13th International Triennial Symposium on African Art
Thirteenth Triennial Symposium on African Art
31 March–3 April 2004
Organized by the Arts Council of the
African Studies Association
I-1 African Textiles in Fashion, Art, Trade, and Thought
Chair: Tavy D. Aherne (Indiana University, USA)
Textiles, due to their nature as easily transportable and widely desired commodities, cross boundaries that are not only geographical, but also political, cultural, social, ethnic, economic, and gendered. Thus, they are particularly useful for dealing with such complex domains as the exchange of ideas and practices, and the manipulation and negotiation of ethnicity. The functions of cloths may fluctuate, as part of ongoing, ever-changing processes which reflect new concerns, inspirations, and patronage. Paper proposals are requested from individuals studying textiles' changing contexts over time, space, and across cultures, to create new forms, interpretations, meanings, and contexts of use.
Rebecca Green (Bowling Green State University, USA)
Textiles in highland Madagascar are primary signifiers of one’s ethnic, national, and moral identity. As burial shrouds, they are arguably the most efficacious and powerful communicative device during interaction with the all-powerful and omnipresent ancestral and spiritual world. Yet new materials are currently being employed as burial shrouds during funerary ceremonies, and the silks traditionally used for shrouds are being incorporated within new modes of expression in non-traditional contexts. Artists, designers, and individuals are mining the materials, techniques, symbols, and symbolism of traditional highland Malagasy culture to create new expressions of identity.
Taariika Ngara: Histories of Indigo Textiles' Creation and Trade in the Futa Jallon, Guinea
Tavy D. Aherne (Indiana University, USA)
This paper will discuss social and artistic aspects of the contemporary creation and trade in Guinean indigo-dyed textiles (gudhe ngara). Looking at "taariika ngara" (local stories or histories of indigo production) in the Futa Jallon, I propose how dye technologies spread into the region and ultimately to a number of different ethnic groups. As these cloths began to be produced for and by a larger and more diverse population, the significance and usage of the cloths changed. Over time, the context of Guinean gudhe ngara moved from vital cultural object, to consumer good, to ethnic and regional identifier, to national emblem.
The Importance of a “Sankofa” Sensibility: Contemporary West African
Sarah Lewis (Oxford University, UK)
I-2 AIDS Art: The Visualization of a Southern African Pandemic
Co-chairs: Pamela Allara (Brandeis University, USA); Kyle D. Kauffman (Wellesley College, USA)
HIV/Aids is arguably the most significant social, economic, and political issue facing South Africa today. Yet, few visual artists have engaged meaningfully with the subject in their work. This is in stark contrast to the way South African artists confronted other major social evils, such as apartheid.
Before 1994, much of the art produced in South Africa was confrontational and political in nature. For the politically engaged artists under apartheid there was no doubt about the identity of the target. After 1994, both the challenges and the possibilities have become more complex, ambivalent, and unpredictable. The course of South African art changed from confrontation to reconciliation and during the honeymoon years of the new democracy there were calls for artists to put aside political considerations and to find new themes and images. Indeed, it seemed that a number of artists with powerful messages in the pre-1994 era had lost their voices. Some turned inward to explore personal narratives and dramas, investigating identity, sexual and gender politics and roles, while others delved into history and memory.
Few artists have confronted the Aids crisis. Why? There is a range of possible answers. Perhaps, many artists do not feel the deep personal connection to the issue of Aids that they did to apartheid. Perhaps, after the struggle for political liberation, socially engaged artists were tired and felt the need for more personal, non-political subjects for their work. Another possible reason could be that white artists, who comprise the majority of commercially successful artists in South Africa, do not feel they can reasonable speak for the black majority, the group most affected by Aids. In addition, black artists may find the subject a very difficult issue, involving sexual practices that are hard to change in a patriarchal culture. Or, perhaps it is even that in an increasingly open and market-oriented art scene some artists feel that if they produce works on the topic of Aids that they will not be sellable. Whatever the reasons, the production of art works on the subject of HIV/Aids is surprising low, given the importance and impact on society.
Pamela Allara (Brandeis University, USA)
In the absence of government leadership, numerous NGOs and private charities have engaged actively in grassroots projects to educate South Africans about the AIDS pandemic. Many of these projects, for example Paper Prayers in Johannesburg, MonkeyBiz in Cape Town, and the Memory Box and Siyazama Projects in Durban, have been founded by white women and/or are linked to poverty alleviation projects. In every case, the vast majority of participants are poor, black women. One question this paper will ask is whether targeting educational programs to women is the most sensible approach to combating the devastation caused by the disease.
The beautiful embroidery and beadwork addressing AIDS is marketed to a primarily white affluent audience. How are these ‘handicrafts’ interpreted by the purchasers? Do these products serve to change attitudes and practices within the women’s own communities? How have NGOs and the art market influenced the targeting of women?
If the prevention and curbing of the pandemic requires a radical change in sexual practices, including the abandonment of male sexual privilege, which projects are directed primarily toward men? Why has there so little art on the subject been made by black males? Are billboard projects such as Love Life and Break the Silence the primary vehicles for communicating information about the pandemic to men? Are there significant differences in the types of messages created on billboard or craft-based projects? Is activist art about AIDS gendered, and if so, are there negative consequences?
Art and Audience: Organizing Exhibitions about Aids and Art
Kyle D. Kauffman (Wellesley College, USA)
The current HIV/Aids pandemic constitutes the most serious social problem facing the African continent, but until very recently, few artists have confronted it. Surprisingly few art works, and even fewer exhibitions, have been produced to confront the crisis. While in many parts of Africa artists have tackled difficult social issues, such as Apartheid in South Africa, HIV/Aids has received much less attention.
This paper looks at some of the HIV/Aids art exhibitions that have taken place in recent years and will highlight works shown at a recent show, AIDSART/SOUTH AFRICA. In addition, the paper will address some of the possible issues surrounding the paucity of art dealing with the subject of HIV/Aids.
Betty Sibongile Ntshangase (School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London, UK)
The paper will discuss how the HIV/AIDS epidemic is addressed by means of traditional song and dance in Swaziland. I have chosen this topic because Swaziland is presently torn between conflicting forces, all vying for immediate attention. On the one hand, as a move to reclaim and maintain the Swazi sense of identity, there is a loud outcry, even from the monarch for the people to go back to their roots by reviving all forms of Swazi culture. Part of the culture is easier displayed in the performance of Swazi song and dance. This has been even incorporated into school activities, whereby schools engage in cultural singing and dance competitions. On the other hand, the country is facing a crisis whereby the percentage of deaths resulting from HIV/AIDS is escalating every day, and this causes concerns for the country’s future, as this has resulted in economic suffrage as well. This problem has therefore raised concerns to a great number of Swazi nationals, especially women because there are other very strong aspects of Swazi culture, which are linked to the spread of HIV/AIDS. The paper will make reference to some previous studies that have been conducted in Swaziland, which investigated the attitudes of Swazi people generally, and then specifically men and women. This will also include the strategies, which have been employed by the Swazi government, Non Governmental Organizations, and International Organizations in an attempt to combat HIV/AIDS. Next will be a discussion of the role and significance of traditional song and dance in Swaziland as both form of entertainment and means of communication. There will be case studies of the few theatre groups in the country, schools’ cultural teams, and individual Swazi artists who have engaged in song and dance performance for the purpose of both entertainment and sharing knowledge to help combat HIV/AIDS. Finally, the conclusion will reflect how HIV/AIDS is a great controversial issue in Swaziland requiring the entire Swazi nation starting from labadzala, the elders to consider HIV/AIDS as an important issue that needs urgent attention, which could even lead to alterations in the Swazi culture.
Darkened Mirrors and Transparent Roads: Divinatory Visions of HIV/AIDS
Mark Auslander (Brandeis University, USA)
In this paper I consider revelatory visions of HIV/AIDS by southern African local healers and diviners as points of departure for understanding recent artistic initiatives in the region. I begin by reviewing some of the intriguing parallels between art and divinatory practice. Levi-Strauss notes that art is predicated upon the progressive suppression of the complete sensorium, eliminating certain experiential dimensions in order to foreground others. Similarly, diviners almost always structure their performance spaces in order to limit the focus of attention; the entire universe, in effect, is reduced down to a magic mirror, a bowl of water, wooden board, a set of cast bones, a trembling voice in a darkened room. For all their differences, art and divination are founded on the paradoxical notion that one’s ultimate vision is expanded through the intensive, disciplined narrowing of perception.
Zambian male diviners seeking to explicate the current AIDS pandemic and heal
or protect their clients often allude to visions of blocked or invisible
roadways which appear as shadowy or opaque reflections in their divinatory
mirrors. These scenarios refer not only to anxieties over unregulated
rural-urban movement along regional highways (along which AIDS is often thought
be transmitted, by and to women who have escaped senior male jural and economic
encompassment ) but also to purportedly corrupted interior pathways within the
bodies of women. Diviners at times attempt to “straighten” these
interior and exterior pathways through ritual practices organized around
geometrically organized performance spaces, “illuminated” by
magical mirrors and other optical technologies, in order to produce
“clear” and “purifying” visions of individual bodies,
the local body politic, and the dynamic relations between the living and the
dead. To what extent, I ask, may recent artistic and aesthetic undertakings,
such as AIDS “memory boxes” and stitched visual narratives, be
understood in comparable terms, creating efficacious microcosmic and
macrocosmic healing visions within disciplined, confined spaces?
I-3 Congo? Carabali?—Images of African Identity in the Diaspora (Part 1)
Co-chairs: Judith Bettelheim (San Francisco State University, USA); Kristine Juncker (Columbia University, USA)
“Él que no tiene de Congo tiene de Carabalí.” “He who does not have Congo [in him], has Carabali.” This popular Cuban proverb presents several important contradictions. Can BaKongo, Carabali, or other African roots actually be identified in the Diaspora? Or how do artists and artworks in the Diaspora come to terms with mestizaje, ethnic and cultural diversity and mixture, and simultaneously celebrate the inheritance of specific cultural origins? This panel seeks to discuss the issue of African identity in the Diaspora, and the ways in which identities are sought, created and defined through contemporary or historic arts.
The Best Friends of the House: Spiritual Dolls as Ancestral Conduits in the Casa de Obatala
Steve Quintana (Boston, MA, USA), Anna Wexler (Springfield College, USA)
Santero Steve Quintana and Anna Wexler will discuss the fabrication and care of spiritual dolls as conduits of ancestral presence in the Casa de Obatala in Dorchester, MA. Based upon an interview on this theme with Anna Wexler published in 2001, Mr. Quintana will trace a family legacy that began with the dolls made and used by his grandmother and great grandmother in their practice as spiritualist mediums in Havana in the 1940’s. This legacy encompassed dolls that incarnated specific deceased family members as well as more generalized spirit guides (such as Congo and Gitana dolls) identified with popular images of Africanos de nacion and other spiritually endowed ethnic groups in Cuban history. Mr. Quintana will explore his own use of dolls enfolded into his work with the Orichas as a Priest of Obatala while remaining intimately linked to the spiritualist practice and presence of his Afro-Cuban ancestors. Anna Wexler will discuss the impact of what she has learned about the fabrication and potencies of spiritual dolls from Mr. Quintana in terms of problematic ancestral legacies explored in her multimedia performance work.
How African Roots Grow in Haitian Soil: Kreyol Arts in Haiti
LeGrace Benson, Arts of Haiti Research Project (Ithaca, NY, USA)
Writers on Haitian art from mid-twentieth century forward discuss the presence of African visual motifs and religious objects in the arts of Haiti. Often these are viewed as conserved continuities, with origins traced back to homelands in Africa primarily on the basis of similarities of form and of usage in Vodou ceremonies. While these are consequential, there are aspects of Haitian art that arguably demonstrate deeper concepts of African cosmologies bound into a “creolization” process that, in Haiti, shows some unusual characteristics.
