Rowland Ola Abiodun

Rowland Ọlá Abíọ́dún (b. 1941 in Owo, Ondo State, Nigeria) is a Nigerian-American professor and author best known for his contributions to the field of African Art Studies, specifically Yoruba Art. He is currently the John C. Newton Professor of Art, the History of Art, and Black Studies at Amherst College, Amherst, Massachusetts.


Abíọ́dún attended high school at Government College Ibadan, Oyo State, Nigeria (1955-1960), and received his B.A. in Fine Arts with First Class Honors at Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, Nigeria, in 1965. Abíọ́dún went on to the Master’s program in Art History at the University of Toronto, Toronto, Ontario, Canada. He wrote a thesis on “The Origin of Ife Naturalism” in 1969.

Notable work

Yoruba Art and Language: Seeking the African in African Art, Cambridge University Press, (2014)

The Yorùbá was one of the most important civilizations of sub-Saharan Africa. While the high quality and range of its artistic and material productions have long been recognized, the art of the Yorùbá has been judged primarily according to the standards and principles of Western aesthetics. In this book, which merges the methods of art history, archaeology, and anthropology, Rowland Abiodun offers new insights into Yorùbá art and material culture by examining them within the context of the civilization’s cultural norms and values and, above all, the Yorùbá language. He begins by establishing the importance of the concepts of oríkì, the verbal and visual performances that animate ritual and domestic objects, such as cloth, sculpture, and dance; and àṣẹ, the energy that structures existence and that transforms and controls the physical world. Both concepts served as the guiding principles of Yorùbá artistic production. Through analyses of representative objects, Abiodun demonstrates how material culture expresses the key philosophical notions at the heart of the Yorùbá worldview. Abiodun draws on his fluency and prodigious knowledge of Yorùbá culture and language to dramatically enrich our understanding of Yorùbá civilization and its arts. The book includes a companion website with audio clips of the Yorùbá language, helping the reader better grasp the integral connection between art and language in Yorùbá culture.

Reviews of Yoruba Art and Language: Seeking the African in African Art (2014)

Abíọ́dún’s major work, Yoruba Art and Language is simultaneously a work of art history, archaeology, and anthropology. He presents new insights into Yorùbá art and material culture by examining them through the context of Yorùbá language and praise poetry. The following is a selection of reviews of the book:

Ultimately, the principal value of Abiodun’s important book is his confirmation that Yoruba art and language do not merely intersect. Many other Yoruba and Yorubaist art historians have quoted illustrative odu Ifa, oriki, or other aspects of oral literature in their discussion of objects in enriching ways. Rather, what Abiodun demonstrates is that art and language walk such parallel paths that they reinforce one another like a doubled underscore. ~ Kathy Curnow, YORUBA STUDIES REVIEW, 2018.

Decades after the creation of the field of African studies, post-pioneer Africanist art historians and Western-trained African scholars are still taking for granted the centrality of Western languages, Western art historical principles, Western art periodization, Western artistic concepts, and Western-derived theories in studying African art. The process assimilates African art into the Western artistic scheme as if Yoruba creative expression accords wholly with Western aesthetics, but places it at a lower creative level. Abiodun’s groundbreaking book challenges the validity of this assimilationist philosophy and methodology. He focuses attention particularly on the superficiality of interpretations, the non-apprehension of the Yoruba conception of art, and the shortcomings of Western languages and conceptual frameworks in understanding African artifacts. ~ Nkiru Nzegwu, JOURNAL OF ARTHISTORIOGRAPHY, 2018. Click here for the Full Text of this Review.

“Yoruba Art and Language: Seeking the African in African Art provides a seminal and authoritative work pertaining to Yoruba art and languages of Nigeria. Rowland Abiodun, the John C. Newton Professor of Art, the History of Art and Black Studies at Amherst College, is an astute art historian, researcher, and culture activist, whose work will withstand the test of time and critical appraisal.” ~Tunde Babawale, AFRICA TODAY, 2015

