Connect with us


Is the Embrace of Minimalism Making Ancient Symbolism Diabolic?  



Historical movies are filled with stunning symbolism. Paintings captured the images of the gods, scrolls had drawings of wars. Even the swords had images or words imprinted on them. These things were passed from generation to generation, with accompanying stories. There are also seemingly minute things you cannot miss. Their buildings told stories beyond the sand, mud and roofs; the designs are part of their history. Their walls, windows, doors, tables, chairs, goblets, napkins and almost every other thing exhibited the full beauty of art.  

It is the same with our own society. You cannot watch movies of… say the Oyo/Benin kingdom without noticing how the stools, doors, gourds, bowls, clothing had unique carvings and markings. Artefacts and figurines were a part of homes. There were stories in everything and humans were walking works of art.


When I got my apartment, I asked myself what I wanted for it. Warmth, I said to myself. When I get home, I want to feel the walls cuddling me, giving me a hug and blocking out noise from outside and inside my head. We are in Lagos, but here will be a no gra-gra zone. I hate noise.

As I began to draw up the decor idea with the fictitious money I had, I realised my definition of peace and warmth was simply minimalism. Plain and soft-coloured curtains, plain wall colours, plenty of indoor flowers, a rattan chair and floor mat, artwork, wooden bed and cane bookshelf for the room, rattan mirrors too, amongst others. But plenty of space and a few properties, please, I don’t want too much load. I would have shared how their prices jolted me back to reality but I’m too embarrassed.

As I pictured my home in my head, I asked myself: where’s the story? I’m a sucker for anything African-inspired so, of course, I’d have artwork and rattan items. Still, where’s the story? Monochrome, plain colours and a sprinkle of artwork say nothing.

I have been obsessed with Instagram videos of nature lately – greenery, trees with fluttering leaves, birds chirping at a distance, raindrops on leaves. Just this morning, I watched a flock of sheep drinking water in a river and they looked so peaceful and I muttered: “If only I could be here.” It is nothing like my reality, my sheep back home screamed meeeerrr into my ears and, boy! They’ve got fat lungs. Or is it the phim phimmmmm honk of a huge truck that woke me up one morning? I have suffered in this life and I hunger for peace and quiet. So, like many people, I find myself tilting towards minimalism. The world may be noisy, but you want your space to be less chaotic. You want to keep it simple.

Still, I cannot help but wonder if it isn’t eroding storytelling – subtly, unnoticeably. Not the storytelling you read in journals or books. But the kinds of stories your environment tells you, the stories from artefacts and items, clothing and jewellery. Like the kinds you see in performances. Conspiracies have always trailed Beyonce’s. Her performance in Dubai sent tongues wagging. They said her costume was mystical-looking. Did she just do a quick ritual on stage? Gasp! It is proof that the Illuminati exists.

“It is art,” I remember saying to someone who had complained. “Everything about the performance looks so devilish,” she had said. No. It is simply art. That we don’t understand it doesn’t make it diabolic.

So it’s a yes from me; that this world of minimalism is subtly eroding storytelling. I know you do not agree. You want to say that there’s storytelling in minimalism, or that minimalism is narrating more with less. I get you. But I look around me, everything and everyone looks the same – buildings, doors, tiles, plates, tables, chairs, doors, many of which are simply shiny smooth surfaces. No carvings, markings or art on them. Nothing around reminds you of your culture or that our lives are fragments of stories, all weaved together. I cannot fail to notice that the more room minimalism takes, the more our appreciation for markings and carvings also wanes. Pardon my generalisation, but we are beginning to perceive lore and art as too mystic, Illuminati-inclined or too ancient to be accessed. It seems to be reserved for only special moments.


This Instagram vendor says that the cane mat is handwoven and gotten from an ancient town in Oyo. It also costs hundreds of thousands of Naira. The description sounds like they tore the mat from the bowels of the gods. It’s just a mat, I suck my teeth. I am beginning to notice our cowries are sourced from the rivers of Osun and our aso-oke is stripped off the skin of Oya. I wonder which it is – that we’re trying to make our own sound so super-terrestrial because we want to pander to a Western audience/consumer; that we do not know that these things, these items, these art are part of who we are and what makes us, us; that if the world’s economy was sane, we should all have easy access to these items. It should never be deemed too ancient, sacred or regal to be accessed; that we have lost touch with our art and culture so much that it has become diabolism; that our everyday lives are becoming so mundane that art and symbolism are becoming too extraordinary and chaotic for our minds to savour.



Feature image by Z Sarpong on Unsplash

Editor at BellaNaija Features. And writing beautiful stories of places, things, and people like you. Reach out to me, I don't bite: [email protected] | Instagram @oluwadunsin___ | Twitter @duunsin.

Star Features