Olowe of Ise

Olowere was born in 1873, in a small town called Ẹfọ̀n-Alààyè in Ekiti State. As a youngin, he moved to Isé where he was initially appointed a messenger to the court of King Arinjale; the Oba of Isé.

There is dispute on whether or not Olowe’s artistry began as an apprenticeship or solely out of natural inclination. It might be important to note that Ẹfọ̀n-Alààyè is a famed carving center.

Olowe of Ise achieved most of his fame under the patronage of King Arinjale, through carving a plethora of architectural sculptures for the king and subsequently his name spread throughout eastern Yorubaland. The Olowe of Isé.

He is known as the greatest carver of the 20th century. 

Here is a pair of palace doors he carved.

The Olowe of Isé also made this intricate veranda post for the exterior courtyard of a Yoruba palace using only one piece of wood.

So what was so special about his work? Other than his impeccable attention to detail? Well, among other things, he is known for how his figurines project beyond the boundaries of the sculptural space and his depiction of some of them turning to the side. This differs from traditional yoruba practises as the figurines tend to face forward.

This is a three-tier, royal wood ayo game box created by the Olowe of Ise in 1890. 📷:


In it you can see a young man in western clothes which could have been a colonizer albeit we lack the information to fully conclude. However, it would come as no surprise as the Olowe did acquire international fame in his lifetime, with his pair of carved doors exhibited in London in 1924. The Olowe of Ise was a profound active artist for 40 years.

Much of older Yoruba history is oral so there is a documented oriki; a poem of oral praise sung by one of the Olowe’s wives.

A translated snippet of the oriki.

The Olowe of Ise passed away in 1938. We think it is important to place emphasis on material culture; the aspects of social reality that  are grounded in objects and architecture that surround the people. Just remember WhoToldYou because We did. We learn. You learn.

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