective synthesis of Yoruba oral history and my understanding of Yoruba textile, dress and art, language and history, I expanded the research methodology for reconstructing certain aspects of dress history. The method is exemplified, namely in the origins and general growth in dress development (papers 12, 28) and the characteristic dress of the elite (e.g national heroes) (paper 32).

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