“The unique achievement of Yoruba Art and Language lies in its sustained analysis of art objects with a hermeneutics derived from historically Yoruba intellectual and critical practices. Its interpretation of Yoruba arts engages Yoruba speech, itself not less artistic, about arts and repudiates the “point-and-shoot” approach to art history that transposes Euro-American discourses to Africa en bloc. The book does not stress difference for its own sake but for the sake of abstracting the insightful values that intellectual difference bears for understanding the arts. … Abiodun makes the studied art objects speak Yoruba words convincingly while acknowledging that the works exhibit qualities of beauty and meaning that are found in many places that are not Yoruba. Its contribution to comparative aesthetics from the Yoruba part of the world is very impressive” ~Adeleke Adeeko, AFRICAN QUARTERLY REVIEW, 2015

“With a robust research career that spans over four decades, Rowland Abiodun has consistently advocated for the inclusion of the language of the people when their art is being studied. He lucidly articulates that idea, using the Yoruba esthetic thought and language embedded in the oriki (praise or citation poetry) as valid exemplars.” ~Ndubuisi C. Ezeluomba, AFRICAN STUDIES QUARTERLY, 2016.

“Abiodun states boldly: “the urgent task before us is to ensure the survival and essential role of African artistic and aesthetic concepts in the study of art in Africa.” …”He provides new analytical techniques that can provide models for art and culture scholars not only in the Yoruba world but also in sub-Saharan Africa, as well as for those in other parts of the world who need knowledge of indigenous perspectives to enrich their understanding of African visual culture.” ~   Ropo Sekoni, 2016

“It is possible that with this publication Professor Rowland Abiodun has consolidated a recognizable ‘school of African art history one that is genuinely African, in terms of its geographic origin certainly, if not necessarily wholly in its approach towards the discipline … It is to compliment Professor Abiodun’s work that his book as a history of (an)art (or arts) stands comparison to Michael Baxandall’s close reading of art and language in fifteenth-century Italy. ” ~W. Rea – AFRICA: THE JOURNAL OF INTERNATIONAL AFRICAN INSTITUTE, 2015

“For scholars of African art, Abiodun brings new levels of understanding, nuance, and insights for consideration to already familiar works and forms. Applicable to all art historians, Yoruba Art and Language emphasizes the need to beware of the cultural, and specifically the linguistic, contexts in which art is made.”  ~Lynne Ellsworth Larson,caa. reviews, 2016.

“… he questions the validity of recent claims that associate particular sculptures with a past king of Ile-Ife, Obalùfòn. Since such claims rely on contemporary information about sculptures that derived from archaeological excavations and accidental discoveries, how can we be sure that these informants were not simply fitting these finds into their own preconceptions and narratives of the past? The methodological sloppiness of accepting such claims as gospel truth (especially when cited as information provided by a king, priest, or chief) raises questions about the misuse of oral traditions and informants…Yoruba Art and Language will serve as an enduring source of knowledge and wisdom for scholars and the general public. It will also inspire new works that seek to understand the experience of time in Yoruba visual art. Rowland Abiodun has taken us to the right place to start the next generation of scholarship on African art and Yoruba cultural history. “~Akinwumi Ogundiran, AFRICAN STUDIES REVIEW, 2015

“If we take Abiodun’s points seriously, facile extrapolations from a static Yoruba “there” to an essentialized Yoruba “here” cannot but undervalue the ways in which descendants in the diaspora have made their lived circumstances meaningful through art. Just as the notion of “Yoruba” in the Americas has acquired new symbolic resonances that spur interest in the past, this fine book will inspire attentive readers to bring fresh insights to the complementary relationship between language and art. Sections of the book will be excellent additions to college and university courses, particularly those making the point clearly that whatever their permutations, Yoruba concepts and arts in the America shave been relocalized and translated, and thus changed: still grounded in language and culture, but transformed through imposed limitations, negotiated mixtures, and transnational migrations. Abiodun reminds us that such dialogic relationships are widespread throughout Africa; certainly the coding of proverbs and praise names in material forms, for example, bears this out. This dialog offers much for those who work in the Americas to ponder.” ~Grey Gundaker, AFRICAN STUDIES REVIEW, 2015

“Abiodun’s Yoruba Arts and Language challenges art history to invest in methodologies that champion intercultural perspectives. In a small field such as African art studies, it is easy to mistake the criticism this challenge implies as personal attacks on individual scholars. Such a reading makes it difficult to engage previous research, which often reduces research on specific African art and cultures to the work of a single interlocutor. A field where extant research cannot be subjected to criticism is moribund and unprofessional, since challenges to existing orthodoxy are the only way to advance knowledge. Abiodun calls for radical interrogations of research protocols and methodologies in order to make the study of indigenous African art newly relevant to a younger generation of art historians. Such significant revision is necessary if the study of indigenous African art is to survive without as Abiodun contends, effacing the “African” from African art.”~Sylvester O. Ogbechie,  AFRICAN ARTS, 2016.

