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Beyond Aesthetics

Use, Abuse, and Dissonance in African Art Traditions (Richard D. Cohen Lectures on African & African American Art)

Wole Soyinka


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An intimate reflection on culture and tradition, creativity and power, that draws on a lifetime’s commitment to aesthetic encounter

The playwright, poet, essayist, novelist, and Nobel Laureate Wole Soyinka is also a longtime art collector. This book of essays offers a glimpse into the motivations of the collector, as well as a highly personal look at the politics of aesthetics and collecting. Detailing moments of first encounter with objects that drew him in and continue to affect him, Soyinka describes a world of mortals, muses, and deities that imbue the artworks with history and meaning.
Beyond Aesthetics is a passionate discussion of the role of identity, tradition, and originality in making, collecting, and exhibiting African art today. Soyinka considers objects that have stirred controversy, and he decries dogmatic efforts—whether colonial or religious—to suppress Africa’s artistic traditions. By turns poetic, provocative, and humorous, Soyinka affirms the power of collecting to reclaim tradition. He urges African artists, filmmakers, collectors, and curators to engage with their aesthetic and cultural histories.

Praise For Beyond Aesthetics: Use, Abuse, and Dissonance in African Art Traditions (Richard D. Cohen Lectures on African & African American Art)

Soyinka “uses personal anecdotes and philosophical reflections to demonstrate the vast webs of reference from which meaning in art is made. . . .  Soyinka offers readers an intellectual adventure.”—Maggie Taft, Booklist 

“For all its vituperation, Beyond Aesthetics is a happy book, filled with a rambling sense of life. After reading it, you end up hoping, praying even, that the world would cast up more souls like Soyinka’s — sensitive, probing, alight with earthy fire and a marvelous, tap-dancing curiosity.”—Bailey Trela, Full Stop

“Wole Soyinka, the great Afro-Atlantic master, speaks with authority and compassion about the art and literature of the black world.  Beyond Aesthetics is insightful, essential reading.”—Robert Farris Thompson, author of Flash of the Spirit and Tango: The Art History of Love

Yale University Press, 9780300247626, 160pp.

Publication Date: January 21, 2020

About the Author

Wole Soyinka is a Nigerian playwright, poet, and political activist. He was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1986. His many publications include You Must Set Forth at Dawn and Of Africa.