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‘The House Was Too Small’: Yoruba Sacred Arts explored


New exhibit at UCLA’s Fowler Museum

Eshu turns right into wrong, wrong into right

When he is angry, he sits on the skin of an ant

When he is angry, he hits a stone til it bleeds

When he is angry, he weeps tears of blood

Eshu slept in the house

But the house was too small for him

—Praise poem for the Orisha (divinity) Eshu from Yoruba poetry (1970)

Oct. 28 saw the opening of a special exhibition concurrent with the 60th Anniversary of the Fowler Museum, on the north end of the campus at UCLA. Titled “The House Was Too Small: Yoruba Sacred Arts from Africa and Beyond,” it consists of more than 100 sacred artworks from the Yoruba culture originating in Africa. Among the collection are carved sculptures, bead work, costumes and other artifacts utilized to manifest theological principles.

The evening began with a performance art procession from the Mildred E. Mathias Botanical Garden to the entrance of the Fowler, led by activist, artist and writer Patrice Cullors. Best known as a co-founder of Black Lives Matter, she led nine women dressed in white ankle-length dresses down a flight of stairs to the museum, tied together by the dancer’s interlaced plaits of hair. The procession is meant to symbolize the Yoruba metaphysical concept of Ori, or spiritual intuition. Using this, an individual is able to heal themselves in tandem with Orishas, or spirits to achieve a balanced character.

Interestingly enough Cullors, native of Pacoima is a practitioner of Ifá, the primary religion of the Yoruba. Cullors was kind enough to speak with Our Weekly afterwards about her participation in this exhibit.

“My focus when it comes to art is performance and visual art, public art,” she said.

“I’ve been an artist before everything. I was a dancer as a young person and part of my value set has been about using art in everything that I do.”

A majority of the slaves brought over during the Middle Passage came from the area where the Yoruba originated. These include basketball hall of famer Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, attorney and Buffalo Soldier John Morton-Finney, academic and media personality Henry Louis Gates Jr., judge Glenda Hatchett, investor and financier John W. Rogers, Jr., and Los Angeles’ (Jefferson Park) own celebrity portrait painter Kehinde Wiley.

“The House Was Too Small” will be on exhibition until June 2, 2024. The Fowler Museum is located at 308 Charles E. Young Drive North, on the campus at UCLA.