"We are committing suicide by not speaking our language" – Prof Mama Sophie Bosede Oluwole (First Yoruba female professor of African philosophy in Nigeria and author of Socrates and Ọ̀rúnmìlà)

Dr (Mama) Geraldine Roxanne Connor said to me, ‘Child you need to tell your story, your African Yoruba Story!!!’ Those words stay with me, and it is like Mama G or Geri as fondly known to many, is still here nurturing, instructing, and mentoring.

Dr (Mama) Geraldine Roxanne Connor engaged in extensive PhD research study alongside her kaleidoscopic theatre production Carnival Messiah. Carnival Masquerade served as a multi-dimensional metaphor in Carnival Messiah, to depict emergent hybrid Caribbean cultures and identities, bred from the African holocaust, European expansionism and Asian indentureship. Likewise, I am currently carrying out a PhD research project looking at Yoruba culture, how it has travelled, influenced art practices in Leeds and emergent Afropolitan identities. My project utilises a multi modal Creative Practise as Research methodology including a Carnival Messiah autoethnography Case study.

Greatly inspired by Geraldine Connor, to tell my Yoruba story, I birthed the Afropolitan (Yoruba/English) musical Nomad Woman. I also became more confident in allowing Yoruba masquerade aesthetics to inform visual elements of my art practice. For example, I created the Eyo Carnival Messiah assemblage installation, including the 2d collage print for (Nomad Woman - 7 pillars of Africa) as part of my MA end of year exhibition. This went on to feature at the Leeds City Museum to pay homage to Geraldine alongside images of Hatshepsut, Harriet Tubman, and the famous Ooni of Ile Ife head sculpture.

My PhD research continues to infuse me with knowledge of Yoruba culture practices such as ancestor veneration, deification and honouring of women elders and leaders (Iyanla) in the community. Other aspects include Orisas (e.g. Osun & Sango), masquerades (e.g. Gelede & Egungun) and sculptural monuments (e.g. Queen Luwo Gbagida & Ori Olokun sculptures). Just like the Gelede Spectacle, or Eyo Adamu Orisha Play of Yoruba land, Geraldine’s Carnival Messiah right from the opening Yoruba libation, grabs you by the gut, suspends your reality and transports you to realms too spectacular for words!!

A delightful first experience of watching Carnival Messiah - Yoruba Libation

Esu Gbaragbo, Ko Ju Ba, Are are...

It was the most delightful, exciting, exhilarating experience I’d ever had. It felt like heaven had stretched its hand down and cloaked me in its love and warmth. A female voice thundering through the theatre, “call and response” singing in Yoruba shocked me. I recall being completely astonished by the sound of Mama Ella Andall’s sonorous voice reverberating through the auditorium in her opening Yoruba Libation, ‘… Yeye Yeye O, Osun Osun O, Are Mi, Osun wa se kumere…’

The last time I heard Yoruba like that was possibly at a cultural event in Lagos. I was gobsmacked!! Yoruba libation of alcohol offering being poured in a theatre, in cold Leeds, West Yorkshire!! The choir responded, “Wa dan ga”. It starts of tinny but builds up to a crescendo as the rest of the cast dotted about the theatre join in.

"Yeye Yeye o, Osun, Osun o, are mi, Osun o...." Called by Mama Ella and response from the cast and choir.

The questions and thoughts going through my, head, ‘this sounds like Yoruba, but we were not allowed to speak in Yoruba as kids. Yoruba was classed as vernacular and you got punished at school if caught speaking any vernacular, how is a Yoruba incantation being sung in Leeds. How come it is being song by an elder from the Caribbean who did not grow up in Yoruba land, omg, is that libation being poured at the top of the theatre, etc, etc.

Why research Yoruba influence on Carnival Artistic Practices?

Geraldine has made an invaluable contribution to the body of academic knowledge about Caribbean Carnival Art with her 2005 thesis, ‘!HalleluliaH! Excursions into a Third Space: Carnival Messiah as an Instrument of Postcolonial Liberation’. Coupled with her artistic artefact Carnival Messiah, the bar as they say, Geraldine has set, is very high indeed!!

The 2017 Caribbean Carnival culture conference held at Leeds Beckett University re-established the need for continuous Caribbean Carnival research in the UK. The conference entitled “Power, Performance and Play: An International Conference in Caribbean Carnival Cultures” was co-organised by Author & GCF Creative Associate, Dr Emily Zobel Marshall (American Trickster -Trauma, Tradition and Brer Rabbit, 2021) and Dr Max Farrar. Other researchers in Leeds include Dr Arthur France MBE, Poet Khadijah Ibrahim, Sir David Hamilton MBE, Historian Joe Williams and most recently Dr Tola Dabiri to name a few. The resulting Caribbean Culture network continues to foster connections between carnival theory and carnival practice, thus bridging the gap between artistic practice and academic study of Carnival and Carnival arts.

