5 February – 16 May 2004

Cloth Only Wears to Shreds: Textiles and Photographs from the Beier Collection presents a stunning selection of fabrics and garments to elucidate the artistry, technology and ideas behind their creation. Videos illustrate women artists making these vivid textiles as well as dance performances in traditional garb. The photographs at Frost Library feature Ulli Beier's compelling portraits of Yoruba children, performers and chiefs.

In Yoruba culture and religion, the significance of cloth goes beyond body covering to express a rich and profound belief system. In its creation, the color, weave and design of cloth reflect the aesthetic sensibilities and character of the artist, as well as of the future owner. Extensive use of opulent materials in a garment conveys the power and authority of the wearer. Cloth not only defines the identity of the individual and of the family, but also evokes the wearer's ancestors, thus creating a metaphorical link between the living and the dead. Fabric, which the Yoruba believe outlives its owner, can disintegrate but cannot disappear from the material world. "Cloth only wears to shreds" - a refrain from an Ifa divination verse - refers to this deathless, eternal quality.

The gallery's vivid spectacle of color, texture and movement is in every way the result of the life's work of Ulli Beier, who first recognized and promoted textiles as a major form of Yoruba artistry and cultural expression. As an internationally renowned writer, teacher, scholar, translator, performing arts producer, photographer and art collector, Beier catalyzed the cultural transformation of mid-20th century Nigeria by promoting interaction between indigenous and world artists, writers and scholars. Together with his wife, Georgina, Ulli Beier has fostered the global appreciation of Yoruba art and culture through experimental publications, theaters and galleries. The Ulli and Georgina Beier Collection of Yoruba Textiles and Ritual Objects forms the core of an international resource for Yoruba art and culture at Amherst College. The artworks and images disclose Ulli Beier as a participant in Yoruba culture, a celebrant of Yoruba values and a friend to those who in trust gave themselves to his camera.

The exhibition, presented jointly at the Mead Art Museum and the Robert Frost Library, is accompanied by a fully illustrated 128-page catalog with writings by Rowland Abiodun, Ulli Beier and John Pemberton III.

The co-curators of the exhibition- Rowland Abiodun, the John C. Newton Professor of Fine Arts and Black Studies at Amherst, John Pemberton III, the Stanley Warfield Crosby Professor of Religion, Emeritus-will give a gallery talk in Fairchild Gallery at the Mead Art Museum on Thursday, Feb. 26 at 4:30 p.m. A reception will follow.

Nigerian writer Wole Soyinka, the 1986 Nobel laureate in literature and a long, close associate of Ulli Beier, will give a lecture, "Orisa and Yoruba Humanism," at 4:30 p.m. on Wednesday, April 14, in Johnson Chapel. A reception will follow in the Mead Art Museum. Soyinka, who won the Nobel Prize at age 55, is considered one of the finest poetical playwrights in English, combining Yoruba traditions and western culture. In his five-decade career, he has published more than 50 works, including The Open Sore of a Continent, Lion and the Jewel, Death and the King's Horseman, Madmen and Specialists, Art, Dialogue and Outrage and A Play of Giants. Imprisoned during Nigeria's civil war, he writes frequently about human survival, anger and forgiveness.

The exhibition, catalog, and related events were made possible by the Howard A. Newton (Class of 1906) Fund, the National Endowment for the Humanities Library Fund, the Willis D. Wood Fund of the Department of Religion, the Hall and Kate Peterson Fund, the David W. Mesker (Class of 1953) Fund, the Amherst Arts Series Fund and the Office of the President.