Rowland Abiodun is one of the most distinguished historians of African art in the world and his latest work is a crowning achievement…  In Yoruba Art and Language Abiodun demonstrates that the meanings of Yoruba visual arts – so prized by collectors and museums – can and should be illuminated by the recognition of complementary verbal arts…The verbal “de-riddles” the visual…Nowhere is this “de-riddling” more effective than when Abiodun reviews some of Yorubaland’s most famous artistic creations, the copper and terra cotta portrait busts excavated at Ifẹ̀ and determined to date from the twelfth to the fifteenth centuries CE…Each chapter of Yoruba Art and Language is concerned with a different religio-aesthetic concept in Yoruba thought and how it is expressed in intertwined verbal and visual media…The total effect is a master work from a master scholar and the most thorough illumination of Yoruba religious art to be found.  ~ Joseph M.Murphy, MATERIAL RELIGION, 2016.

By showing how the Yoruba used their metaphysics to elucidate works of human creation, Abiodun disproves the view that pre-literate African cultures did not reflect on the aesthetic qualities of their artifacts. ~ Albert Moseley, JOURNAL ON AFRICAN PHILOSOPHY,2016.

In sum, Yoruba Art and Language: Seeking the African in African Art is a book written with wit, argued with verve, supremely confident in its thesis, and exhaustively documented. Most important, this is a breathtakingly original book that is destined to alter our understanding of Yoruba art and aesthetics forever. ~Olufemi Taiwo, NKA: JOURNAL OF CONTEMPORARY AFRICAN ART, 2017.


In his hometown, there were many traditional storytellers, and Abíọ́dún was immersed in the Yoruba myths of creation and transformation, legends of Ife accompanied by religious tradition made up Abíọ́dún’s early cultural education. His early exposure to traditional education in Yoruba art and culture fostered the direction of his lifelong research. Immersion in Yoruba language, artistic concepts, and belief systems enabled Abíọ́dún to engage the philosophical notions at the heart of the Yoruba worldview. His thorough dedication to the study of African art is encapsulated in his written works, which convey his research in a format accessible to both insiders and outsiders to the field. Through all of these works Abíọ́dún aims to directly engage his art subjects without inadvertently silencing or leaving out altogether, the voices of their creators and users.

A Yoruba culture bearer and an art historian, Abíọ́dún centralizes the Yoruba language and culture as critical components of his research methods for the study and deeper understanding of Yoruba art. Starting with his earliest publications such as “Naturalism in ‘Primitive’ Art: A Survey of Attitudes” (1975), and “Ifa Art Objects: An Interpretation Based on Oral Traditions” (1975), his search for the interrelationship of verbal and visual arts has progressed with his most recent publication, Yoruba Art and Language: Seeking the African in African Art, (2014). The book encompasses decades of research and its reception reflects its contribution to the field of African Art Studies both as an illuminating work and as a challenge to current research methodologies. College Art Association Reviewer Lynne Ellsworth wrote, “For scholars of African art, Abiodun brings new levels of understanding, nuance, and insights for consideration to already familiar works and forms. Applicable to all art historians, Yoruba Art and Language emphasizes the need to beware of the cultural, and specifically the linguistic, contexts in which art is made.” (2016)