Ironically, some research into aspects of Yoruba culture has been done by Western ethnographers, historians, missionaries, explorers, etc such as William Bascom, Leo Frobenius, John Ogilby (Ogilby’s Africa, 1670), Mungo Park and especially on the Yoruba Gelede Masquerade by Drewal et al (1974,1985). However, little to no research has been done on how Yoruba culture influences art practices in the diaspora and in this case carnival arts. Furthermore, recent discourse around identity, the BLM movement, and #BAMEover has given rise to an urgency to look again at African indigenous cultures including Yoruba. It is thus an exciting time to investigate, from an insider perspective, how specifically, Yoruba culture migrated and influenced identity, carnival, carnival characters and indeed, carnival related artistic creations like Carnival Messiah in Leeds or the diaspora at large.

One reason for theA carnival performer on stilts in a gold costume (outdoors) limited engagement in Yoruba culture may stem from, increasingly, fewer people engaging in Yoruba culture and indeed as Prof Oluwole lamented, Yoruba speaking is sometimes prohibited in Yoruba households and schools. Coupled with this, there seems to be a latent, unconscious, self-regulatory, in-built repulsion, anxiety, and fear of imbibing in Yoruba culture amongst both local and diasporic peoples. This anxiety lies largely because of Western orthodoxy, demonising narratives of Yoruba culture and spiritual practices, particularly popularised to justify slavery and colonisation.

Why Leeds? Leeds multicultural city aims to be a welcoming city – a culture capital

Leeds is a West Yorkshire city, positioned at the intersection of Northern and Southern Britain and has an aim of being a ‘culture capital’ in the North. Leeds is rapidly growing in diversity and is home to thriving Caribbean and African communities hosting an annual West Indian Carnival and proposing a Culture 2023 event. This Practice as Research aims to fill in the gaps where access to Yoruba culture was limited and sometimes forbidden in childhood. It will look at what is already being achieved in Leeds (e.g. Carnival Messiah), in both African and Caribbean communities including engaging in cross-cultural activities with diverse communities. I will then cumulate my research with a new body of knowledge, insights, and new artistic artefacts beneficial to Leeds, the diaspora, and the world at large.

What I am exploring:

  • Yoruba Culture, its philosophy, artistic aesthetic, pragmatism, and adaptability. 
  • A performer stands onstage, arms raised presenting huge golden, yellow wings for Carnival MessiahFor examplemy rediscovery of an aesthetic concept extrapolated from an ‘ewe’ (proverb). I have shortened this to‘Akanpoand I feel it relates to Afropolitanism/Afro-sartorialism (Picarelli, 2018) aesthetics respectively, ‘E ni tó kan àkànpò èwù ti kúrò ní ilé san tàbí kò sàn’ (The nobility of someone who is dressed in gorgeous garments
     is without qualm.)
  • The dual diasporic British and African (Yoruba) cultural heritages leading to the new popularised ‘Afropolitan’ identity, (coined from Afro and cosmopolitan, meaning an African of the world, Selasi, 2005), to encourage dialogue, curb race relations anxieties and offer educational opportunities (especially contributing to current BLM discourse).
  • If segments of the rich cultural heritage that has birthed the wealth of carnival cultural expressions is indeed of the Yoruba culture of West African origin.
  • How Yoruba culture migrated to Leeds (i.e. masquerades to carnival costumes, slave trade, Windrush, African diaspora, etc).
  • Carnival history in Leeds and Yoruba links – Sir Arthur France (MBE) continuously emphasises that the West Indian Carnival has its roots in the Yoruba culture of Egungun and Masquerading.

Participation in Carnival Messiah was invaluable for:

  • Observing syncretised portrayals of Yoruba deities e.g. ‘Esu Elegbra’ in the opening libation scene featuring Ella Andall from Trinidad (Deity of the crossroads, often wrongly depicted as the Christian ‘devil’). Osun, and Sango, double meanings, and word play (signifying theory, Gates, H.L. 1988), etc are also enacted.
  • Singing ‘call and response’ in Yoruba language, witnessing the amalgamation of classical oratorio with Yoruba and Caribbean steel pan.
  • The preparation, coaching and mentorship I received to adorn the Carnival Messiah Queen Costume created by Clary Salandy of Mahogany Carnival Arts, London for the Carnival Messiah J’ouvert excerpt at the Royal Albert Hall, London.
  • Inspiration for my musical theatre production, ‘Nomad Woman’ (virtual, digital due to lockdown), incorporating carnival/masquerade costuming, imagery, and musical compositions with Yoruba fragments, talking drum & steel pan.
  • Observing how cultural differences collapse into equilibrium by creating a space and place where new cultural expressions can exist equally: Connor’s artistic ‘Third Space’.
  • Overall, numerous artistic manifestations, much more than can fill these pages. My participation was very nourishing, empowering and gave me a vision to carry on my artistic practice, coupled with engaging in Yoruba culture.

