Whirling Return of the Ancestors celebrates the rich and varied artistry of the ensembles worn in Egúngún masquerades—performances that celebrate the power and presence of ancestral spirits among Yorùbá peoples of West Africa. In this installation, works on loan from Brown University’s Haffenreffer Museum of Anthropology are presented alongside a magnificent, newly commissioned ensemble from Yorùbá artisans in Benin.
Egúngún masquerade regalia is constructed from disparate layers that are appliqued, patched, and sewn into panels or lappets. Some of the oldest cloth—often locally handwoven—is found at the core of each ensemble, while the outer layers present more contemporary textiles drawn from the global market. Bold and vibrant, these assemblages are multidimensional feasts for the senses.
This exhibition was co-curated by Bolaji Victor Campbell (professor, History of Art and Visual Culture Department, RISD), Henry John Drewal (Evjue-Bascom Professor of Art History and Afro-American Studies, University of Wisconsin-Madison), and Kate Irvin (curator, Costume and Textiles Department, RISD Museum). It is made possible by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation and is part of a collaboration between the Haffenreffer Museum of Anthropology at Brown University and the RISD Museum at the Rhode Island School of Design, focusing on the new and evolving field of object-based teaching and research. Exhibition support is also provided in part by a grant from the Rhode Island State Council on the Arts, through an appropriation by the Rhode Island General Assembly and a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts.
Exhibition overview from museum website