Yoruba Empowerment

ACI Artist Leader Stephen Hamilton 

Project: "Yoruba Empowerment in Nigeria" 2015-16

Placement: Osogbo, Nigeria

Hometown: Boston, USA  

Nigeria is a place that has had a gargantuan impact on the diaspora. Many of its ethnic groups have had major impacts on the art and culture of the United States, Latin America and the Caribbean. The Yoruba culture of Nigeria has fascinated me since childhood, not only because of the beauty and complexity of its art and philosophy, but because of its ability to survive the horrors of the slave trade and remain a source of spiritual and cultural integrity.

Correspondingly, I wrote an application to Arts Connect International to learn, work and grow at the Nike Center for Art and Culture as an ACI Artist-in-Residence this year. Low and behold, here I am about to embark on the journey, having just completed the Artist Training Institute in Boston with a host of incredibly talented Artist Leaders.

Being at the Nike Center For Art And Culture will hopefully give me the opportunity to learn and explore Yoruba traditions; specifically beadwork and indigo dying, so that I can grow both as an artist and as an educator. Ultimately, my goal in doing so is to bring this new knowledge and connectivity to the communities that have fostered my upbringing, and fruition as an artist and social change agent.

I am nervous yet excited and the prospect of living in Osogbo, which fills me with a lot of complex emotions. Although I have never been to Nigeria, there is something that I cannot explain that is calling me there. I don't know what it will be like, I have worked hard to eradicate any idea of a homecoming.

I have tried my hardest to destroy the idealized fantasy of imagined Africa that mightprevent me from truly recognizing the beauty and complexity of a place. However, I would be lying if I did not admit that as an African American the anticipation of setting foot on African soil fills me both joy and gut wrenching anxiety.

I am very grateful to everyone who has helped me with this project, and for the opportunity to explore this next chapter as an ACI Artist-in-Residence.

As I begin on this journey I would like to thank all of the friends and family who have lent so much support, and the amazing youth artists who I had the privilege of working with, collectively exploring identity through art.

I hope that what I gain for myself I can give back tenfold to my community.