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Tundé Kelani, Èṣù of Nigerian Cinema: Yorùbá Aesthetic Formation, Tradition, and Morality

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This article opens with the suggestion that the art of world-renowned and critically acclaimed Nigerian filmmaker, Tundé Kelani, is analogous to the work of Òrìṣà Èṣù, supernatural trickster who opens the portal to the spirit realm, the past, and the future. Drawing from long-term ethnographic research with Yorùbá performing artists in Òṣun and Kwara states, this article builds on Yeku’s concept of Alter/Native narrative and Meyer’s discussion of aesthetic formation to argue that Kelani’s innovative evocations of Yorùbá traditional culture can be understood as aesthetic formations of a morality for the present and future. Kelani’s films evoke and create aesthetic formations that reimagine and recontextualize Yorùbá traditional culture into new allegories and myths for contemporary audiences. Illustrating how Kelani’s representations of Yorùbá traditional culture and morality are central to his films’ allegorical impact, moral themes in thirteen Kelani films are identified. Through Èṣù-like storytelling, Kelani’s films reimagine tradition and offer new allegories that challenge postcolonial institutions and awaken our spirit and desire to create a more balanced world.
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