Afro-Cuba Keeps Calling Me
Ben Jones (New Jersey City State University, USA)
talk will be on the influence of Yoruba orishas on my artwork. I have been
traveling to Cuba since 1977, and have been there about forty
times. Everytime I return home from Cuba, I feel an immediate yearning to return. It's primarily been the Afro-Cuban culture and the spirit of the people that continually call me back to Cuba.
As a former dancer of the Chuck Davis Company (formerly based in New York City), I was richly exposed to Yoruba and various other African religions and rituals. Africa and it's spiritual belief systems have always had a strong influence in my work. My interest in the African diaspora led me to Cuba and to the Yoruba derived religions there. Shango and Obatala are frequently used as metaphors in my artwork.
My presentation will focus on the influence of some the Yoruba orishas and African spiritual belief systems on my work. I try to take in the influence of places like Africa and Cuba on the African diaspora.
I-4 The African Museum in the New Millennium
Co-Chairs: Boureima Tiékoroni Diamitani (West African Museum Programme, Dakar, Senegal); Agbenyega Adedze (Illinois State University, USA)
The museum occupies a very important segment of the African cultural landscape; however, many museum professionals fail to utilize these institutions to their full potential due to the myriad problems besetting them. Several meetings, conferences, and workshops have been organized since the inception of museums in Africa where the recurrent problems are debated without any concrete solutions. The present panel "The African Museum in the New Millennium" seeks to exhort African museum professionals to critically examine historically the various facets of this all-important cultural establishment. They will provide a comprehensive analysis relevant to the revival and renaissance of African museums. Panelist would be encouraged to propose cost effective African solutions for their museums rather than external ideas that may not be relevant to Africa. While ensuring that all the regions of Africa are covered in the various topics, participants are advised to provide a vision that will carry the African museum through the 21st century.
Definitions and Legal Status of Museums in Africa
Boureima Tiékoroni Diamitani (West African Museums Programme, Dakar, Senegal)
The last decade saw the creation of new private, regional and community-based museums in West Africa with local communities attempting to re-appropriate their culture and history. Private and community-based museums--through their flexibility, their capacity to promote the involvement of communities, and their knowledge of the local environment--could be considered as partners for the implementation of innovative programmes for museums in West Africa. They have an important role to play in the future of museums. They could be catalysts for a greater participation and a better integration of communities in preserving local culture and cultural and natural heritage in general. However, private and community museums face a number of serious institutional issues.
In my presentation I will explore the legal and institutional status of private and community-based museums in West Africa, identify their institutional and financial capacities and constraints, and propose a programme to support their institutional needs.
Putting the African Museums into International Perspective
Merrick Posnanskiy (University of California, Los Angeles, USA)
The larger number of African museums display their past within a local perspective with the exception of a few exhibitions on hominid ancestry and more recently rock art. For good history and an educational benefit it is important to place the past, and the artifacts of Africa, within a broad World perspective. The purpose of this paper is to indicate how this might be achieved. The paper focuses on some of the more spectacular historical monuments such as the colonial forts on both the East and West African coasts, placing them within the context of the maritime economic and colonial system of the 16th - 18th century. Comparisons are made with Portuguese monuments in India and the far east. Other structures of interest that will be considered are terraces found in the Philippines, early mosques and colonial architecture from both Vietnam and Francophone Africa. By depicting Africa's monuments in African museums in a World, as opposed to a regional or even an African perspective, it is hoped that visitors will be able to distinguish local from universal characteristics and expand their interest in a more universal history.
Tradition meets Technology: African Museums Facing the Challenges
Lorna Abungu (Africom, Nairobi, Kenya)
Museums around the world are without a doubt catching up on the latest Information Communication Technologies (ICTs). In Africa, however, poor national communications infrastructures, lack of national and institutional ICT policies, expensive dial-up (phone) and Internet Service provider (ISP) rates, and the high cost of equipment have hampered the use of ICTs in most African museums. In 1999, it was estimated that 50 out of 53 African countries had direct Internet access (BBC News online, 1999). This however does not mean that all African museums are able to take advantage of what appears to be a high connectivity rate.
By acknowledging the existence of a ‘Digital Divide’, museums on the African continent can help to bridge it by striving to create and provide access to important digital information; this can be done through lobbying of national governments and creating programmes that are relevant to national development. The museums can help to find the means to overcome the obstacles to access on both local and national levels.
This paper discusses the role of museums in Africa today, and how some of them are using NICTs to expand educational and exhibition possibilities, and to reach out to greater audiences. It will look at the obstacles that African museums face in accessing digital information, and how organisations such as AFRICOM can make positive contributions in overcoming some of these obstacles in the heritage sector.
Collaborations between African and U.S. Museums
Christine Mullen Kreamer (National Museum of African Art, Smithsonian Institution, USA)
Museums everywhere in the world face increasing challenges in leveraging limited funds and staff resources to carry out the many tasks museums are called upon to perform. Rather than settling for the status quo, forward-thinking museums develop innovative strategies to expand current research and exhibition programs, to enhance the skills and experience of their staff, and to make the museum a place of relevance for the local, national and international audiences that museums serve. With limited budgets, forging partnerships among museums provides strength in numbers and offers museums with limited budgets ways to carry out research, preserve historic sites, conserve and expand collections, and create exhibitions and outreach programs that reach new audiences.
This paper will touch on a number of areas of mutually beneficial collaborations (past and potential future projects) between U.S. and African museums. It will focus on an interest in strengthening artistic production in African crafts by linking it to master artists and to the potential exhibition and sale of high quality works by such artists. Institutional collaboration might concentrate on the documentation of high quality crafts and the master artists who create them. Such a project would identify "living treasure" master artists whose knowledge and skills would be recognized, documented and celebrated through joint research and collecting projects that result in the exhibition and possible sale of high quality works by these master artists. Stimulating the production and sale of high quality African arts and crafts would benefit the artists, encourage the training of younger artists, provide high quality works to high end museum and specialty shops, and emphasize the value of African arts to the research, collection, exhibition and publication work of museums.
II-1 Artists in Contemporary Ethiopia and in the Diaspora
Co-chairs: Rebecca Martin Nagy (Samuel P. Harn Museum of Art, University of Florida, USA) and Achamyeleh Debela (North Carolina Central University, USA)
Ethiopian artists working in their own country and abroad are increasingly gaining recognition as major figures in the international art world, as evidenced by recent one person and group shows of their work and by the inclusion of Ethiopian artists in group shows of pan-African and international scope. Scholarly research on contemporary African art has increased, and there is an encouraging trend among major museums to acquire work by contemporary African artists, including Ethiopians. Some critics and art historians would argue that the Ethiopian heritage of contemporary, academically trained artists is largely irrelevant in considering their work. We believe, however, that the work of these artists should be considered in terms of both continuity with the past and the change that is all but inevitable given the ubiquity of global exchange. In addition to academically trained artists, others continue to work in the time-honored genres of mural painting, icon painting, and metalworking. Having served apprenticeships under established masters, they sell their work to the church and local patrons who employ it for traditional purposes and to local and foreign patrons who value the work for its craftsmanship and aesthetic appeal. We invite papers on various aspects of contemporary art and artists in Ethiopia and the Diaspora, including traditional and academically trained artists. We welcome papers representing differing points of view about the relevance of looking for the expression of a distinctively Ethiopian identity in the work of contemporary artists.
Skunder Boghossian: A Jewel of a Painter of the 21st Century
Achamyeleh Debela (North Carolina Central University, USA)
In the 1960s, when many believed that African artists produced only “tribal” art forms, Skunder’s paintings already hung in the modern art museums of New York and Paris. Long before it was fashionable for contemporary African artists to draw inspiration from “traditional” African art, Skunder embarked on a pioneering journey into his Ethiopian past. This paper examines Skunder’s paintings in private collections in Addis Ababa for fresh insights into the work of a gifted artist who generously shared his creative spirit with his students, friends, colleagues and the world.
Patrick J. Bayens (University of Kentucky, USA)
Contemporary Ethiopian painter Tadesse Mesfin made his mark with realistic art in the European tradition, but made a seismic shift in the late 1990s when he allowed himself to be influenced by Ethiopian Christian art. Eschewing social, cultural, or political themes, he developed as an artist by seeking artistic solutions to his painter craft—composition, line, and pattern—in contrast to some of his better-known compatriots. Though widely recognized and honored in his homeland, he has, because of his artistic course, failed to achieve an international recognition commensurate with his domestic acclaim.
Back to the Future (or Painting Both Ways): The Recent Work of a Traditional Artist in the Diaspora
Neal W. Sobania (Hope College, USA)
Traditionally trained as an artist in his father’s workshop, Daniel Berhanemeskel was by the age of fifteen an accomplished icon painter whose work was being both commissioned and sold through shops in his hometown of Aksum, Ethiopia. However, from the age of nineteen, he has been educated in a Western idiom in the art department of a US college. This paper offers a preliminary consideration of this young painter’s artistic journey from traditional painter to academic painter.
II-2 Congo? Carabali?—Images of African Identity in the Diaspora (Part 2)
Co-chairs: Judith Bettelheim (San Francisco State University, USA); Kristine Juncker (Columbia University, USA)
For panel abstract see panel I-3
Kristine Juncker (Columbia University, USA)
This paper will present five short case studies of Afro-Cuban religious practitioners who actively rely on portraits in their Espiritismo altars. An examination of the display, use and interpretation of these portraits demonstrates that many Afro-Cuban religious families actively ‘work’ with portraiture.
Portraits in spirit altars show respect for distinguished religious background and experience, however they can also help the practitioner achieve professional goals, reinvent history, or even manipulate popular gender roles. Notably, both the rise of African diasporic pride and Cuban government’s own values of
religious art have dramatically changed the way portraits, and thereby notions of the ancestor, have been adapted into an Afro-Cuban religious altar.
Diaspora African Festivals - Imitation or Evolution: The Case of Two Orisa Festivals in Trinidad and Tobago
Eintou Pearl Springer (Port of Spain, Trinidad and Tobago)
The paper will explore the repression and retention of traditional African religion in Trinidad and Tobago. It will detail its survival mechanisms and its rise to prominence in the post 1970 period. The reasons for its resurgence both social and political will be examined. The public face of this resurgence has been the development of festivals, amongst which are the Orisha Family Day, a festival combining both secular and spiritual elements, and the Osun Festival based on a spiritual festival held continuously for centuries in Nigeria, the birthplace of the religion. The implications of these festivals, the interplay between tradition and modernity will be explored. Video footage and numerous newspaper clippings will enhance the presentation.
Carnaval à Jacmel: Images from Haiti
Phyllis Galembo (University at Albany, State University of New York, USA)
II-3 Crossing Boundaries: Routes of
Colonialism in African Art
Co-chairs: Andrea Frohne (Dickenson College, USA); and Onyile Bassey Onyile (Georgia Southern University, USA)
This panel seeks to examine the complex connections between art and colonial ideology. How has colonialism influenced, or been imbued, in the arts of many African societies? Issues to consider are the geographic, symbolic, political, aesthetic, religious, iconographic, economic, stylistic, or social routes induced by colonialism in arts of the African world. Additional areas might include Christianity, gender, or "race". Conversely, why has the history of colonialism at times been written out of African art studies?
This panel will include both "traditional" and contemporary artists. Also, what models of visual theory might accommodate the multivalence of Africa’s arts, identities and experiences? We hope to offer innovative strategies for examining the visual culture that has arisen from the political impact of colonialism.
Reflections in the Mirror: Exploring Western/Congolese Relations through the Art of Trigo Piula
Sarah Getzelman (University of Denver, USA)
What once was a mirror is replaced by a television screen. What once held mystical powers is now charged by the electrical cords that run from his body. The audience is enraptured by this object of worship. Through their eyes, the viewer of Trigo Piula’s Ta Tele becomes enraptured as well. Here, the invention of the television rivals the invention of Africa; both Western concepts that have been popularly accepted. Yet, can one get a true understanding of Piula’s intent through such a basic interpretation? Is it possible that modern Congolese art represents more than its colonial influence?
