I was reading an article about the National Museum of African American History and Culture in the New York Times last weekend, and it included a reference to the Tanzanian-born architect David Adjaye, saying that his design was meant “to evoke a crown motif from ancient Yoruban sculpture.” Seeing the picture of the building below, it made me curious to see how exactly it does compare to “crown motifs” from ancient Yoruban sculpture.
I’m not doubting that there’s some Yoruban influence in this architectural design, but being a visual person, when I read something like that, I want to see it. As you may have seen in my blog post about Manute Bol and El Greco the other day (or in many blog posts, for that matter), I like to see visual comparisons. So I did an image search for both “Yoruban sculpture” and “Yoruban crowns,” but didn’t really come up with anything that seemed like a good match … the best I could come up with is shown below. I’m just not seeing the correlation.
But I wasn’t going to let it go at that, so I looked a little deeper, and found some clarification: Adjaye’s building design is meant to evoke Yoruba carved wood columns – specifically the crowns at the top of the columns, and not a sculptural king’s “crown” as the Times mistakenly suggested. You can see this visual correlation much better in this picture below. It makes more sense too, from a symbolic visual angle, because the reference to Yoruba pillars or columns subtly suggests the prominence of African American scientists, artists, and politicians as being pillars in the creation of America.
It just goes to show that one can’t take every word that the Times publishes as being fully accurate, or perhaps that the reporter and editor needed to do a little more research and fact-checking when it comes to their art and architecture references.