Fashioning the Body

Art Ambassador Highlight: Adrienne Krueger

Yoruba king's hat made from glass beads forming a green field covered in a repeat patter of faces; light blue with red eyes, yellow with dark blue eyes, and fabric attached to a conical basketry framework.
Nigeria, Yoruba peoples King's Headdress, mid-20th century, basketry framework with beads, Owen D. Mort, Jr. Collection of African Art Museum, UMFA2008.32.31

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Hi, my name is Adrienne Krueger and I’m an Art Ambassador at UMFA. My tour is called “Fashioning the Body,” it focuses on fashion objects and fashion representation in the museum and explores the idea of how we curate our bodies through fashion. In my tour, I don’t define fashion as being purely runway or alta moda, but instead as anything humans use to modify their appearance.

Let’s start by taking a few minutes to get close, look at all the details in this artwork. Try and look at this piece from different angles and viewpoints in the gallery. What do you see? How would you describe it? Who do you think is meant to wear it? This art object is an ade, or crown, from the Yoruba people in Western Africa, from the 20th century. The ade is traditionally worn by the Oba, which means ruler in Yoruba.

Try to imagine what someone might look like wearing this crown. How would it affect how you see him? How is power inscribed upon this object? The towering conical structure of the ade would give its wearer an impressive height advantage compared to everyone around him. Additionally, the tapering effect leads the viewer’s eyes upwards, towards the heavens. In Yoruba culture, the Oba is not supposed to show his face in public, which is why most ade feature a veil of beads. When one looks at the ade, they are confronted with many beaded faces, which represent past Obas in a grand lineage. The effect of these two aspects is to anonymize the wearer and deemphasize him as an individual, and instead prioritize him as a part of this lineage of Obas. Another effect to consider is that because the veil obscures the eyes of the Oba from the viewer, the remaining multitude of beaded eyes keep watch of the viewer, no matter how the Oba might turn his head and look away.

Think about someone wearing this: the visual aspects of the height and the vibrant colors combined with the dramatic veil and the faces, along with the audio aspect of beads rattling every time the Oba moves his head. How can fashion communicate social status? Are there specific fashion objects in your culture that convey power? Fashion objects can influence or determine the ways in which we perceive people and it’s important to think about fashion objects as active social forces. I hope you continue to think about this ade and how we fashion our bodies.