A public interest in traditional African art has eclipsed that of contemporary African creations for many years. It seems as though it is only recently that the work of modern artists in many African cities is recognized. Even with this recognition, however, stipulations and conditions are applied to each work. Western critics interpret African works in comparison to the masterpieces of the Western world. The influence of the West is seen as undisputedly positive, therefore this influence in art must be so as well. A closer look at Trigo Piula’s paintings would tell a different story. By transposing cultural elements from each society, Piula makes a powerful statement on Western and Congolese relations. This statement reminds the viewer that there is more to the Congo- more to Africa- than the limitations set upon it through Western expectations. Through the works by Congolese artist Trigo Piula, one finds both the unification of, and the jarring visual dissonance between, Western and Congolese cultures.
European Missionaries and Zaramo Artists in Tanzania: A Question of Patronage
Fadhili Mshana (Georgia College & State University, USA)
European missionaries’ attitudes and interactions with African cultures have generally been seen in relation to imperialism. Criticism leveled against the missionaries was not only that they did not understand much of African cultures, but they also strove to destroy what they did not grasp. In their involvement with African art traditions, missionaries were also accused of adopting antagonistic approaches. Yet there were some missionaries who recognized the value of African cultures and expended efforts to understand them. Others made significant contributions to the study of African art traditions in the twentieth century.
This paper seeks to explore the contexts and agenda behind the missionaries’ seemingly benevolent postures and actions pertaining to African art, not least as they relate to issues of patronage and the art market in shaping the form, subject-matter, and styles of art. I will focus on the Maneromango school run by German Lutheran missionaries to show the nature of missionary relationship with the Zaramo carvers in style and theme. As well, to ascertain notable influences of the school and developments concerning Zaramo artists. At Maneromango, a large majority of Zaramo carvers from Kisarawe District developed and refined their carving style. Equally important is the far-reaching influence of the school upon Zaramo carvers today. At any rate, notable developments- -both positive and negative- -affected the art created there. I will argue that though the Maneromango school and the missionaries reshaped traditional methods and genres, but it also gave Zaramo art the recognition it deserved, in turn increasing demand.
“How Can African Artists be African After Picasso?”: Seeking Interpellations Beyond the Colonial in South African Art
Julie L. McGee (Bowdoin College, USA)
The Eurocentric epistemological system that is the foundation for art historical discourse has not been disrupted in South Africa and often responds poorly to perceived threats from the outside. Too few black voices participate in constructing South Africa’s art historical narrative and national art collections; those in power rationalize the situation in the name of Western notions of professionalization. What is indigenous knowledge? The battle is over whose knowledge: what constitutes African knowledge, who participates in this debate and who decides. The struggle is also over the colonial roots of art history and its relevance and meaning to the present and future South Africa.
Beyond the Colonial Paradigm: Modern Egyptian Aesthetic Experience as a Discourse of Social Context
Patrick Kane (Binghamton University, State University of New York, USA)
A hermeneutics of colonialism must critique Eurocentrism’s historicizing of modern aesthetics as oppositions of tradition and modernity. Egyptian discourse on the arts however offers a wider horizon for a hermeneutics of experience and an alterity of modernisms that rooted itself in the social context of the everyday. The colonial project historicized Egyptian arts into antiquity, medieval and folkoric crafts, as categories for colonial administration, but negated this aesthetic experience of the colonized. This paper reviews the vibrant alterity of contemporary and modern Egyptian discourse in the wider horizons accorded to pre-colonial and contemporary arts as a narrative of social context.
African Contemporary Art in Western Eyes : Germany’s Case from 1950 to Today
Romuald Tchibozo (Humboldt University of Berlin, Germany)
My paper will be about the reception of contemporary African art in both ex West and East Germany through exhibitions, the role of cultural institutions, and the media.
In the former Federal Republic of Germany, in order to garner an autonomous international relationship, the official cultural institutions made an effort to organise African art and culture exhibitions. Also, there were private underwriters who had worked too, sometimes with official African institutions or directly with artists in order to arrange the exhibitions.
However, in the former Democratic Republic of Germany, the government has worked with difficulty to approach African countries, which at the end of the 1960s, continued the struggle for independence. Because there were no underwriters to cultivate international cultural relationships and exhibitions, the government undertook all initiatives.
Secondly, this study considers what the journalists of both sides have written concerning contemporary African art. The press critics in ex-Federal Republic of Germany were particularly vicious until the end of the 1980s. In the ex-Democratic Republic of Germany, the press presents this art, particularly from Mozambique and Tanzania, to illustrate the end of colonialism and an imperialist mentality. It is very interesting to compare different ideologies by the people of almost the same country who have an unrelated idea on the subject of contemporary African art.
III-1 Africa and the Indian Ocean World: Arts and Identities
Co-chairs: Henry J. Drewal (University of Wisconsin, USA); Allen Roberts (University of California, Los Angeles, USA)
Indian Ocean World histories, cultures and arts are the result of complex,
cross-cultural, and multi-directional currents. Africans have been an important presence in the Indian Ocean World in such diverse roles as traders, merchants, sailors, artists and architects, professional soldiers, court musicians, bureaucrats, regents, saints, rulers, etc. for more than 1000 years. This panel seeks to present aspects of this diverse cultural world under the broad theme of arts and identities. We encourage papers that illuminate the artistic interactions and impacts of various African peoples in specific sites and eras.
Prita Meier (Harvard University, USA)
This paper will examine the politics of architectural style and meaning in nineteenth century Zanzibar. The architectural legacy of the reign of the Busaidi sultan Seyyid Barghash (ruled from 1870-1888) will serve as a spring board to reexamine larger issues regarding the relationship between architecture and the social politics of intercultural negotiations. Issues of both assimilation and resistance as seen through the idiom of architecture will be addressed. The crosscurrents between Zanzibar, the Middle East, Indian subcontinent, African inland and Europe will be emphasized, reframing the “Age of Empire” as a period producing alternative and often conflicting visions of the meaning of Swahili coast space and identity.
“In the Mirror of the Mother”: Arts of the Mouride Diaspora in Mauritius
Mary (Polly) Nooter Roberts (University of California, Los Angeles, USA)
For approximately fifteen years, the teachings of a charismatic Senegalese Sufi spiritual teacher named Sheikh Adoulaye Dieye (d.2001) and his successor, Sheikh Ali N’Daw, have been flourishing on the Indian Ocean island of Mauritius. Mauritius has been a crossroads of cultural and religious transaction and borrowing for centuries. This presentation focuses on how this particular practice of Sufism (originating from the Senegalese movement called the Mouride Way, founded by Sheikh Amadou Bamba, 1853-1927), found its way across the continent to this island with no particular ties to Senegal. It addresses the way in which the movement, to which more than half of Senegal’s ten million Muslims belong, has taken on a specifically feminist character in Mauritius. It will argue that this aspect of the movement emanates from the role of the founding saint’s mother in the hagiography of Sheikh Amadou Bamba.
In Senegal, the Mouride Way is an extremely visual movement. On the surface, it appears that the visual dimension of the movement has not carried over to Mauritius, where many of its followers still consider images to be forbidden, as they were taught in the context of more orthodox Muslim practices. Only photographs of Sheikh Dieye, Sheikh Ali, and Sheikh Amadou Bamba are found in the homes of devotees, but little else in the way of the visual apart from Arab calligraphic verses. Yet, particular events demonstrate that the suppression of the visual is not an absolute for these Mourides, who are mostly women of Indian descent, primarily from Muslim backgrounds but in some cases of Hindu origin. And other art forms, such as song, have flourished in this new spiritual landscape. This presentation examines the processual nature of visual and expressive arts associated with the Mouride diaspora in Mauritius, and the fluidity, flexibility, and courage of its devotees in the face of orthodox Muslim doctrines on Mauritius, as well as their remarkable ability to adapt to changing political circumstances and transnational cultural stimuli.
From Senegal to India via Mauritius: The Arts of an Emerging Spiritual Diaspora
Allen F. Roberts (University of California, Los Angeles, USA)
In January, 2004, two devotional diasporas began to intersect: that of the Mourides, a Senegalese Sufi movement, and that of Baba Gor, a Sufi movement in western India based upon the teachings and continuing blessings of Baba Gor, a medieval settler in Gujarat said to have hailed from Abyssinia or the Sudan. Polly and Al Roberts have studied Mouride visual culture for the last decade, witness their exhibition and book, A Saint in the City: Sufi Arts of Urban Senegal (2003); and other U.S. scholars including Prita Meier and Bill Dewey who will present research results in this same panel, have visited and studied the tomb of Baba Gor. In January, 2004, a Mouride delegation from Réunion and Mauritius, led by Sheikh Aly N’Daw as assisted by a Muslim Mauritian woman, a Hindu Mauritian woman, and a Jewish American woman—all of whom have converted to Mouridism—traveled to India on a complex spiritual journey. Having learned of Baba Gor and his Sidi (Afro-Indian) devotees during a dinner at the Los Angeles home of Polly and Al Roberts in the fall of 2003, Sheikh Aly decided to include a visit to the tomb of Baba Gor to his forthcoming Indian itinerary. The visit would bring together persons devoted to two sub-Saharan African Sufi saints whose lives are separated in time by some five hundred years. The results of this remarkable encounter will be discussed in the present progress report of emerging research.
Africans in India: Worship at the “Tombs” of Baba Ghor
William Dewey (University of Tennessee, USA)
Baba Ghor (or Gor) is remembered as an African (Abyssinian) trader who founded the famed agate and carnelian industry of Gujarat perhaps as long ago as the 14th century. He is also the most important African Islamic saint (pir) honored in scores of Indian cities and among the Indian Islamic diaspora in communities as far-flung as London. His durga (tomb) in Ratanpur, Gujarat and the numerous chillas, or memorial tombs, found elsewhere, are the principal foci of worship of many Sidi (or African descent) Muslims.
Sidis of these communities have gained reputations as musical performers extraordinaire and earn money singing and dancing for private celebrations such as Hindu weddings, at the Ganesh festival of Mumbai and even the Festival of India. This film however focuses on the performances associated with worship and healing performed in contexts of the tomb site at Ratanpur and a memorial tomb in Mumbai. The research is based upon observations, interviews and filming done by a multi-disciplinary group of scholars with the 'Crossing Borders' team who visited these sites in July of 2000. The sites are largely controlled by Sidis (although now being contested by Sunni Bohras) and attract Sidis and others in the area seeking cures for a variety of difficulties, especially unwanted spirit possessions and "black magic and spells."
The expressive and material culture displayed at these devotional sites
represent an intense (and at times blurred) synthesis of African, Hindi and Muslim religious traditions. As a mystic Sufi saint, Baba Ghor's divine blessing (or baraka) is mediated through the active participation of devotees in the daily renewal of the tomb's ornamentation and by music and dance. The celebration of Baba Ghor's spirit and power via percussion and dance performances is one of the key features of this saint's worship. These performances are called Goma" and most likely are derived from the east African dance and drumming traditions of "Ngoma".
The musical repertoire of Sidi musicians' ranges from still vaguely remembered African traditions to popular Indian Islamic traditions. For example, while the drums are referred to by Swahili names and large stringed instruments called "nangs" are considered to be objects directly coming from Africa, such accomplished Sidi performers as the recently deceased Kamar, are trained as Indian (and Pakistani) "qwalli" singers.
The shrine complex of Baba Ghor in Ratanpur is the most important site
of pilgrimage for his devotees world-wide and also includes the tombs of Baba Ghor's sister, Mai Mishra, and brother, Baba Habash as well. The Sidi Sufi cult differs from other Muslim saint cults in that ritual space and activities are divided into male and female domains. For example, the tomb of Mai Mishra is an important site of worship for both men and women in its own right. The space accorded to Mai Mishra also demands a female ritual specialist and well- respected mediums of both Baba Ghor and Mai Mishra are often females.
The religion and expressive culture of this African diasporic community illustrates the active fusion of both present and past, and imagined practices. The exact "African" nature of specific moments and objects is in a constant state of creation and (re)imagining. For example, several Sidi dance troupes have recently been revitalized by taking their inspiration from West African dance troupes that were touring larger cities in India.
