The University Record, January 22, 2001

Olaniyi to perform ‘ONA MI’ Jan. 25

By Joanne Nesbit
News and Information Services

Olabayo Olaniyi, artist in residence at the School of Art and Design, performed with his students at the beginning of December and will offer the free performance 'ONA MI (My Road)' Jan. 25. Olaniyi's artistic expertise extends to drumming, dancing, theater and plastic arts. Photo by Ed West, School of Art and Design
Artist, scholar, philosopher and performer Olabayo Olaniyi, artist in residence at the School of Art and Design and the Center for Afroamerican and African Studies, will offer a free performance of “ONA MI (My Road)” 7:30 p.m. Jan. 25 at the Media Union Video Production Studio.

Olaniyi’s artistry includes drumming, dancing, theater and plastic arts, all of which help him share his vast knowledge of Yoruba culture. The Yoruba of West Africa constitute one of the largest ethnic groups south of the Sahara and for more than nine centuries have impressed the world with its economic, political and social structures, and its art forms. Because of the trans-Atlantic slave trade, Yoruba cultural and artistic legacies are visible in the Americas through descendants of Yoruba slaves.

In traditional Yoruba culture, beads were reserved for the royal families, adorning their royal staffs, crowns and other regalia as a sign of the family’s power and the society’s affluence. Male artists who combine ancient symbolism and newer artistic influences have traditionally done the beadwork for the kings. Olaniyi continues this tradition by creating beadwork murals with themes that range from the traditional to scenes of modern life and his own imagination. His techniques include layering strings of beads while blending colorful arrays of loose beads in a bed of epoxy on plywood backing.

But Olaniyi doesn’t stop with the traditional. He also works in batik on rice paper and in clay, which to the Yoruba is a body of flesh given by the sky god to a deity responsible for the molding and making of figurines for the creation of the world and its inhabitants. Tie-dyeing is one of the most popular Yoruba art forms, practiced mostly by women and documenting histories, events and daily life patterns of Yoruba society. Yoruba carvers also are known for their works in wood, stone, ivory and gourds.

During his U-M residency, Olaniyi introduced his students to all these Yoruba art forms, ending his classes with the Yoruba tradition of giving his students Yoruban names.

As a youth, Olaniyi was apprenticed as an artist, drummer and dancer, and he has complemented his African education and training with schooling in the United States. His performances range from solo dance, drumming and storytelling to large-scale theater extravaganzas with student and community participation in everything from costume-making and set-building to drumming, dancing and acting.

Olaniyi is the first son of Chief Twin Seven Seven and Nike Davies, two of Nigeria’s most renowned artists. His home is the town of Oshogbo, considered the center of Yoruba culture.

Olaniyi’s performance will feature drumming, dance, slides and video, as he takes the audience along the path he has traveled as an artist, “making viewers part of the fabric of the performance.”

Olaniyi’s residency at the University is supported by the Center for Afroamerican and African Studies.