Selected Publications

  • “On the Imperative of Language for Understanding African Art” in Yoruba Studies Review, spring, 2018: 271-296.  Click here for the Full Text
  • Response to Review Forum in ASR Vol. 58, No 3, Dec. 2015: 221-223.  Click here for the Full Text
  • “Ògún, the Òrìṣà Whose Fame is Worldwide” (preface), and co-authored a chapter on “Resonant Forms: Iron in Yoruba, Edo and Fon Worlds” with Henry John Drewal for the book/catalogue of “Striking Iron: The Art of the African Blacksmiths” the Fowler Museum, University of California, Los Angeles, 2018
  • Ifá Divination: Knowledge, Power and Performance. Co-edited with Jacob Olupona, Bloomington and Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 2016
  • Yoruba Art and Language: Seeking the African in African Art. Cambridge University Press, 2014.
  • “Yoruba in Nigeria and Diaspora,” in Berg Encyclopedia of World Dress and Fashion, eds. Joanne B. Eicher and Doran H. Ross, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010.
  • Cloth Only Wears to Shreds: Yoruba Textiles and Photographs from the  Beier Collection, Co-authored with Ulli Beier and John Pemberton III, Amherst College, Amherst, MA, 2004.
  • African Aesthetics” The Journal of Aesthetic Education, 35, 4, winter 2002,  pp. 15-24.
  •  Fifteen Years of Iwalewa Haus:  Its Philosophy, Directions and Accomplishments, Bayreuth: Iwalewa Haus, University of Bayreuth, Germany, 1996.
  • ‘What Follows Six is More Than Seven’: Understanding African Art, London: British Museum Press, 1995.
  • The Yoruba Artist:  New Theoretical Perspectives on African Arts, Co-edited with H.J. Drewal   and J. Pemberton 3rd, Smithsonian Institution Press, 1994.
  • “Let Us Admit That We Have Seen An Elephant”: Asiru Olatunde: Retrospective 1961 – 1992.  Bayreuth:  Iwalewa-Haus, University of Bayreuth, Germany, 1992
  • Yoruba Art and Aesthetics, Co-authored with H.J. Drewal, and J. Pemberton III, Zurich:  Rietberg Museum, 1991.
  • Conversations on Yoruba Culture, “A Young Man Can Have the Embroidered Gown of an Elder, but He Can’t Have the Rags of an Elder,” With Ulli Beier, Bayreuth:  Iwalewa Haus, University of  Bayreuth, Germany, 1991.
  •  Creating Her Own Universe:  Georgina Beier’s Drawings, Altes Schloss, Bayreuth:  Iwalewa Haus, University of Bayreuth, Germany, 1991.
  • Yoruba:  Nine Centuries of Art and Thought, Co-authored with H.J. Drewal and J. Pemberton III, New York:  Center for African Art and Harry N. Abrams Inc. 1989.
  • “Who Was the First to Speak?:  Insights from Ifa Orature and Sculptural Repertoire,” in Orisa Devotion as World Religion, eds. Jacob K. Olupona  and Terry Rey, Wisconsin: The University of Wisconsin Press, pp. 51-69, 2008.
  • “Muraina Oyelami: Simplicity and Sophistication” pp. 124-135; “Rufus Ogundele: A Painter with the strength of  a blacksmith” pp.136-141; “Bisi Fabunmi’s Graphic Work” pp. 142-151; and “Georgina Beier: Black and White Threads Never Quarrel” pp.106-111, in New Art from Africa in the collection of Heinz and Gerlinde Greiffenberger, ed. Ulli Beier, Druck: Druckerei zu Allenburg, 2005.
  • Foreword, in Yoruba Religious Textiles, eds. Elisha P. Renne and Babatunde Agbaje-Williams, eds. Ibadan: BookBuilders, 2005.
  • “Hidden Power: Osun, the Seventeenth Odu,” in Osun across the Waters, eds. J. M. Murphy and M. Sanford, Bloomington: Indiana University Press, pp. 10-33, 2001.
  • “African Aesthetics,” in The Journal of Aesthetic Education, 35, 4, pp. 5-23, 2001.
  • “Riding the Horse of Praise:  The Mounted Motif Figure in Ifa Divination Sculpture,” in Insight and Artistry in African Divination, Washington, DC & London, John Pemberton III, editor, pp. 182-92, 2000.
  • Preface, A History of Art in Africa, New York: Prentice Hall, Inc. and Harry N. Abrams, Inc. 2000
  • “The Dichotomy of Theory and Practice in Blocker’s The Aesthetics of Primitive Art,” in The Journal of Aesthetic Education, 29, 3 Fall 1995, pp. 38-44,1995.
  • “Understanding Yoruba Art and Aesthetics:  The Concept of Ase,” African Arts, 3, XXVII, 1994; pp. 68-78, 102-03, 1994
  • Creating Her Own Universe:  Georgina Beier’s Drawings, Altes Schloss, Bayreuth:  Iwalewa Haus, University of Bayreuth, Germany, 1991
  • “Owo et le mythe de la Les Arts du Nigeria.  Paris: Réunion des Musées Nationaux, 1991.
  • La signification et les artefacts d’Ifa dans la culture Yoruba” in Les Arts du Nigeria.  Paris: Réunion des Musées Nationaux, 1991.
  • The Future of African Art Studies:  An African Perspective,” African Art Studies, The State of the Discipline.  Paper presented at a Symposium organized by the National Museum of African Art, Smithsonian Institution, September 16, 1987, pp. 63-89, 1990
  • (With H.J. Drewal and J. Pemberton) “Yoruba:  Nine Centuries of African Art and Thought,”   (Exhibition Preview), African Arts, XXIII, 1, pp. 68-77, 1989.       
  • Woman in Yoruba Religious Images,” African Languages and Cultures, 2, 1, pp. 1-18, 1989.
  • Verbal and Visual Metaphors:  Mythical Allusions in Yoruba Ritualistic Art of Ori,” Word &Image:  A Journal of Verbal/Visual Enquiry, Vol. 3, No. 3, July-Sept., pp. 252-70, 1987.
  • Der Begriff des Iwa in der Yoruba-Aesthetik,” Tendenzen, 1984, NR 146, pp. 62-68, 1984.
  • Identity and the Artistic Process in Yoruba Aesthetic Concept of Iwa“, Journal of Cultures andIdeas, Vol. 1, No. 1, pp. 13-30, 1983.
  • Concept of Woman in Traditional Yoruba Art and Religion,” Nigerian Women and Development, University of Ibadan Press, A. Ogunseye, et al., eds., pp. 950-68, 1982.
  • Ori Divinity:  Its Worship, Symbolism and Artistic Manifestation,” in Proceedings of the World  Conference on Orisa Tradition,  Ife:  Department of African Languages and Literatures, University of Ife, Ile-Ife, Nigeria, pp. 484-515, 1981.
  • A Reconsideration of the Function of Ako, Second Burial Effigy in Owo,” Africa, Journal of the International African Institute, Vol. 46, No. 1, pp. 4-20, 1976.
  • Ifa Art Objects:  An Interpretation Based on Oral Traditions,” Yoruba Oral Tradition, ed. Wande Abimbola.  Ife:  Department of African Languages and Literatures, University of Ife, Ile-Ife,        Nigeria, pp. 421-69, 1975.
  • Naturalism in Primitive Art:  A Survey of Attitudes,” Odu, Journal of West African Studies, No. 10, pp. 129-36, 1975.