Afro-Indian Performance Arts in Karnataka
Henry J. Drewal (University of Wisconsin, USA)
The Indians of African descent (Siddis) in Northern Karnataka are engaged in a movement to assert and define their culture and history at a moment when the Indian government has recognized them as a distinct “scheduled tribe” after many years of legal and social limbo. Part of their effort involves cultural performances -- music, dance, and song – as one way to claim their place and space in contemporary Indian society that is largely ignorant of their presence or long history in South Asia. In addition, some of their religious beliefs and practices may have roots in Africa. This collaborative presentation by two scholars who have worked among the same Siddi communities (Drewal on arts, Obeng on religion) will discuss these cultural elements and assess Siddi strategies for empowerment in India today.
African Indian Political Action Mediated through Religion
Pashington J. Obeng, Wellesley College, USA
The paper focuses on how today's Karnataka African Indians draw on African and Indian religious and cultural resources to rework and assert their identities while simultaneously, subverting the forces that oppress them.
III-2 Confluence or Conflict? Two Trends of Contemporary African Art in an International Context
Chair: Sunanda K. Sanyal (The Art Institute of Boston at Lesley University, USA)
In recent years, works of contemporary African artists –primarily painters-- with little or no art school training have drawn a fair number of Western curators, collectors, and scholars. Identified as “self-taught”, “popular” or “urban”, and occasionally organized in groups and workshops, such artists produce both site-specific and portable images, most frequently figurative social narratives with formal and iconographic strategies significantly different from those employed by academically trained artists. The market’s enthusiasm for this kind of art, however, has raised questions. While many of its gallery advocates have insisted that it demonstrates an “original” pictorial approach, an “African” way of seeing, unlike the allegedly derivative tendencies of the contemporary enterprise grounded in institutional art training; critics of this view identify such preference as an essentialist fascination for a form of neo-primitivism, a neo-colonial urge to legitimize a signifier of the Third World too benign to challenge the West’s latent claim to cultural superiority.
The panel attempts to examine the production, reception and marketing of this genre of art in light of the above debate. What is the role of these artists, vis-à-vis that of art school graduates, in contemporary Africa’s response to the global art scene? How differently do the works of the two groups address notions of tradition and modernity? Has scholarly research on the “self-taught” artists (Fabian, Jewsiewicki, Court) problematized their popular reception as authentic storytellers in the Euro-American art market? Art historians, artists, critics, and curators are invited to explore such questions to generate a productive discussion on the subject.
Bridging Worlds: Knowledge, Patronage and Creativity in Contemporary African Art
Laurel Birch Aguilar (University of St. Andrews, UK)
Contemporary arts/paintings in one city, Lilongwe, reveals the clear separation of artist communities: the elite artists who are educated and trained in art, and a more recent network of artists working in popular genre, but seeking recognition. The two groups co-exist, identifiable by the community in which they work and the arts they produce.
In this exploratory paper, artwork, subjects and themes, space, patronage and markets identify these two very different artist communities. I interpret the work of each community via issues of knowledge and creativity, focusing particularly on the question of perception of 'African culture' by artists, and their notions of how their patrons view Africa and purchase art. Central to this discussion is a set of reactions to a recent small exhibition of this art in Scotland.
Narrating Modernity : Kenyan Artists and the American Embassy Bombing
Sidney L. Kasfir (Emory University, USA)
In Modernity at Large (1996:3), Arjun Appadurai posits media as one of the major diacritics which works to constitute modern subjectivity. One aspect of this subjectivity that concerns me here is the acceptance of a national identity in the popular imagination when most public and local discourse, including that fostered by the nation-state itself, is instead framed in terms of rival ethnicities or loyalty to opposing political factions. Most discussions of media’s role in the production of these identities focus upon print and electronic transmission since these reach the widest audiences, although both Habermas (1989) and Anderson (1983, 1991) have noted the salience of the visual arts as well.
story concerns a visual narrative couched inside a 1998 news story, which is
itself part of a much larger historical narrative beginning with colonialism
and extending up to the present in one East African nation state: just before
midday on Friday the 7th of August 1998, a terrorist bomb exploded
in downtown Nairobi, killing over 200 people and injuring over 4,000. The
explosion ripped apart the American Embassy and totally demolished the Ufundi
building next to it as well as breaking the windows of nearly every downtown skyscraper in a radius of one kilometer. A year later a group of artists organized a retrospective exhibition to memorialize the collective experience. Here I consider the ways artists constructed these memories out of the verbal narratives and news media accounts, and in doing so helped to create a modern national identity.
Jessica Levin (Harvard University, USA)
The paper discusses the artist’s work at the Kenya pavilion at this year’s international art exhibition. The three large-scale oil paintings are landscapes picturing scenes from the artist’s youth in Kenya. In bright color and highly legible, these feature a jeep and bus slogging through mud or careening past cracked roadsides.
Born in Kisii and now working in Malindi on the Kenyan coast, Onyango has been celebrated for his views of rural and domestic spaces. Many of these, such as his “Day of Permission” (1990), include iconic signs of Western influence. The selection of paintings for the biennale, however offer a view of the countryside interrupted by whirling tires and automotive engines. Not selected are his recent works of the Kenyan rural landscape featuring Princess Diana in her pink Chanel suit standing beside a sign protesting land mines. Also ignored are his visions of Osama bin Laden and his Al Qaeda organization. The shifting political landscape extends to his studio in Malindi in proximity to Mombassa, the site of a terrorist car bombing as well as inter-ethnic fighting.
Onyango’s inclusion in the 50th Venice Biennale is of special interest given that the Kenya show marks the first time that an East African country has been represented there. The organizers chose Onyango and Armando Tanzini to represent the nation and its contemporary art production. The politics of selecting works for the international stage will thus be explored. Before becoming an artist in 1990, Onyango worked as a sign-painter, bus driver, woodcarver, carpenter, clothing designer, farmer, and animal trainer. The Italian-born Tanzini, who carves in ancient woods, is also deeply involved in the Kenyan tourism industry. Onyango’s contribution will be explored in light of Tanzini’s work, as well as the group African show at Venice entitled “Fault Lines” curated by Gilane Tawadros. The majority of installations and photographs in “Fault Lines” carry an overtly political message and participate in a markedly urban, cosmopolitan dialogue.
Moroccan Rejections and Recuperations of Naïveté in an International Context: A Reading of Abdeslam Boutaleb’s “La Peinture naïve au Maroc”
Katarzyna Pieprzak (Williams College, USA)
In 1985, the Moroccan mathematician Abdeslam Boutaleb published a glossy coffee-table book of Moroccan art entitled La Peinture naïve au Maroc with the Parisian press Les editions du Jaguar. The book jacket proclaimed that the Professor of Math discovered “naïve art” by complete chance in 1979, and ever since that coup de foudre, he has worked to establish a large collection of canvas painting from Morocco’s unschooled, or autodidactic, painters in the hopes of unveiling the value of their work to a larger world audience.
In this paper, I will examine and critique the rhetoric of rejection and recuperation present in Boutaleb’s book. A commentary on Moroccan art in an international context, Boutaleb provides a rich example of the negotiations of modernity present in the discourse of naïve art as a marginalized or minor art form. In part a reaction to the protests of 1960s Moroccan academic painters who had vehemently rejected the work of unschooled artists in their critique of neo-colonial relationships in art, in part a personal reverie on his homeland and the possibility of an authentically Moroccan vision (“a lost paradise”), the book compiles a substantial collection of artwork interspersed with short biographies of the artists, analytical treatments of the art as well as European literary musings on art and naïveté by the likes of Baudelaire, Paul Eluard, and André Malraux. It is precisely the reactionary politics present in the textual framing and marketing of the artwork that makes the book such a fascinating participant in the ongoing arguments about the contribution of self-taught artists to contemporary art in Africa.
III-3 The More Things Change, the More They Stay the Same? Assessing Change in Postcolonial South African Visual Cultures
Chair: Liese van der Watt (University of Cape Town, South Africa)
This panel explores changes in African visual practices that have been brought about not by physical movement, but rather by ideological movement. As such, the panel is interested in papers that explore the impact that political liberation has had on the art of Africa and its diaspora. Though not necessarily settled on a South African context, papers may well focus on postapartheid South Africa as one instance where a radical change in government has affected the visual arts in both constructive and detrimental ways. While democracy has brought international exposure and mobility for many artists, it has also seemingly erased the need for “resistance” or “struggle” art and photography. In the face of this, what new themes are being articulated? What new struggles waged? How has democracy affected production and access to resources, if at all? These and other questions will stand central to this session.
Unity Then and Now: Constructing a New South African Identity in Architectural Ornament : The Lessons of the 1930s
Federico Freschi (University of the Witwatersrand, South Africa)
This paper aims to show how the façades of, and decorative programmes in, selected South African public and commercial buildings erected or decorated since 1994 may be understood as important indexes of the various ideological, social, and historical concerns underpinning the construction of notions of the ‘new’, democratic South Africa, and its attempts to acknowledge and tolerate cultural difference without representing it as Other. In these terms I suggest that there are certain parallels between much of the rhetoric of nation building in the ‘new’ South Africa – and its representation in the visual arts –and the rhetoric, visual and otherwise, of the ‘fusion’ politics of the 1930s. As such, many otherwise problematic decorative schemes dating from this period (for example the notorious ‘Zulu Room’ in South Africa House in London), rather than being an embarrassing reminder of an odious past, in fact provide an important lesson: constructions of identity are never neutral, and absolutist constructs of power – and their representation in the visual arts – are never permanent.
National Monuments and the Re-Imagining of the Past in Post-Apartheid South Africa
Paula Girshick (Indiana University, USA)
This talk will focus on visual practices of memorialization in post-apartheid South Africa. The South African landscape is dotted with Afrikaner monuments, constant reminders of a brutal past. The new ANC-based government wants to counterbalance this with a new visual landscape, creating monuments which will recognize and celebrate the histories of previously marginalized groups while at the same time promoting reconciliation and nation-building. When representing this new South Africa, artists and architects must now seek different visual practices of memorialization, partially because of the lack of an indigenous large-scale memorial tradition and partially as a result of the widespread resistance to the kind of monumental representative sculpture that characterized the apartheid regime. On the national level, monuments have gone in two directions: either minimalism (as Michael Kimmelman puts it, "what used to be men on horses with thrusting swords has morphed....into plain walls and boxes") or what David Bunn has called "neo-primitivist nostalgia" (a propensity for roundness). In this talk I will focus on neo-primitivist nostalgia in two new national monuments, one in Pretoria and the other in rural KwaZulu Natal. By comparing how these monuments were created, I will show that neo-primitivist nostalgia could emerge in both cases even when radically different aesthetic and ideological impulses were at stake.
The Dak'Art Biennale and the Premier Festival Mondial des Arts Nègres: Pan-African Exhibitions and Geopolitics in the Global Arena
Joanna Grabski (Denison University, USA)
This paper examines the Dak'Art Biennale in relation to the Premier Festival Mondial des Arts NPgres. Sponsored by the Senegalese government, both events constitute an "expression of political will" and an important discursive site for expounding the contributions of African artists in the global area. Several questions underpin my paper. How does Dak'Art from a discursive site for the construction of a Pan-African artistic platform? How does this particular Biennale interface with the global art world and its institutions? How do artists stake out geopolitical questions in their visual propositions and how is this relevant to the contemporary political climate?
Shifting Notions of Truth and Reality in South African Post-Apartheid Photography
Svea Josephy (University of Cape Town, South Africa)
South African photography in the 20th century was dominated by the social documentary genre. In this paper I aim to foreground a fundamental shift, which occurred between apartheid and post-apartheid photographic practice in South Africa. In the 1990s South African photography moved away from a mode of representation that was primarily about recording ‘reality’ (as typified by documentary) towards one which interrogated ‘reality’ and perceived the pursuit of reality to be illusory (as typified by contemporary visual art). I will argue that South African photography has drifted from a ‘truthful’ paradigm (documentary photography), towards a more fluid and creative form.
