The National Museum of African American History and Culture


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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.

African American museum in Washington D.C.

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.

African sculpture from Yoruba

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.

Comparing the African American Museum deisign to Yoruba architecture

4 thoughts on “The National Museum of African American History and Culture

  1. Mr. Adjaye referenced ‘coronas,’ specifically from architectural ‘caryatids’ (monumental figures, often sculpted as female-formed columns, that serve to hold up the entrance porch of a public space in ancient Egypt via connection to Yoruba legends) in his presentation to Harvard University’s Graduate School of Design back in 2010 shortly after winning the competition.

  2. I would suggest that rather than suggesting the “prominence of African American scientists, artists, and politicians as being pillars in the creation of America, it suggests the prominence of African Americans, in general, as being pillars in the creation of America. Beyond the labor of enslaved Africans that generated a level of wealth that fueled capitalism and built America (as well as some of Europe’s great cities), there are the cultural and social contributions made by Africa through its “children” in the Diaspora. America would be a vastly different place if enslaved Africans had not preserved their native cultures, which scholars have begun to acknowledge shaped African American culture and African American culture shaped American culture.

    1. I absolutely agree that it shouldn’t just reference “scientists, artists, and politicians,” and now that I’m re-reading that section, I wish I had quoted the source of that phrase. Thanks for your point well made, and much appreciated!

  3. This is a wonderful article explaining the original Yoruban caryatid style that inspired Mr. Adjaye. Can you tell us more about the photo of actual Yoruban caryatids? Thank you!

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