Awards, Distinctions and Fellowships (Selected)

The National Museum of African Art, Smithsonian Institutions in Washington, DC installed the Walt Disney-Tishman Collection of African Art.  It quotes and uses the concepts of Ojú-Inú (Inner Eye), Ìwà (Essential Nature), and Àṣẹ (Life-Force) from my book, Yoruba Art and Language: Seeking the African in African Art (2014) to introduce museum visitors to this important exhibition which is permanent, 2018.

Senior Researcher in Workshop on Mining Collections: Some Configurations of African Modernisms in Institutional Collections at Iwalewa Haus University of Bayreuth, Germany. I delivered a paper titled “A River That Forgets Its Source Will Dry up: In Search of Sources of “Modernisms” in African Art”, 2018.

Delivered Lecture: “The Outsider (or Uninitiated) usually sees through the Nose” as Opening Day Speaker for Inner Eye: Vision and Transcendence in African Arts exhibition, Los Angeles County Museum of Arts (LACMA), California. 2017.

Dan and Carol Burack President’s Distinguished Lecturer and Keynote Speaker, Exhibition of Spirited Things: Sacred Arts of the Black Atlantic, University of Vermont, Burlington, Vermont. 2017

Keynote Address at the William Fagg and the Study of African Art Conference, The Courtauld Institute of Art, Somerset House, Strand, London, UK. 2015.