Performing Identities in Contemporary South Africa
Liese van der Watt (University of Cape Town, South Africa)
If, indeed, “Identity’s politics is naming” as art historian Jane Blocker has put it - pointing to the exclusions that accompany all inclusions and to the differences that are often violently expelled in the process of forging sameness - then identity’s politics are also, of course, apartheid’s politics. The paper will assess the continued need for identity politics in postapartheid South Africa, with specific reference to its articulation in visual culture. Looking at the strategies used by a number of young South African artists, the paper will explore how notions of identity are being redefined, reclaimed or dismissed in order to ‘think’ difference differently and to tolerate diversity.
III-4 Yoruba Popular Arts Worldwide!
Co-Chairs: David T. Doris (University of Michigan, USA); Elisha P. Renne (University of Michigan, USA)
In paintings, beadwork, textiles, dress and videos, and more recently in elaborately decorated marriage letters, Yoruba popular cultures have come to be potent signifiers not only of Yoruba identities, but of the globalizing reach of an African culture. This panel will examine Yoruba popular cultures, focusing on the visual arts in Nigeria and their reverberations throughout the African Diaspora. It also will address their responsive, incorporative relation to cultural materials from outside the psycho-geographical space of Yorubaland. Such selective incorporation, wedded to a distinctive cultural tenacity, it is argued, is one of the enduring hallmarks of Yoruba artistic endeavor.
Donald Cosentino (University of California, Los Angeles, USA)
A comparison of the uses of Yorubaland in Caribbean art and mythology to parallel appropriations of Egypt in the art and mythology of classical Rome (eg. Murals in The House of Mysteries in Pompeii) and the neo-Classical and Romantic Europe of Mozart (The Magic Flute) and Verdi (Aida). In all these cases, priests and artists constructed a utopia divorced from, and in many ways hostile to, historic realities. Specific Caribbean evidence for these parallel transformations will be noted in the “Libro de Pinturas” of Jose Antonio Aponte, the patakis of Lucumi mythology,, contemporary Cuban cinema (Gloria Rolanda, “Guantanamera”) and wall art in Havana and Piñar del Rio.
AfroDisney: Fortuitous Convergences and the Redemption of Textile Casualties in Southern Nigeria.
David Doris (University of Michigan, USA)
A discussion of the Nigerian journey of discarded textiles that feature factory (mis-) printed images of cartoon characters and other icons of the U.S. culture industry. Imported into southern Nigeria and sold especially as bed-sheets and pillowcases, the cloths are transformed—first from rejects into wholesale commodities in the southeastern city of Aba, and then as they are visually interpreted by Yoruba retailers and consumers. Not only are the cloths valued as cheap and durable, but the layered, broken, figurated patterns that decorate them are framed as local, “traditional” Yoruba textile forms, with a difference: “they are not from Nigeria.” Questions arise.
Elisha P. Renne (University of Michigan, USA)
The creation of elaborately decorated Yoruba engagement letters represents a practice which has developed within the last fifteen to twenty years in southwestern Nigeria. While typewritten engagement letters have been exchanged since the early 20th century, recent versions include computer-generated texts with fancy textile coverings. By utilizing letters that incorporate both texts and textiles, their bearers maintain the ideal that Yoruba marriage represents a contract between two families, while simultaneously highlighting the distinction of the bride and groom, as educated, fashionable individuals. Decorated Yoruba engagement letters illustrate the practice of selective combination of things foreign (e.g., machine generated texts) with locally produced textiles as vehicles for asserting both a “traditional” unity and “modern” distinctively Yoruba identity.
Transatlantic Yoruba: Let’s Take a Ride on the Âshe/Acè/Achè/Axé Bus
Dana Rush (University of Illinois, USA)
This paper will trace the trajectory of the fundamental Yoruba concept of àshe (life-force, divine authority, the power to make things happen) to Fon acè, to Afro-Cuban aché, and, finally, to Afro-Brazilian axé. Although the essential meaning of àshe does not change significantly in neighboring and transatlantic venues, the way it is expressed in diasporic popular culture differs, indeed. From Fon colloquialisms, to marketing strategies to sell CDs, to ever-present exposure on mass transit, among other examples, àshe/acè/achè/axé remains an active ‘life force,’ reifying the never-ending globalizing capacity of such an inherently potent concept.
Ife’s Life Size Copper Portrait Heads: Popular versus Royal
Suzanne Preston Blier (Harvard University, USA)
IV-1 Documenting Change, Returning to the Field (Part 1)
Chair: Christine Mullen Kreamer, (National Museum of African Art, Smithsonian Institution, USA)
This panel explores the process of change observed when conducting art historical research in Africa. The premise is that return trips to the field provide the opportunity to conduct research that compares earlier data with recent findings and to consider the motivations, impact and personalities connected with changes that occur over time. What are the research questions and methodologies guiding return research and the documentation of change? What significance may be attributed to changes over time in aesthetic concepts and in the forms, techniques and meanings of specific art forms or categories of art? How have the arts been impacted by access to new materials or sources of inspiration? Who are the key individuals involved in the making, using or marketing of arts over time? Are there areas of artistic production that evince relatively little change over time? Papers exploring these and other issues relating to change over time in African visual arts are most welcome.
The More Things Change, the More They Remain the Same… Or Do They? Research in Nigeria 1973 and 2003
Jean M. Borgatti (Clark University, USA)
In September 2002, I returned to Nigeria as a Fulbright scholar after a 23-year period during which I had been away, though in psychological touch with my experience, frozen though it was in the 1970s, through regular teaching and work on the massive amount of field data collected during that period. My intent was to teach in Nigeria and to continue a research project on social change and aesthetic preference among the Okpella of Edo North.
The Okpella are one of many small but distinct groups of people who live north of Benin City in Etsako (East) Local Government Area in southern Nigeria. They speak an Edo-related language like the people of Benin, having migrated from Benin in the early 18th century. Their visual culture, as we know it from the 20th century, includes three masquerade traditions -- a social masquerade introduced circa 1930 from east of the Niger river, an eclectic group of masquerades of diverse origin woven into an annual festival of all souls that took its present form some time after the turn of the century, and an independent and allegedly ancient masquerade of woven raffia. Aesthetic preference patterns derived from survey research are widely shared and deeply rooted, demonstrating little significant variation across age, gender, and education.
During a sustained period of 15 months, I have added new qualitative data to contrast with research carried out from 1971-1974 on the history of Okpella masquerades and the definition of aesthetic concepts. At the same time, I have carried out additional quantitative research to contrast with a survey on aesthetic preference carried out in 1979. Changes in Okpella’s ancestral festival complex since 1979 have been documented through observation as well as discussion with community leaders and an inventory of the masquerades held by local families for comparison with information collected earlier. Additional quantitative data on preference was collected through a panel study linked to the survey research undertaken in 1979. For the panel study, approximately 25% of the 400 individuals interviewed in 1979 have been re-interviewed, and some 20 respondents aged 18 and under have been added to the sample to provide a current youthful perspective.
The proposed paper is a preliminary discussion of my findings as well as my impressions about a return to the field, particularly the differences between the research possibilities then and now, a combination of factors linked to economic conditions, Nigeria’s recent history, generational changes and social interests of the community as well as my own focused on one Okpella community in particular, Ogiriga, where Okpella’s masquerade festival honoring the ancestors and purifying the community took its present form in the early 1900s. Ogiriga is the home of Lawrence Ajanaku (a master carver who has become better known for his cloth appliqué work) and James John (the carver to whom most of the masks made during the 80s and 90s have been attributed). Ogiriga is also the one community from which data has been analyzed and published as a discrete set (Borgatti: "Ogiriga-Okpella masks: In Search of the parameters of beautiful and grotesque." Visual Communications, 8:3, Summer 82, 28-40 and "Anogiri or Olimi: Preference Patterns for Mask Types in Ogiriga-Okpella, Nigeria." Bashiru [Madison] 11 :34-46. 1980.) Thus, it lends itself to a pilot analysis that can be accomplished by the Triennial date.
Changing Mores in Asante Funeral Displays: "Modernity" as a Resource for Both Competitive Display and Sumptuary Restraint
Suzanne Gott (Kansas City Art Institute, USA)
This paper addresses changes taking place in contemporary Asante funerals, arguably the most important social events in present-day Asante. During the presentation, I will explore how the rhetoric of "modernity" is employed by those seeking to restrain Asante funerary practices as well as by those seeking new ways to enhance the prestige and competitive impact of an Asante funeral.
The expenditure and heightened display associated with Asante funeral rites have long been sources of contestation and controversy. Until the late nineteenth century, the opulent display of a prestigious Asante funeral was a privilege reserved for royals and the nobility. However in the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries, there was an erosion of royal power as a result of internal instability and colonial rule that made it possible for Asante's emergent entrepreneurial elite to engage in costly, status-seeking funeral displays.
Since that time, there has been an ongoing sense of contestation between members of the nobility and the moneyed elite that has been played out via the long-established Asante practice of poatwa, or competitive display. Today, all the regalia and presentation items required for staging a funeral of royal proportions may now be rented from shops specializing in the "hiring" of funerary prestige items and the supplying of dancing attendants and kete drumming troupes traditionally associated with the Asantehene's court.
In recent years, royals' opposition to opulent funerary displays by non-royals has been expressed in terms of "modernity", particularly the enlightened restraint associated with Christianity and formal education. In the past decade, certain chiefs' support for increased restrictions on funeral expenditures and displays by non-royals has been regarded as evidence of the more progressive, "modern" stance of these traditional rulers.
Yet at the same time, the accoutrements and rhetoric of "modernity" have been enlisted as a means of enhancing the expense and prestige of Asante funerals. In the 1990s, more prestigious funerals starting providing guests with food in the form of restaurant take-away meals in Styrofoam containers, complete with plastic forks and spoons. Customary presentations of alcoholic drinks now often feature over-sized bottles of champagne, novelty-shaped whiskey bottles, and golden cocktail sets complete with an ice-bucket. Wooden crates of bottled soft drinks have now been replaced with beribboned basins of canned Coke and Fanta.
The drumming and singing groups customarily associated with Asante funerals are now augmented by local bands playing current hit music. During funeral presentations, a band member may use their sound system to echo the announcer's words, literally and symbolically amplifying the impact of funeral speeches. The professional funeral announcer, who uses Twi oratory to enhance the value of a funerary presentation, may punctuate her performance with such metonyms of modernity as a phrase in English, or the proud assertion that this particular funeral is "one-touch," an allusion to Ghana's most exclusive and expensive cell-phone service.
Polly Richards (School of Oriental and African Studies, London, UK)
My research explores the formal developments of the masks and masquerades of the Dogon people, Mali, as a direct response to social and other changes in the latter half of the 20th century. The existing literature, covering the period from 1938 to 1996, has failed to provide any detailed account of a masking complex that has, in reality, adapted to several external factors: the annual exodus (and return) of young men to cities seeking work, the influx of tourism and imported goods, increasing desertification, and most importantly the penetration of Christianity and Islam and the political changes contingent upon the colonial and post-colonial government. In particular, Griaule's major work, Masques Dogons (1938b) no longer provides an accurate account of the current state of the masquerade tradition.
Whatever the changes, masquerade practices continue to thrive. Newly invented masks are performed for an entirely local audience, in contrast to the self-consciously "traditional" performances for tourists; and on closer examination, even more subtle developments are taking place regarding the formal evolution of the masks themselves. The purpose of my research has been to document such innovatory forms and processes in specific detail and to investigate how such changes have been perceived locally, focusing attention on the discourses of mask makers, performers and audiences. These include an examination of the contrast between performance for local purposes and for tourists and visiting dignitaries. The ontological status of masks and their relationships to other aspects of Dogon ritual practice has been clarified. Moreover, several hitherto undocumented masks have been detailed, in addition to the facts and processes of change and innovation in what has so far been presented as a "timeless" and essentially "traditional" African society.
