Henry J. Drewal
Former Evjue-Bascom Professor
B.A. Hamilton College, Clinton, N.Y., 1964
M.A. Columbia University, 1968
Certificate of African Studies (M.A.), Institute of African Studies, Columbia University, 1969
Ph.D. Columbia University, 1973
Arts of Africa and its many Diasporas; art and the senses; developing the art history/visual culture theory & methods called Sensiotics
Born and raised in Brooklyn and Hempstead, New York, Henry John Drewal received his B.A. from Hamilton College majoring in French and minoring in Fine Arts. After graduation he joined the Peace Corps, taught French and English, and organized arts camps in Nigeria. During his two years in Nigeria he apprenticed himself to a Yoruba sculptor—a transformative experience that led him to interdisciplinary studies at Columbia University in African art history and culture, receiving two Masters’ degrees and a Ph.D. in 1973. He taught at Cleveland State University (where he was chair of the Art Department), and was a Visiting Professor at UC-Santa Barbara and SUNY-Purchase. He also served as Curator of African Art at The Cleveland Museum of Art and the Neuberger Museum.
In 1991 was named the Evjue-Bascom Professor of Art History and Afro-American Studies at UW-Madison. He has published several books, edited volumes, exhibition catalogues, and many articles on African and African Diaspora arts, among them: Introspectives: Contemporary Art by Americans and Brazilians of African Descent; Yoruba: Nine Centuries of African Art and Thought; Beads, Body, and Soul: Art and Light in the Yoruba Universe; Mami Wata: Arts for Water Spirits in Africa and its Diasporas; Dynasty and Divinity: Ife Art in Ancient Nigeria; Soulful Stitching: Patchwork Quilts by Africans (Siddis) in India.
As Adjunct Curator of African Art at the Chazen Museum of Art of UW-Madison, he curated the permanent African art gallery there, and recently – Double Fortune, Double Trouble: Art for Twins among the Yoruba at the Fowler Museum–UCLA. He has also produced a number of films documenting African and African Diaspora arts, and lectured widely on these topics (see his website at www.henrydrewal.com).
Among his numerous awards are several NEH and NEA grants, three Fulbright Research Awards (Brazil, Benin, Morocco), a Metropolitan Museum of Art Fellowship, and a Guggenheim Fellowship.
He is currently developing his approach for understanding material culture/arts, cultures, and histories called Sensiotics which considers the crucial role played by the senses in shaping body-minds. This was the focus of his work at the Bard Graduate Center–NY in the summer 2017 when he studied collections of African objects in forged iron from New York metropolitan museums for the major traveling exhibition entitled Striking Iron: The Art of African Blacksmiths that will open at the Fowler Museum–UCLA and travel to the National Museum of African Art in Washington, D.C. and the Musee Quai Branley-Paris.
After retiring in December 2019, Prof. Drewal will be a Paul Mellon Visiting Senior Fellow at the Center for Advanced Study in the Visual Arts (CASVA), National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C. for the months of January–February 2020. He is there to write his latest book: Sensiotics: Senses and Understandings of the Arts in Africa, and Elsewhere.