Eighth Annual African Art Recognition Award by the Detroit Institute of Arts, The Friends of African and African American Art to honor my scholarly research, distinguished teaching record, and broad influence on the field of African Art, 2012

Leadership Award of the Arts Council of the African Studies Association in Recognition of the Recipient’s Excellence, Innovative Contributions, and Vision in the Fields of African and Diasporic Arts, 2011

Faculty Marshal, Amherst College, 2007-2012

Interviewed on BBC World Service for “The History of Africa” series focusing on the arts, 2000

Interviewed on PBS for the “Religion and Ethics” with particular reference to the “Art and Oracle” exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 2000

Interviewed on BBC World Service for the “Art of Africa” series focusing on the theme, “For Our Mothers and Gods across the World”, 1998

Appointed John C. Newton Professor of Art and the History of Art, and of Black Studies, Amherst College, 1997

Benjamin West Lecturer, Swarthmore College, Swarthmore, PA, 1996

Chair, Herskovits Book Award Committee, African Studies Association, 1996

Visiting Resident Scholar, Institute for Encounter with the Cultures of Africa, Asia and the Pacific, IWALEWA HAUS, University of Bayreuth, Germany, 1996

Appointed Member, Honorary Advisory Committee, Royal Academy of Arts, London, 1995

Appointed Member, Board of Directors, African Studies Association, 1995

Delivered the Inaugural William B. Fagg Memorial Lecture at the British Museum, London, 1994

President, Arts Council of the African Studies Association, 1993

Fellow, Timothy Dwight College, Yale University, New Haven, CT, 1993

Getty Senior Research Grant Recipient for project titled “The \Shock of Re-Cognition: Artistic Representation and Cultural Politics in Africa, 1992.

Appointed Professor of Art History and African and African-American Studies, State University of New York, Albany, 1992

Received A M. Honoris Causa, Trustees of Amherst College, MA, 1991

Received Distinguished Persons Award given by the Nigerian-American Forum to Eminent Nigerians who have performed beyond the ordinary in their professional endeavor, 1990

Appointed Consultant to the Smithsonian World Film, Kindred Spirits:  Contemporary Nigerian Art, which was nominated for the National Emmy Award in Prime Time Informational Film Series, 1989-1990

Appointed to deliver address at the Symposium on “African Art Studies:  State of the Discipline” to mark the opening of the National Museum of African Art, Smithsonian Institutions, Washington, DC, 1987

Delivered Georges Lurcy Lecture, Amherst College, Amherst, MA, 1987

Awarded Senior Fulbright Fellowship for African Art, 1981-1982

Appointed Scholar-in-Residence, National Museum of African Art, the Smithsonian Institutions, Washington, DC, 1981-1982

Visiting Scholar under the International Visitor’s Program of the United States International Communication Agency, 1980

Awarded British Council Travel Grant to participate in the Seminar on “Art as Social Commentary” at the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London, 1980

Awarded University of Ife Research Grant to study “Naturalism in Yoruba Art”, 1972-1980

Awarded Commonwealth Post-Graduate Fellowship to study Art History at the University of Toronto, Ontario, Canada, 1966-1969

Public Lectures (Selected)

LACMA, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Los Angeles, CA

British Museum, London, United Kingdom..

University of Wollongong, New South Wales, Australia

Museum for African Art, New York

Indianapolis Museum of Art, Indianapolis, Indiana

Royal Ontario Museum, Toronto, Ontario, Canada.

Art Gallery of Toronto, Toronto, Ontario, Canada

Art Institute of Chicago, Chicago, IL

Denver Art Museum, Denver, Colorado

Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh, PA

Princeton University, Princeton, NJ

Cultural Center of the Fundacio “La Caixa”, Barcelona, Spain

Michael C. Carlos Museum, Emory University, GA

Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, NY

Trent University, Peterborough, Ontario, Canada.

The Boston Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, MA

Yale University, New Haven, CT

Iwalewa Haus, University of Bayreuth, Bayreuth, W.Germany

Phoenix Art Museum, Phoenix, AZ.

Duke University, Durham, NC

Seattle Art Museum, Seattle, WA

New Orleans Museum of Art, New Orleans, Louisiana

University of Virginia, Charlottesville, VA

Bellagio Study and Conference Center, Bellagio, Italy


Co-Curator, Cloth Only Wears to Shreds: Yoruba Textiles and Photographs from the Beier Collection, Mead Art Museum, Amherst College, Amherst, MA 2004

Co-Curator, Artist as Explorer in Africa, National Geographic Society, Washington, DC. 2001

Co-Curator, Yoruba: Nine Centuries of African Art and Thought. New York: Center for African Art, 1989.