IV-2 Symbolism Within Historical Performance and Communication of Caribbean Africans
Chair: Gene Emanuel (University of the Virgin Islands, U.S. Virgin Islands)
This panel focuses on public events and performances that involve verbal and non-verbal communication including drummed and musical messages. As vehicles of communal expression, these activities involve diverse symbols, which reveal the extent of the underlying “Africaness” or “Caribbeaness” of participants at a given point in history. Rather than relinquish their African roots, the newly enslaved Akan warriors and princes that masterminded the St. John African Slave Revolution of 1733-1734, utilized customary indigenous communication systems, including signal drums, to martial their forces for the successful overthrow of the Danish plantocracy. Calypso is popular throughout the Caribbean and has gained international recognition as a highly developed oral literary form which uses satire and double-entendre to dispense social commentary, document history, lampoon authority, and disseminate opinions on topical issues. Although Calypso songs have been studied and critiqued in literary research, the opinions and experiences of the Calypsonians themselves are usually overlooked. However, the insights of ten Calypsonians relative to their art have been documented by academician and practitioner Mighty Chalkdust. When Charles Lindberg flew his Spirit of St. Louis to St. Thomas in 1929, the U.S. Virgin Islands were thrust briefly into the national spotlight. His arrival was an occasion for pomp and pageantry—St. Thomas style—and photographs document the events that took place. The official greeting, the gift bestowal, the procession following the community band, the inter-generational excitement and the seating hierarchies all serve to reveal the nature of St. Thomas society of that era. The critical role of oral traditions in the Caribbean was highlighted in a staged production by Dance Alloy in Pittsburgh through collaboration between Calypsonian, Black Stalin, and choreographer Mark Taylor. Titled, “Roots / Crossroutes: Stories from the Caribbean,” it found its genesis in the complex issue of immigration between the islands. The show provides a dramatic rendition of immigration narratives as portrayed in dance, song, and story-telling. The lyrics of the music and the motivation of the choreography were drawn from oral histories gathered in St. Thomas, USVI. Weddings and funerals are major lifecycle rituals in the Virgin Islands and are important public events which have certain features in common. Both involve largess, church ceremonies, processions, oratory, music, and family sponsored receptions. But the ways these features play-out within the respective events and the contrasting way various motifs and symbols are utilized, to reveal the underlying purposes and sentiments.
From the Horse’s Mouth: Calypsonians' Insights on the Development of Calypso
Hollis "Mighty Chalkdust" Liverpool (University of the Virgin Islands, U.S. Virgin Islands)
Charles Lindberg's First Visit to an African Community in 1929
Edgar O. Lake (USVI Department of Education, U.S. Virgin Islands)
Festival Arts in the Workplace
Roosevelt Finlayson (Bahama Arts Institute)
Virgin Islands Funerals and Weddings: A Comparison of Motifs and Symbols
Agnes Nicholas (University of the Virgin Islands, U.S. Virgin Islands)
The Bonfire Wars: Akan Drums and Ritual in the St. John African Slave Revolution (1733–1734)
Gene Emanuel (University of the Virgin Islands, U.S. Virgin Islands)
IV-3 The Traditional/Contemporary Conundrum (Part 1)
Chair: Barbara E. Frank (Stony Brook University, USA)
This panel hopes to offer new insights on an old problem … what is the
relationship between contemporary art and the so-called traditional arts of Africa. I am just as interested in papers that take a critical view of how contemporary artists use, abuse, or appropriate traditional forms as in ones that explore how traditional arts are rescued, transformed, and enriched by contemporary art practices.
Barbara E. Frank (Stony Brook University, USA)
This paper explores the crossing of gender domains by contemporary African artists in the transformation of traditional artistic forms into individual, nationalist, and continental domains, such as the appropriation of uli by Nsukka artists, of Bamana mudcloth by a variety of contemporary artists, and Berber women's tatoo as markers of nationalist Moroccan heritage. This paper questions the transformation of these arts from the domain of elder women into ones of predominantly young male artists. Should we be celebrating the preservation of these traditional aesthetic forms as embodied in new contexts, or bemoaning the loss of women's voices in their absorption into the global arena.
Outside the Box: Rethinking Categories of African Art through Context and Practice
Kinsey Katchka (The Detroit Institute of Arts, USA)
Scholars, collectors, museums and audiences have tended to pigeonhole African art objects into various categories, namely traditional and contemporary. Here, I revisit this tendency, posit historical and ideological reasons for it, and attempt to talk about African visual culture in a less reified manner. To do so, I discuss how the increasing literature on popular art figures into the system, incorporating elements of traditional and contemporary and further calling into question those categories. Based on fieldwork in Dakar, Senegal and subsequent curatorial work, I discuss reasons for questioning conventional categorization, and examples of how these longstanding conceptual categories prove untenable in contemporary practice.
The Creative Reformation of Existing African Traditions: The Iconography of the Abayomi Barber Art School
Odiboh Freeborn (University of Benin, Nigeria)
The paper examines the iconography of the Abayomi Barber Art School, and attempts to define them within Yoruba traditional/cultural artistic idioms. There is a brief discussion of the School to situate it within modern Nigerian /African art. Apart from that, Yoruba art as well as some of the cultural aspects are highlighted to explain their reformations in the contemporary art of the Abayomi School. Apparently, the style of the school for establishing the African identity is unique in the artistic panorama of contemporary Nigeria. Pertinently, the views of the artists as well as selected works of the school are examined to emphasize the reformative artistic attitude.
“Allah and the Wall of Confrontation”: Mythopoesis in Modern and Contemporary African Art
Sylvester Ogbechie (University of California, Santa Barbara, USA)
What is the role of indigenous aesthetics (the use of formal structures, symbols and imagery derived from "traditional" African arts) on the constitution of artistic identity in modern and contemporary African art? The constitution of artistic identity in modern and contemporary African art, and, to some extent, the writing of art history itself can be defined as a form of mythopoesis, an active process of mythmaking through visual and verbal narratives. Modern African artists, implicated in the discourse of modernism utilize a wealth of indigenous mythology (encapsulated in religious and aesthetic traditions of different African cultures) as a framework for their contemporary practice. For these African artists, traditional forms of African aesthetic practices operate within a structure of indigenous validation opposed to the totalitarian ideal of uniform Eurocentric modernity imposed on African cultures as a result of colonization. Thus “traditional" African aesthetics provide modern African artists with a basis for interrogating the normative assumptions of the colonial and postcolonial orders especially through their adoption of indigenous arts and symbols as a framework for contemporary artistic practice. My paper evaluates this process of appropriation by questioning the implications of recourse to indigenous aesthetics in the practice of several significant modern and contemporary African artists.
IV-4 ROUNDTABLE: Through the Lens and Onto the Screen: Professors and Curators Describe Their Film Making Processes
Chair: Susan Vogel (Prince Street Pictures, New York, USA)
Many African art historians and anthropologists have found themselves
making films – some drawn to record the movement of ritual or dance in
the field, others compelled by the needs of an exhibition or institution. This Round Table is addressed to them and their working methods. It is not primarily concerned with films made by documentarians who work in Ghana today and in Chile next month.
Professors and curators will discuss their singular experiences and
describe their personal process from beginning to end for making a successful film in Africa. Participants will show a 2 minute sample of their film, and describe briefly 1) the research, planning, budgeting, and funding; 2) crew, equipment and methods of location filming; 3) editing, sound mix, and titling; 4) distribution. They will conclude with a brief and candid assessment of their own satisfaction with the results. The discussion will be practical, but not technical, will focus on what has been learned from good and bad experiences, and will reveal a surprising variety of hybrid processes, styles, and possible results.
African art historians and anthropologists who have already completed and distributed films and will discuss a variety of specific experiences:
Projections from the Archives onto the Museum Wall: Rediscovering Chi Wara Performance Footage
Alisa LaGamma (Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, USA)
Control, Concessions, and Compromises: Mediating Messages with the BBC
Enid Schildkrout (American Museum of Natural History, New York, USA)
Reflections on Fieldwork with a Film Crew: In and Out of Africa
Christopher B. Steiner (Connecticut College, USA)
Practicing Film and Cultural Ventriloquism in Mali
Susan Vogel (Prince Street Pictures, New York, USA)
V-1 Documenting Change, Returning to the Field (Part 2)
Chair: Christine Mullen Kreamer, (National Museum of African Art, Smithsonian Institution, USA)
For panel abstract see panel IV-1
Revisiting the Oye-Ekiti Workshop: Africanizing Christian Art and Neo-Traditionalizing Yoruba Art
Nicholas J. Bridger (Archbishop Mitty High School, San Jose, CA, USA)
In 1946 Irish Catholic missionaries planned a radical experiment in colonial Nigeria: organizing an arts workshop in rural Yorubaland to promote traditional Yoruba artistic practices of woodcarving, textile weaving and beadwork in the creation of Christian-Yoruba hybrid art form while still serving existing art patrons. Much of what's known about this Oye-Ekiti Workshop (1947-1954) during its brief life was based on the writings of Fr. Kevin Carroll, S.M.A., one of the workshop's founders and managers, especially his 1967 book, Yoruba Religious Carving. In revisiting this workshop for my Master's thesis (2002), I was able to access the workshop's written records in the newly-opened archive of Carroll's missionary order in Ireland to balance and deepen the account of its conceptual origins in the 1930's, varied business activities and the backlash which caused its closing, from the perspective of its European patrons.
Fifty years ago, the workshop and its artists created the double strands of Yoruba neo-traditional woodcarving and its sibling, a Yoruba-Christian hybrid art, both of which have continued to the present. This summer I went to Nigeria (Ibadan, Ife, Oyo, etc.) to locate some of the workshop's elusive pieces and interview some of the contemporary artists and patrons in these areas. My paper tracks these intertwined traditions from their origins and documents some of the changes since Carroll's book. Further, the growing significance of the Oye-Ekiti experiment must today be seen not simply in secular art historical terms, but in global political and religious contexts as well. Based on recent research in missionary archives and in Ibadan and Ife, Nigeria, this paper revisits the workshop and tracks its two entwined art traditions up to the present and places the Oye-Ekiti experiment, not simply in art historical terms, but in global religious and political context, as well.
Four Decades in Urhobo: From the “Golden Years” to Chaos, and Now, a Cultural Revival
Perkins Foss (Museum for African Art, New York, USA)
Between1966 to 2002, I visited Urhobo country—some 90 miles south of Benin City, on the fringe of the western Niger River delta—for a total of about 48 months. My longer stays were 22 and 15 months. Since 1997, I have been back at least once a year, sometimes twice.
For the outsider-scholar, the 60s and 70s were rewarding years, even though many Urhobo shrines and their associated cults were in decline. I visited about 50 communities, and about 10 at some length. While cult members were often extremely reluctant to share their shrines and associated rituals with outsiders, I documented dozens of performances and rituals associated with Urhobo art, and was able to visit and photograph shrine sculpture in many locales.
By the 1990s, Urhobo culture had drastically atrophied, largely for two reasons: the huge growth of the petroleum business, and the destructive, brutal “kleptocracy” of Sonny Abacha. To borrow a phrase, things really did fall apart.
Fieldwork has been different in recent years. Urban areas of Sapele, Ughelli and especially Warri have grown exponentially, with hoards desperately searching for some small share of the oil wealth. Travel is expensive, difficult and dangerous; people often suspect outsiders, Nigerian or otherwise. A persistent problem is the disenfranchised youth, who have no education and no jobs. They have little interest in their own culture. My most fruitful avenues of enquiry have been with academics and artists who are residing elsewhere in Nigeria and around the world.
There are some areas of aesthetic creativity that seem to be thriving, especially those involving forms of spiritual expression that link elements of missionary-based Christianity, activities of the adherents of edjo (spirit-forces) and orhan (medicinal shrines). The most popular group is Igbe, a group that was founded in the 1930s but did not experience substantial growth until the 1970s. While seen as controversial by both the edjo-followers and the Christians, they are growing fast; their music, dance and drama draw on old and new forms and offer potential areas for rich research.