Yoruba themed Afropolitan artwork, installations, and exhibitions:

  • My Eyo Carnival Messiah installation (2018) was inspired by Yoruba Eyo Masquerades which in turn had a Midnight Robbers carnival character aesthetic.
  • Windrush Treasure Chest communicates the treasures sailed from Africa to the Caribbean and settling in the UK by the Windrush generation e.g. Reggae, Carnival, Steel Pan.                 
  • For Leeds Carnival at 50 years (2017), The AAA team, created the Yemoja, Yoruba goddess themed Carnival Queen costume worn by Khadija Ibrahim. This costume was inspiration for my futuristic Afropolitan Cyborg Lucy
  • I am currently working on an Afropolitan installation (with soundscape featuring Yoruba, Pidgin English, and English lyrics, with an assortment of Yoruba informed melodies, etc) entitled May Day. This is inspired by the Yoruba Gelede and Egungun masquerade and Yoruba concept of ‘Ori’ (the head) possibly coupled with the Dame Lorraines Carnival character aesthetic within a British post-colonial Emancipation/Independence Day context.
  • Within limited resources, (lockdown- artist retreat) I created mini assemblage maquettes entitled Ori Heads, again informed by subverting, deconstructing or reappropriating the concept of ‘Ori (the inner & outer head)’, Orisas, Obas (Kings) and Crowns: Osun Ori, Chocolate Ori & Coca-Cola Ori, etc.
  • A particularly exciting piece of current sculptural artwork is informed and inspired by the prolific, commemorative bronze sculptures discovered in Yoruba land, Ife, some still on display at the British Museum, London. Indeed, the practice of creating realistic sculptures of community leaders persist today in Yoruba land. Thereby, my sculptural methodology will continue to incorporate multiple artistic methods including, still life drawing, collage, assemblage, and new digital modelling technologies. The aim is to create a commemorative civic sculpture of, Dr Geraldine Roxanne Conner, in response to the current Black live matters (BLM) sculptural review in Leeds.


I am examining questions like: Are carnival arts (e.g. Carnival Messiah by Geraldine Connor) empowering instruments to keep Yoruba culture alive or evolve? What new identities are forged, and are there any benefits to mental health or psyche? How useful is Yoruba philosophy today to overall art practices?

Overall, as the need for academic discourse increases, I am exploring an Afropolitan identity framework with which to qualify both Carnival and Diasporic Artistic aesthetic where fusions of Yoruba and Western Cultures occur. These cover literary, performative dance, sound including voice and drums/digital sequencing, and sculptural artistic forms.  I am looking at the links Yoruba culture, Philosophy, Music and Masquerades have with Carnival Costumes, the Carnival procession, innovative theatrical expressions, and sculptural exhibitions. Additionally, I am following up Geraldine Connor’s legacy of using carnival arts (third space, Connor, 2005) as an empowering, creative, and nourishing tool for the psyche split as defined by Frantz Fanon (1963) experienced by diasporic peoples.

Calabash gourd with a rope wrapped around its neck

My assemblage methodology stems from the desire to rebuild the broken pieces of our shattered African (Yoruba) psyche and identity, due to slavery, colonialism, and racism. The Japanese have an art called Kintsugi, of assembling and repairing a broken vase with gold, based on the idea that even in embracing flaws and imperfections you can create a stronger and more beautiful piece of art. Moreover, the Yoruba have a proverb (ewe), that says, ‘Akeregbe lo ma juwe ibi ti ama fi okun si lorun’, meaning ‘The gourd or calabash by virtue of its shape, gives us a clue as to where to tie the rope i.e. around the neck, the solution I seek’.

As I reflected in this current artistic retreat (lockdown), I looked at my Ori Heads abstract caricature pieces of assemblage artwork. I felt they spoke more of the broken past, and felt I also need to create art, to communicate our imagined glorious future within the Yoruba concept of Akanpo. With no access to the physical 3D studios at the moment, I started to explore combining my assemblage and collage technique with current 3D digital technology (metaphor for the Kintsugi gold perhaps). The aim is to use art to bind our shattered past and portray our future with artwork of Afropolitan, & Akanpo aesthetic.

Thus, as my PhD research practise evolves, it has become clear that I have the task of now creating a befitting civic sculpture in Geraldine’s memory akin to Yoruba monuments of the past and present and the Akanpo concept. I also trust that the research process (3rd Space, Akeregbe) will provide solutions just like Geraldine would have done in imagining and creating her magnanimous Carnival Messiah.

In conclusion, I hope to redirect our collective humanity and Afropolitan Yoruba/English path to a constructive, glorious, non-suicidal one. Mama Geraldine Connor, thank you for your wisdom, nurturing and strength imparted before you departed!! Thank you for the standard of excellence set and the monumental legacy that lives on in me. Ase.

© Lara Rose 22 March 2021