"My painting of Yoruba Gelede masks juxtaposed with classical and contemporary Western imagery explore the notions of race, femininity, womanhood and sexuality. They are also meant to be contemporary redefinitions of traditional Yoruba visual art. In ‘Encore’, I bring fresh insights into mask making traditions in Yoruba culture by transposing Gelede masks from the Yoruba people of West Africa onto contemporary images that document bygone and present social hierarchies in the Western world. Gelede is a male oriented dance for women in Yoruba culture. The dance celebrates their sacred powers, motherhood and sexuality. Gelede masks and dances in Yoruba society satirise, parody, entertain and educate onlookers and the society at large. As much as Gelede celebrates the powers of motherhood in Yoruba women they are also a salutation to their personal physical attributes and endowment. This is found in the meaning of the word Gelede itself. Ge means to ‘pet or tenderly deal with’, ele refers to a woman’s private parts and de, ‘to soften them with gentleness’.
In choosing representations of men and women in Western culture or the modern world, I am interested in images from The Dutch Golden age, the Victorian, Elizabethan and Tudorian England eras and contemporary fashion. I am also interested in sex symbols and movie stars of the past and present and vintage fashion and glamour of the fifties through the sixties. Whilst the images from 19th century EuroAmerica are representative of the age of colonization of some parts of the world, those of the fifties and sixties and subsequent years signify the era of decolonization and the independence of several African countries. More so, the fifties and sixties were the age of the flower power movement, the counterculture, the birth of the African American civil rights movement and the rise of feminism.
In making composite images of gender and Gelede masks from the eras of pre and post colonization of the African continent, my purpose is to challenge and critique notions of imperialistic cultural idioms. Values and stereotypes that generate assumptions of a dominant cultural prerogative and singular historical perspectives within issues of power and gender and identity. I have chosen to draw inferences from Yoruba culture, a culture that affirms itself as being the origin of all the other cultures of the world. Furthermore, it is imperative to query how the social structures of traditional societies are impacted on both positively and negatively by globalization on and the hitherto blurring of the line that separate the sexes.
My reasons for making Gelede paintings as redefinitions of Yoruba visual art are threefold:
1. To educate the public about some practices in traditional Yoruba culture that are becoming extinct. The factors for this can be attributed to globalization, modernity and its trends, religious fundamentalism etc.
2. My belief that Yoruba culture is a dynamic culture subject to contemporary definitions which are vital to its traditional arts.
3. To have a visual documenta of Yoruba Gelede masks, not as traditional objects but as contemporary African art."
- Wole Lagunju, 2020
From a Zoom conversation with the artist on Nov 30,2021: This specific work relates to the artist's move to the US in 2006, around which time images of Caucasian people started appearing in his dreams. Here we see a man with an American Military Uniform wearing a Gelede mask adorned by another Caucasian person. It raises questions of hierarchy and power structures and who has influence over whom. Wole believes Gelede masks have spiritual powers and have long influenced creatives in the West both physically and metaphysically. He wishes for these objects to be returned to their origins and be re-contextualised for their broad influence on Western civilisation and imagery, including from the Western Canon of Art.