There are also positive signs of cultural revival elsewhere in Urhoboland. Using the one word-processor in their village, local historians are writing up accounts of the past. The Urhobo Historical Society, a thriving organization that was started in the US and Canada by Urhobo academics, has ironically spread both to the UK and Europe. Next year they plan to have their annual meeting in Urhoboland itself. The burgeoning Niger Delta Culture Centre in Agbarha-Otor has hosted for five years the Harmattan Workshops where visual artists, dancers and singers of all types gather for ten days of production, interaction and relaxation, while they develop and disseminate new art for Urhobo and beyond.
Two Views of Sidi Ballo: 1978 and 1998
Patrick McNaughton (Indiana University, Bloomington, USA)
Sidi Ballo was a first-rate bird masquerader for nearly 40 years. He began performing in the Ton youth association and went on to establish a successful itinerant career. I first saw him perform in 1978, and have never been so impressed by art, before or since. I saw him perform again in 1998, along with his brother Solo. There were big changes in both Sidi’s masquerade and his performance. At 58, he was responding to his own aging process, in a very intelligent and practical way that effectively deployed his sense of aesthetics and capitalized on his strengths as a performer. His ideas about the value of performing had remained consistent. And, importantly, his audiences still valued him intensely, as they had over many years.
I want to discuss the changes Sidi made, describing what he gave up, why, and what he replaced it with. I will also discuss what Sidi considers important in bird masquerading, and in his performances particularly. Finally, I will describe the interest that audiences have maintained in bird masquerading, within and beyond Bamako. My interest throughout the paper will be in expressing the importance of individuals, both in the production of art and in process of change. People are not interchangeable. What Sidi brought to the tradition of bird masquerading is uniquely his own, and if we want to understand the kind of thoughts and feelings for artworks that local people have, we should begin by looking at the individuals involved.
V-2 From East to West and Back Again: Dance of Africa and the Diaspora in the Twenty-first Century
Chair: Reginald Yates (Dance Aid Africa, Ghana)
Although common to all societies, dance has been Africa’s superlative art form and is characterized by a rhythmic complexity that is unparalleled elsewhere. Through the process of slavery, African dance sensibilities have been dispersed throughout the Diaspora by African descendents. But wherever they landed their music and dance took on the flavor of the local community, and the differences in rhythmic orientation can be demonstrated. The degree to which African dance purposes have been retained in the New World varies from location to location. In Trinidad and Tobago, various transplanted African groups created Nation Dances as a means of preserving their African roots. The Nation Dances were performed as an integral component of the Saraka feast, a West African ritual of thanksgiving involving dance and accompanying drums rhythms and chants. The European quadrille was adopted by mulattos and freed slaves in the French Caribbean islands in the late eighteenth-century as an expression of high society, but nevertheless they made it their own by accenting the rhythmic and dynamic dance movements, and utilizing brightly-colored madras costumes. African dance is intrinsically health giving, and dance movement therapy is increasingly being adopted by therapists and health-professionals as a para-medical intervention to treat mentally and physically challenged clients as well as those who are simply experiencing occupational stress. Despite the superior qualities of African dance, many traditional dances are declining due to the impact of modernization and changing values. The need to conserve Africa’s dance legacy is paramount and notation techniques have been developed that make this possible and in so doing render dance on an African model accessible to new generations in the twenty-first century.
Kariamu Welsh Asante (Temple University, USA)
Dominique Cyrille (Center for Black Music Research, Columbia College, USA)
Cross-Cultural Dance Movement Therapy as a Healing Para-Medical Intervention in the Caribbean from the Route of Africa to Trinidad and Tobago's Carnival
Terrence Wendell Brathwaite (Birmingham Centre for Arts Therapy, UK)
Hazel Franco (University of the West Indies, Trinidad and Tobago)
Creating New Roots for African Music/Dance through Notation
Doris Green (Pan African Arts Performing Arts Preservation Association, Uniondale, NY, USA)
V-3 Iconographies of Poverty in Contemporary South African Art
Co-chairs: Sandra Klopper (University of Stellenbosch, South Africa); Kim Miller (Transylvania University, USA)
In recent years, scholars have marveled at the inventive capacities of African artists who, due to their impoverished circumstances, are forced to rely on the use of recycled materials for artistic expression as well as for economic survival. More often than not, these studies tend to exclude examples from South Africa, presumably because it enjoys comparatively high levels of consumption and a widespread reliance on cheap, locally manufactured goods.
Unlike these conventional studies on recycled art in Africa, this panel explores the element of poverty in South African art in relation to both its production and its consumption. Thus while certain art forms and practices are determined by the poverty of their makers, especially in rural areas, other forms use poverty as a subject in order to appeal to extended markets. In some cases, artists concurrently experience and express the condition of poverty. This panel offers a series of case studies on the iconographies of poverty in South African Art from a variety of practical and theoretical perspectives.
Plastic Beads and Recycled Trinkets: Poverty and the Question of Aesthetic Choice in the Production of Ritual Garments in Contemporary South Africa
Sandra Klopper (University of Stellenbosch, South Africa)
The primary aim of this paper is to consider the relationship between aesthetic choice and economic necessity in the use of plastic beads and recycled trinkets by the producers (and consumers) of various garments worn by ritual specialists and young initiates in contemporary rural South Africa. Taking into account the different ways in which researchers have relied on the notion of bricolage to explain the aesthetic concerns of both African communities and working class and other youth groups in Britain and elsewhere, I explore the complex implications of the growing tendency among South Africa’s rural communities of making garments in which cheap materials are combined in seemingly new and increasingly unexpected ways.
Colour in the Representation of South African Townships by Zwelethu Mthethwa and Chris Ledochowski and the Question of “Shack Chic”
Michael Godby (University of Cape Town, South Africa)
During apartheid, documentary photographers tended to represent South Africa’s townships as sites of repression or struggle. The urgency of the situation dictated that the aesthetic should be both instantaneous and dramatic. For these reasons, most photographers used high speed, high contrast black and white film.
The introduction of democracy in 1994 has allowed photographers such as Zwelethu Mthethwa and Chris Ledochowski to refuse the objectifying tendencies of political photography and celebrate the individual humanity of their subjects, primarily through the medium of brilliant colour. This paper explores these projects in light of the recent publication of ‘Shack Chic’ that extols township culture.
Rereading and Contextualizing the Vocabularies of Poverty and Despair in Contemporary Art from KwaZulu-Natal
Juliette Leeb-du Toit (University of KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa)
Contexts of poverty that reflect the daily lives of many urbanized Zulu, have been subject to picturesque translations expected by white audiences. More recently, however, poverty has appeared in a more uncensored reflection by artists exposing the realities of hardship and destitution in both rural and urban spheres. This paper will examine ways in which destitution and neediness reflect on a series of deficiencies that are not only material, but that rather reflect and function as indictments of personal, communal, state and political agencies. Artists reflect on social abjection, communal deprivation, emotional neediness, cultural uncertainty and the absence and lack of moral values and needs. Centered in an examination of the work of Trevor Makhoba and some of his peers, this paper will examine such content in relation to issues central to literature, music and social transformation in the region.
Images of Poverty in the Art of Thami Mnyele
Diana Wylie (Boston University, USA)
This paper will examine how a graphic artist who became a cadre in Umkhonto we Sizwe addressed the issue of poverty in his work. Thami Mnyele studied at Rorke's Drift (1973), worked as a layout artist for SACHED (1970-8), and participated in various art ensembles, notably a Black Consciousness troupe called Mihloti (1972-7) and one named Medu which he joined while in exile in Botswana (1979-1985). In these efforts Mnyele reflected various aspects of the problem of poverty: 1.in his technique: untrained in color, he used mainly conte and turpentine and sometimes shoe polish and blood, and he drew from photographs; 2. in his subject matter: his work displays not only material poverty but also poverty of spirit, that is, the states of emotional extremity to which late apartheid South Africa had given rise; 3. in his iconography: he used images of barbed wire, bones and crumbling landscapes, and women were frequently the bearers of his messages about suffering and salvation. A study of the changes in his work from 1969, when he began to draw, until his death in 1985 will reveal him shifting from an examination of the emotional consequences of poverty to a didactic approach, showing continued poverty as the likely consequence of disunity. The paper will examine this transformation by placing Mnyele's work in historical context.
The Importance of Economic Empowerment: Reflections on Income Generation, Visual Representation, and Gender Dynamics at a Women’s Artmaking Cooperative in Crossroads, South Africa
Kim Miller (Transylvania University, USA)
This paper will examine the feminization of poverty as both cause and subject matter in women’s printed textiles produced by artists at the Philani Workshop in Crossroads, Cape Town. The Philani Workshop was initially formed in 1997 as part of an ambitious, nation wide anti-poverty initiative, with the long term goal of battling child malnutrition and poverty by training unemployed mothers to be artists. The artists subsequently found empowerment through the creation of powerful autobiographical narratives, as well as through the income that they earned. This paper will consider the ways in which Philani artists consistently celebrate their own attempts to overcome their impoverished circumstances, despite the harsh realities of their meager earnings, and the crippling poverty in which they continue to live. In addition, I will aim to frame Philani artists as political actors who strive to make visible the conditions of their lives by focusing their artistic efforts on the exploitation and survival of Black South African women despite apartheid policies that discriminated against them, and a current environment which in many ways continues to be hostile towards the emancipation of women.
V-4 The Traditional/Contemporary Conundrum (Part 2)
Chair: Barbara Frank (Stony Brook University, USA)
For panel abstract see panel VI-3
New Applications of Old Traditions: The "Visual Poetry" of Rachid Koraïchi
Lara Baker Sedlaczek (University of Kentucky, USA)
This presentation examines Algerian artist Rachid Koraïchi’s use of traditional Arabic calligraphy in his contemporary artworks. He learned this art of writing as a child in a Sufi family, but his use of its forms today is anything but traditional. Individual works and collaborative efforts with poets like Mahmoud Darwish and Mohammed Dib reveal his unique employment of words and symbols. Through a combination of the traditional and the contemporary, his art bridges the gaps between people, countries, cultures, and religions. The result is a new visual language that transcends geographical and cultural borders to communicate in a universal manner.
Kristina Van Dyke (Harvard University, USA)
My paper critically examines the recent historiography of African photography, arguing that Western scholars have taken a media-centric and ocularcentric approach to the work of Malick Sidibe, Seydou Keita and others, overlooking an important framework used to interpret photography; oral history and performance traditions. The resulting scholarship presents photography as a medium that required the importation not only of materials, but intellectual constructs as well, setting up a false binary between “traditional” and “contemporary” or “African” and “Western” art forms. I explore how photographers and users talk about and exploit photography in language that parallels praise singing and show how photography has been used by its audience as a way of contesting or expanding the social functions of praise singing in contemporary Malian culture.
Aimée Bessire (Maine College of Art, USA)
Artists as varied as Samuel Fosso, Zwelethu Mthethwa, William Pope.L, and Ike Ude are challenging their viewers to reconsider the space of the male body. Through their work, these artists reclaim, reconfigure, and highlight the position of the black male as they confront stereotypes. The work of these artists is as diverse as the multiple definitions of maleness that they challenge; yet, whether they seek to highlight racial or cultural identity, gender issues, or the subtle play of power relations, the artists all challenge the categorization of the black male. This paper investigates redefinitions of the male body through performance art and photography.
Where There Is No Barbie: Muslim Girls and Clay Dolls in Niger
Alice Burmeister (Winthrop University, USA)
This paper will explore the way in which Muslim girls play with handmade clay dolls in Niger, West Africa. The dolls themselves, made in fired clay by adult women, are played with by young girls in manner similar to the way American girls play with Barbie dolls. They dress the clay figures in handmade clothing and create elaborate homes for them, setting the stage for a broad range of social and cultural activities. While many similarities exist between Nigerien girls’ play and that of their Western counterparts, important differences exist as well. This is primarily due to the strongly Muslim context of contemporary Nigerien society. For example, many girls in Niger have begun to dress their dolls in a particular type of body-length veil that has recently become fashionable among young fundamentalist female Muslims. In collaboration with one another, the girls also engage their dolls in mock versions of the complex social and financial negotiations required for Muslim arranged marriages and baptisms. In addition, they fill their dolls’ domestic spaces with miniature collections of bottle caps, stones and other small objects intended to replicate the extensive displays of house wares associated with Muslim female identity in Niger today.
