Edna Bay, Emory University
Ancestral asen are sacred metal sculptures that serve as sites of interaction between the visible world of contemporary Beninese life and the invisible realm of spirits. Richly decorated with a variety of human, animal, and plant motifs, ancestral asen are linked to highly inventive oral arts that speak eloquently of the mutual obligations of the living and the dead.
People in southern Benin in the late 20th century began using asen less, and a decline in their production and quality became apparent. Given the imminent demise of this art form, Bay looked back to see if the moment of their invention could be discovered and set out to write a biography of an art form. This presentation focuses on the methodological problems of discerning a historical moment and rationale for the invention of ancestral asen. Bay argues that ancestral asen were likely invented at the courts of the kings of Dahomey in the mid-nineteenth century. Along the way, she stresses the close interaction of material culture and history, of the way that objects reflect change and the way that history prompts the creation of art that reflects its time.
Edna G. Bay is Associate Professor at the Graduate Institute of the Liberal Arts at Emory University and is the editor of several books in African studies. She is the author of Wives of the Leopard: Gender, Politics, and Culture in the Kingdom of Dahomey and numerous articles on southern Benin.
Cost: Free and open to the public
Sponsor(s): African Studies Center
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