Satires have always been an integral aspect of Yoruba life and thoughts. Yoruba visual culture often manifests through verbal arts (orature, poetry, songs), performing arts (festivals, dance, masking and masquerades) and the visual arts (wood carving, pottery, textiles). Satires can be utilized through conscious dissemination of visual codes and innuendos in a deliberate and intelligent manner with the intent to examine issues affecting society. Against this background, Yomi Ola provides an insight into Yoruba concept and use of satire, tracing its appearance to wood sculptures by Olowe of Ise (ca. 1873–ca. 1938). He asserts that the modern manifestations of satire and social criticism in contemporary Yoruba art are vividly presented in editorial cartooning which was started by Akinola Lasekan (1916–1974) in pre-independence Nigeria.
Satires of Power is situated within the larger framework of Yoruba satirical culture which encourages the use of praise and parody almost simultaneously to create an awareness regarding the political players and corruption in governance. A common feature in Yoruba cultural space, satire is expressed through masking festivals like the Efe/Gelede spectacle, and is embedded in oriki (citation praise), arofo (jest), ewi (musical poetry), apara (lampoon, caricature), and awada and efe (joke and jest) as showcased by court jesters, praise singers, and other creative individuals. In this connection, the author notes that aworerin, a quasi-comic publication, paved a way for “the two-dimensional space of mass-circulating editorial cartoon in contemporary Nigeria” (p. 8).
The book is organized into five chapters plus an introduction and conclusion; endnotes clarify and excite further discussion. In the first chapter, the author discusses the use of satire in Yoruba sculpture and masking traditions like Agbegijo, Egungun, and Gelede. While asserting that the sculptural pieces of Olowe of Ise laid the foundation for visual satire in Nigeria, he however notes that satirical presentations in Yoruba artistry dates back to art of ancient Ife (p. 28). In probing the satirical elements in Yoruba wood sculptures, Yomi Ola establishes a conceptual and contextual connection between Olowe of Ise and Akinola Lasekan, thus building a bridge between traditional and contemporary satires of power in Yoruba visual culture.
The history, development, context and use of cartoons in colonial Nigeria, and the stylistic, iconographical and ideological expressions of Lasekan are the focus of chapter 2. Lasekan, one of the first cartoonists in any colonial African political scene, employed satire to project colonialists' excesses within the West African Pilot, a newspaper established and published by Sir Nnamdi Azikiwe. The nationalist struggles of the era, coupled with issues of oppression, domination, and racial segregation as exhibited by the colonial administration and the disunity among regional/ethnic leaders in Nigeria, provided the contexts for Lasekan's cartoons. The chapter also hints at how cartoon producers employed semiotic resources of visual metaphors, information value, salience/emphasis, and framing, among other methods, to comment on sociopolitical and economic issues within the nation. Using formal and contextual analysis, the author examins iconographic symbolisms and colonial parody in Lasekan's cartoons, which include The Sleeping Giant and Bane of Indirect Rule. Ola concludes that Lasekan's cartoons prepared the groundwork for political cartooning and a vibrant culture of social commentary in Nigeria.
Chapter 3 examines evils perpetrated by past military dictatorships, the misadventures of the ruling class, and other issues that stimulate the witty and critical minds of Nigerian cartoonists. The author introduces the first and second generations of Yoruba cartoonists of the 1970s and 1980s after Lasekan's pioneering efforts, including Josy Ajiboye, Kenny Adamsons, Bisi Ogunbadejo, Tayo Fatunla, Boye Gbenro, and dele jegede. Their cartoons complemented the pungent editorial reviews of the time and lampooned the intellectual and political ineptitude of military dictators and their civilian collaborators towards solving social and economic problems facing the country. Nigeria's military incursion in political history, which spanned thirty-three years, was a tale of harsh economic realities, repression of press freedom, human rights abuse, armed robbery attack, and systemic inequalities. Ola commends the efforts of Yoruba cartoonists who were committed to the socially engaged art of political cartooning. Despite the “intolerance, censorship and repression by the government” (p. 101), they remained the voice of reason in a decadent political economy.
The menace of political corruption, or “the abuse of entrusted power for private gain” (p. 153) is the focus of chapter 4, and has been the major concern of Yoruba cartoonists since the 1980s. Political corruption is often fuelled by nepotism, favoritism, and self-aggrandizement of the ruling class. Ola explores issues like misappropriation of public funds, bloated contract awards, election rigging, and other socioeconomic and political malpractices which often characterize the political cartoonsof the era. The consequences of corruption such as infrastructural decay, flooding, bribery and unofficial tollgates were highlighted and discussed using dele jegede's paintings Eko re e (This is Lagos; 1991) and Yellow Fever (1991).
Chapter 5 examines two Yoruba diaspora artists, Rotimi Fani-Kayode and Yinka Shonibare, as they explore satires of power and domination through photography, performance and installation arts. The artists engaged viewers' aesthetic sensibility as they struggle to fathom creative visual displays and expressions employed by the artists in “the deconstruction of identity, authenticity and power” (p. 199) in European cultural space. Ola understands Fani-Kayode's Bronze Head (1987) as symbolizing the overthrow of Yoruba ancient authority by Western values, and the abuse of individual freedom. Yinka Shonibare's work The Diary of Victorian Dandy (1998) particularly provokes a satirical representation of Western classism, racism, and treatment of blacks in diasporas. The profiles of the artists enable average readers to appreciate the unconventional styles and ideologies that foreground their expressions.
There is an overemphasis on political cartoons as expressions of power at the expense of other genres in Yoruba visual culture.
For instance, chapters 2, 3, and 4 all invest heavily in this genre. Is political cartooning exclusive to Yoruba visual culture or does one find it elsewhere produced in Nigeria of the 1970s and 1980s? Is cartooning part of traditional Yoruba visual culture, or is it just a visual communication device employed by contemporary artists/cartoonists? Does it always investigate power relations and satirize power abuse in sociopolitical development or are there other targets? The book's title is appropriate, but apart from sculptures and satirical masking performances, nothing is mentioned of Yoruba symbolic textiles—Ogboni attire also contains some elements of satire. The illustrations adequately assist readers' insight into the role of political cartoons in visual satire and help them understand the relationship between cartoons, cartooning and caricature.
The book chronicles the history and the development of political cartoons in Nigeria, and sheds light on the socially conscious roles cartoonists play as critical voices of the voiceless. The book is significant to African art studies, as it extends the genres of Yoruba visual culture and satires to include modern media of cartooning, photography, and installation and builds on existing literature regarding iconographic symbolism in Yoruba visual and verbal arts. It is a wonderful document that creates an awareness of cartoon and photography as vibrant arts of visual communication. It toes the line of Efe/Gelede masking performances copiously documented by Margaret Thompson Drewal and Henry John Drewal (1983), Babatunde Lawal (1996) and others. The book is well-researched and shows Yomi Ola's grasp and understanding of Yoruba visual culture, and the interplay of the social, economic, and political in Nigeria's nation building.