Television Appearances

Given his prominence in the field of African Art, Abíọ́dún has been interviewed for various documentaries and television programs. Prominently, he worked as a Smithsonian World Film Consultant and Participant in relation to Kindred Spirits: Contemporary Nigerian Art (1990). He was also interviewed by the BBC for the World Service program, first for the “Art of Africa” series on the theme, “For Our Mothers and Gods across the World”, in 1998 and later for “The History of Africa” series focusing on the arts. In 2000, PBS interviewed Abíọ́dún for “Religion and Ethics” with particular reference to the “Art and Oracle” exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York (2000).

Professional Memberships

Advisory Board Member, The National Museum of African Art, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, DC, 2015-

Coordinator, the Rapaport Lectureship in Contemporary Art, 2009-

Member, Adjudication Committee, Amherst College, 2007-2009

Chair, African Scholars Program, Five College African Studies Council,       2002-2009

Member, Advisory Committee on Affirmative Action and Personnel Policies, 2001-2006

Member, Mead Art Museum Acquisitions Committee, 2000-2005

Co-Chair, Black Steering Committee, Amherst College, 2000-2005

Member, Committee on Discipline, Amherst College, 1996-1998

Member, President’s Capital Campaign Planning Group, Amherst College, 1995

Member, Little Three Faculty Colloquium Committee, Amherst College, 1992-1995

Member, Five College Black Studies Executive Committee, 1991- 1995

Member, Five College African Studies Council, 1991-present

Member, Editorial Board, African Arts, African Studies Center, UCLA, Los Angeles, 1989-present

Member, Working Group on the African Humanities of the Joint Committee on African Studies, Board of Directors of the Social Science Research Council in consultation with the American Council of Learned Societies, 1988-1991

Member, Editorial Board, Second Order, West African Journal of Philosophy, 1988-1992

Member, Nsukka Journal of the Humanities, University of Nigeria, Nsukka, Nigeria, 1988-1990

Member, Faculty of Arts Research Committee, University of Ife, Ile-Ife, 1980-1987

Member, Editorial Board, ISALA, Ife Studies in African Literatures and the Arts, 1981-1990

Member, Art Acquisitions Committee, University of Ife, 1975-1980

Member, Post-Graduate Studies Committee, Faculty of Arts, University of Ife, 1977-1979

Member, Sub-Committee on the Assessment of Creative Work for Promotion, 1977-1978

Member, Advisory Board for Arts and Architecture, The Polytechnic Institute, Ibadan, Nigeria, 1977

Member, Board of Studies, Faculty of Arts, University of Ife, Ile-Ife, Nigeria, 1976-1978

Member, Sub-Committee for the Selection and Exhibition of Arts in Oyo State for FESTAC ’77, 1976

Member, Research Committee, Institute of African Studies, University of Ife, Nigeria, 1974-1975

Member, Panel of Judges for the Nigerian National Collegiate Art Competition, 1974

Member, National Art Education Advisory Committee on the Role of the Arts at all Levels of Nigeria’s Educational System, 1972


Abíọ́dún has a long career as a Professor and Research fellow in the fields of Black Studies, African Studies, African Arts, and Art and Art History in Africa and the United States. He began his career at Amherst College as a visiting professor in 1989, Currently Abíọ́dún is the John C. Newton Professor of Art and the History of Art, and of Black Studies at Amherst College. His courses span both departments and are, in many cases, interdisciplinary in and of themselves. Abíọ́dún incorporates video, museum visits, and artists’ workshops into his classes to emphasize the importance of art in context. The following is a full list of the courses offered by Abíọ́dún during his tenure at Amherst College as of 2017:

  • Verbal and Visual Metaphors in Africa
  • Myth, Ritual and Iconography in West Africa
  • African Art and the Diaspora
  • Survey of African Art
  • Seminar on Art and Artists in Africa
  • Contemporary African Art
  • Methodology of Art Historical Research
  • African Art and the West
  • Studies in Art Criticism and Aesthetics
  • Form and Meaning in African Art
  • Art History and Appreciation

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