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Yoruba beadwork has an ancient history.   There is evidence that beadwork was being produced in present-day Nigeria as early as the 6th century.   Islamic traders brought beads to West Africa in exchange for slaves and ivory. They were soon followed by Europeans who brought a flood of glass beads, iron needles and cotton thread – all of which were immediately absorbed by Yoruba master beaders for the production of crowns, coronets, cushions, sheaths, bags and other ritual and ceremonial paraphernalia.

 

Many traditional cultures made beaded objects but the Yoruba distinguish themselves  through an exploration of the aesthetic potential of beadwork.  Whereas most cultures produce beadwork that is predicated on bilateral symmetry or repetition of a specific geometric pattern the Yoruba celebrate pattern modulations, asymmetry, high relief imagery and complex, unpredictable color ways.  This exotic exploitation of beadwork is also a result

 

 

of and linked to ancient color and pattern associations with the traditional pantheon of Yoruba deities.

 

The commission and use of  beaded objects among traditional Yoruba was restricted to the ruling and upper classes.  Master beaders were commissioned to make the great conical crowns, Adenla, and coronets, Orikogbofo for public display by Yoruba kings. Other ritual objects would be commissioned by ritual healers and priests for use in shrines and on altars like the sheaths for the iron staffs, Orisha Oko.

 

This exhibition of approximately twenty examples of antique beadwork includes crowns, coronets, sheaths, panels and a superb 19th century royal tunic.