In this talk, Drewal explores the vital role of the senses with an approach he calls sensiotics. While Drewal focuses on the Yoruba peoples of West Africa and their cultural sensorium, he argues that sensing is constitutive of thinking and that sensiotics can help us understand the shaping of persons, cultures, histories and the arts universally, as suggested in trans-disciplinary research that documents the crucial role of embodied knowledge.
While a teacher in Nigeria, Henry Drewal apprenticed himself to a Yoruba sculptor. That transformative experience led him to interdisciplinary studies at Columbia University in African art history and culture where he earned two Masters' degrees and a PhD in 1973. He has taught at Cleveland State University, UC-Santa Barbara, and SUNY-Purchase, and served as Curator of African Art at The Cleveland Museum of Art and the Neuberger Museum. Since 1991 he has been the Evjue-Bascom Professor of Art History and Afro-American Studies and Adjunct Curator of African Art at the Chazen Museum of Art, UW-Madison. He has published several books, edited volumes, exhibition catalogues, and many articles on African/African Diaspora arts and curated or co-curated several major exhibitions, among them: Introspectives: Contemporary Art by Americans and Brazilians of African Descent; Yoruba: Nine Centuries of African Art and Thought; Beads, Body, and Soul: Art and Light in the Yoruba Universe; Mami Wata: Arts for Water Spirits in Africa and Its Diasporas; Dynasty and Divinity: Ife Art in Ancient Nigeria; Soulful Stitching: Patchwork Quilts by Africans (Siddis) in India, and most recently, Double Fortune, Double Trouble: Art for Sacred Yoruba Twins. Among his numerous awards are several NEH grants, two Fulbright Research Awards (Brazil and Benin), two AIIS Senior Fellowships for research in India, a Metropolitan Museum of Art Fellowship, and a Guggenheim Fellowship.