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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This tour aims to explore and analyze musical instruments and dances, as well as their symbolic and religious meanings, from Afro-Atlantic religions Haitian Vodou, Cuban Santería/Lucumí, and Brazilian Candomblé, with special attention to their influence and origin from West Africa and the Yoruba faith. To do this, I examine each object and analyze their symbolic meanings and origins in history and discuss the influences that Santería, Vodou, and Candomblé have had on modern music in the United States, as well as in the Caribbean.

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