Henry John Drewal will give a Brown Bag Lunch presentation on Wednesday, August 23 at 12:15 pm. His talk is entitled “Come to your Senses! Sensiotics and Understandings of Persons, Arts, Cultures, and Histories.”

In this talk, Drewal invites you to come to your sense-abilities. The sensing body-mind is the source of cognition, not the brain/mind (pace Descartes). Drewal will explore this proposition with a theoretical and methodological approach he calls Sensiotics (a critique of and play on text-centered semiotics). Sensiotics analyzes the role of the senses in the production of material forms, persons, cultures, and histories, with a focus on bodily knowledge in the creative process as well as in reception by body-minds. He draws from his work among Yoruba-speaking peoples of West Africa, presenting examples of diverse multi-sensory experiences that constitute elements of a Yoruba sensorium. While he will focus on one African culture, he suggests this approach has important implications universally.


Henry John Drewal is the Evjue-Bascom Professor of Art History and Afro-American Studies at the University of Wisconsin–Madison and is currently a Research Fellow at Bard Graduate Center (May–August 2017). An apprenticeship with a Yoruba sculptor in Nigeria transformed his life and led him to interdisciplinary studies at Columbia University in African art history and culture where he earned two Masters’ degrees and a PhD. He has published several books, edited volumes, exhibition catalogues, and many articles on African/African Diaspora arts, among them: Introspectives: Contemporary Art by Americans and Brazilians of African Descent (The California Afro-American Museum,1989); Yoruba: Nine Centuries of African Art and Thought (Alfred Knopf and The Center for African Art, 1989); Beads, Body, and Soul: Art and Light in the Yoruba Universe (UCLA Fowler Museum, 1998); Mami Wata: Arts for Water Spirits in Africa and its Diasporas (UCLA Fowler Museum and University of Washington Press, 2008); and “Soulful Stitching: Patchwork Quilts by Africans (Siddis) in India” in African Arts (Vol. 46.1, 2013). He is currently developing his approach for understanding material culture/arts, cultures, and histories called Sensiotics, which considers the crucial role of the senses in shaping body-minds. This was the focus of his work at Bard Graduate Center as he studied collections of African objects in forged iron from New York museums for a forthcoming traveling exhibition entitled Striking Iron: The Art of African Blacksmiths.



This event will be livestreamed. Please check back the day of the event for a link to the video. To watch videos of past events please visit our YouTube page.