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The gods of Africa live all around the Atlantic perimeter. West African Yoruba religion, Brazilian Candomblé, Cuban Santería/Ocha, and Trinidadian Shango are united in their worship of ancestral monarchs, forces of nature, and personifications of human character known variously as orișa, orixás, orichas, and orishas. These gods of the Yoruba Atlantic bless their followers with health and prosperity, and, in turn, the priests give life to the gods through music, song, dance, incantation, divination, sacrifice, spirit possession and gorgeous sacred art.

The priests and practitioners of these religions also generally embrace what is beautiful and powerful in other traditions near and far, such as West African Fon religion, -Central African Kongo religion, Islam, Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, and Native American traditions, as well as the secularisms of the East and the West. Through both classical and modern objects, this exhibition not only illuminates the contrasts but also highlights the ongoing dialogue among these traditions of worship and crafted epiphany.

The “Sacred Arts of the Black Atlantic” online exhibition demonstrates the ontological ideas, the cultural history, the material conditions, and the aesthetic genius of Africa and its diaspora through photographs of the Afro-Atlantic Sacred Art Collection at Duke University, footage of ritual, videotaped interviews with priests, scholars, art dealers, and collectors, and “virtual online tours,” which tell stories about the deepest realities through the physical embodiments of black divinity.  

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Șango is a Yoruba god of thunder and lightning with a counterpart in Cuba called “Changó” and another in Brazil called “Xangô.” In each of these locales, the god appears anthropomorphically in the bodies of elegantly arrayed possession priests, but his virile and fiery spirit is just as powerfully manifest in lightning, mortars, rams, tortoises, okra, thunderstones, and the double axe. Through the example of Șango and allied gods around the Atlantic perimeter, this tour explores the unity and the diversity of sacred iconography in diverse countries, as well as the meaning and aesthetics of this prolific Yoruba-Atlantic artistic tradition.

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Ikoko Atura is fictional film produced by Brian C. Smithson, Ph.D Candidate in Cultural Anthropology at Duke University in cooperation with the Beninese Yoruba filmmakers' union.  It tells the story of how Christians, Muslims and Traditionalists come together for mutual benefit around an indigenous religious tradition.