On the surface, such activities attest to the strong current of Muslim influence in contemporary life in many parts of West Africa, and reveal the ways in which young girls are socialized to become good Muslims and good mothers. At the same time, when one looks deeper there are particular practices which point to a certain subversive tendency in the dolls’ behaviors. For example, at variance with the practice of polygamy found throughout most of Niger, many girls do not permit their dolls to have co-wives. Furthermore, although dolls representing children are plentiful, the male spouse doll seems to be absent in many cases. It is the adult mother doll that plays the dominant role, making all of the decisions and actively serving as household head. Such practices suggest that girls are using the dolls to act out scenarios that subvert traditional Muslim hierarchies.
Using current scholarship on doll play in both Western and non-Western worlds, as well as the Hausa notion of iyawa, defined as the capacity for action, I will argue that girls engage these dolls in play as a means for navigating the complicated realm of social and religious tradition found in Niger today. The beauty of this type of fluid play is that it allows girls to construct identities that pay homage to some of the outer, more visible practices of Islam, while at the same time providing a safe space for subversion of certain Islamic practices as symbolic manifestations of inner empowerment that may one day materialize in adult life. As vehicles for the construction of a complex identity, clay dolls in Niger help transport young girls to new realms of religious and social mobility, preparing them for an ever-evolving West African Muslim world.
VI-1 Atlantic Rim Performance Arts
Chair: Robert Nicholls (University of the Virgin Islands, U.S. Virgin Islands)
Those European, West African, American and Caribbean countries that were involved in the triangular trade of the middle-passage have had an ineradicable influence on each others art and expressive culture. This is particularly evident in the creolized aesthetic that emerged in the Caribbean and Diaspora from Amerindian, European and West African influences. Communities of African descendents in Puerto Rico such as the Piñones sector maintain an African sensitivity to the earth, trees, and the natural landscape. “Resistance as an art” emerges from the fragmented archival and oral narratives, which document epic defenses of the land against threatening invaders that span almost five centuries. Both African and Caribbean themes appear in the paintings of Canute Caliste, an artist from the island of Carriacou who is gaining international attention. Bull-horned masquerades appeared historically in the Upper Guinea region of West Africa, the West Country region of England, and in many West Indian islands.
African Themes in the Paintings of Canute Caliste (Carriacouan Artist)
Don Hill (State University of New York, USA)
Roots, Routes, and Legitimacy: Ecological Resistance - Narratives of Place Piñones, Puerto Rico
Wanda Mills-Bocachica (University of the Virgin Islands, U.S. Virgin Islands)
Robert Nicholls (University of the Virgin Islands, U.S. Virgin Islands)
John Collins (University of Ghana, Ghana)
Juma Santos (University of Ghana, Ghana)
VI-2 National Politics and Rural Arts in Contemporary Africa
Co-chairs: Ute Röschenthaler (University of Frankfurt, Germany); Eli Bentor, (Appalachian State University, USA)
In the last decades, many African countries have experienced profound political changes from structural adjustment programs, a transition to multiparty democracy or an end of a military regime, to a descent into the chaos of a civil war. The shift toward studying modern art in Africa marked a move from the traditional rural setting to urban contexts of art making. In urban settings, it seems natural to study the political aspects of art. Yet, we still often think of rural arts as part of a ‘traditional’ world unaffected by national and international events. Recent political processes across the continent have profound impacts on cultural production even in the most remote rural areas. This panel will look at the grass root artistic reactions to national and global transformation. We invite paper proposals examining festivals, dances, shrines and other forms of
‘traditional arts’ in their current transformations.
Driving Out Evil Spirits: The 2001 Yakurr Riots and their Impact on the Celebration of Saa
Gitti Salami (University of Iowa, USA)
Saa, a Lokaa term that signifies the act of emphatically rejecting something undesirable, is the name given to the concluding ceremony of the annual ritual cycle of Yakurr culture of southeastern Nigeria. During Saa, priest-chiefs of the township of Ugep, assisted by a substantial portion of the younger population, clear their town of evil spirits in accordance with indigenous religious beliefs. On 30 November 2001, Yakurr people’s much beloved King, the Obol Lopon of Ugep Ubi Ujong Inah, mustered up a bright smile during Saa performances and, despite his advanced age, vigorously stabbed his sword into the thin air when suddenly a menacing group of young men clad in black, their identity masked by stocking caps, materialized, encircled the monarch, and threatened his life with machetes. Rumor throughout the following weeks alleged the gang had acted on behalf of the chairman of the local government, Godwin Ettah, who had been suspended from his post by the governor of Cross River State, Donald Duke, four months earlier as a result of hearings conducted in Calabar, during which the Obol Lopon had testified and requested the elected official’s temporary removal from office. The investigations in the capital of the state aimed to shed light on the causes of a popular uprising against the Yakurr local government, a violent incident which had taken place on 2 July 2001 and drawn national attention.
The disruption of the ritual protocol during Saa and consequent adjustments made to the ritual protocol of the ceremony provide the focal point for the discussion. They are explained as a consequence of increased politicization of the stool of the Obol Lopon of Ugep due to conferment of paramount rulership on the incumbent of the office on 26 November 1999, and are further related to a history of earlier alterations to the office which were made during pre-colonial and colonial times. The paper illuminates the intertwined nature that exists between Yakurr indigenous traditions, of which the priest-chiefs and their King are the primary custodians and icons, and the contemporaneous political context, arguing that national politics, filtered through local political events, do not merely impact Yakurr indigenous culture, but rather are a constitutive part of its dynamic nature.
The author utilizes visual analysis of ritual paraphernalia and performances and archival records to substantiate the argument.
“The Gendarme Is What People Want”: New Figures of Power in a Cameroonian Pottery Tradition
Silvia Forni (Università degli Studi di Torino, Italy)
Grassfields art has always been intrinsically political in nature. Prestige items took the form of wooden figures, stools, brass objects, pipes, dishes and pots. Restricted access to materials and symbols marked the social stratification which characterized the Grassfields kingdoms and celebrated the often supernatural power of the king and his notables. While colonialism and the successive formation of the Republic of Cameroon have strongly affected the nature of the powers of Grassfields kings, the survival of many artistic traditions shows that emblems of power are still sought after both at rural and urban levels. Along with the traditional forms new items and styles, that combine traditional symbols with a brighter, “shinier” look, have been created by rural artists to satisfy the tastes of modern elites.
In this paper I explore the changes and transformations that have occurred in the pottery production of the village of Nsei, a well known pottery center since precolonial times. In particular, I wish to address the production of painted figures which has developed in the last decades. Born with clear intent of social and political commentary in the late 1970s, this production has progressively evolved into rather stereotypical forms, mass-produced for rural and urban markets. In their conventionality, many items of this production feature traditional emblems of power such as lions and leopards and new icons of prestige and control, such as military officers and gendarmes. These figures are among the most common and best selling items of the Nsei production, and are sold throughout southern Cameroon and in neighboring countries. Through the creation of these brightly colored clay figures, the potters of Nsei model in their own terms ideas of power and modernity, and interpret the new needs and ideals of contemporary Cameroonian society.
Creating Local Culture: Performance, Boundaries, and Politics in the Cross River Region
Ute Röschenthaler (University of Frankfurt, Germany)
Boundaries have proven to be powerful means for legitimising access to resources, for the justification of inclusion or exclusion, and of representing sovereignty among others. Maps of the Cross River region of Cameroon and Nigeria reflect this effect by displaying a conspicuous blank on either side of the boundary. This blank appears to reproduce itself in the cultural consciousness of the people despite marriages, trade, cultural exchange and identity shifting that regularly take place in the Cross River region.
Three examples from field research carried out between 1998 and 2001 in the Cross River area will serve to explicate the inventive strategies of people to arrange with these developments for various ends. The examples will elaborate on the appropriation of acquired performances as "traditional", on how international and intra-state boundaries determine the participation in a cultural association (inclusion or exclusion), and how boundaries are retrospectively used to justify the dissemination of associations (in Cameroon).
The first example will draw on observations made during election processes of dance groups for the National Festival of Arts and Culture of Cameroon. For the competition on the Divisional level, the various village councils of Manyu Division are asked to send the best of their traditional dance groups to the capital. It is noteworthy to have a closer look at Cross River notions of "traditional dances" which on the one hand may include everything that is not "white man style". On the other it also may embrace a recently acquired performance from a Nigerian or other locality to represent a “typically” Manyu “traditional dance".
With the second example I will show that the foundation of the pan-Obasinjom association in 2000 created a new type of society that was supposed to unite all the individual Obasinjom societies in the various villages. Its declared aim was to strengthen the powers of Obasinjom and help to keep alive the secret and medical knowledge of this cult agency which detected witchcraft, theft and other unlawful acts in the village. Membership in the association, however, did not include all the Obasinjom that existed in the region, but only those in the Manyu Division. It excluded a few more Obasinjom in the adjacent Divisions and particularly those just across the border in Nigeria. This is the more noteworthy since the Obasinjom appears to have been invented in a village right near the border from which is was disseminated to villages in Nigeria and Cameroon.
The third example will follow up some arguments raised about the dissemination of the Ekpe society to justify the extension of its frontier. There are plans to also found a pan-Ekpe society to strengthen its sphere of influence in order to eventually increase the political standing of the Manyu Division. In addition to other identity markers such as language, ethnicity, socio-political organization or environmental features, the various boundaries take a strong part in deciding where to draw the lines and create cultural identities.
VI-3 Relevant Modernities
Co-Chairs: Erin Haney and Malika Kraamer (School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London, UK)
Africanists' description of local modernities needs further conceptual expansion. Scholars have characterized modernity as an invention of the west, heavy on the hegemony; others have considered African modernities as inherently resistant to the west. The transfer of artistic practices is considerably more complex: "traditions" themselves bear witness to their eclectic sources, coming from both nearby and faraway. The importance of the import is relevant only in that artistic practices and influences shift, evolve, and disappear such as artists, audiences and patrons see fit. It's not surprising that engagement within the context of local cultures is as much a part of the story as anything else.
Esto perpetua (May It Live Forever)—Short Life and Long Art in Earliest Gold Coast Photography
Erin Haney (School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London, UK)
This paper will examine the milieu that fostered the Gold Coast’s earliest photographers and comprised their oeuvre in the last half of the 19th century. This imagery registers a wealth of influences, as it was formulated by local patronage and framed via travelling photographers sourcing a range of Atlantic visual influences. Unlike many parts of west Africa, coastal Ghana’s history of photographic traditions materialized before the consolidation of colonial power. The evolution of localized photographic genres, as well as people’s heightened awareness of the routes by which images were liable to travel, bear witness to the embedded nature of local representation.
“Make Me a Modern Textile”: Recent Developments in Ewe Textiles
Malika Kraamer (School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London, UK)
This paper addresses the transfer of artistic practices and local perceptions of their importance in so-called Ewe textile traditions. The adaptation of foreign elements lies at its core, the acknowledgement of these imports is, however, only sometimes considered relevant. With the case of Nigerian weave, these shifting artists and audiences´ creation of new textiles have comprised a specific modernity at the turn of this century. Yet the processes of ´localisation´ was already in place, seen in the way cloths acquired new names. It is these very processes that have already been observed in older innovations of Ewe textile traditions.
Modernity Then Is Not the Same as Modernity Now; and Modernity There Is Not the Same as Modernity Here . . .
John Picton (School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London, UK)
Modernity then is not the same as modernity now; and
modernity there is not the same as modernity here... The question of how we divide up our subject into
manageable pieces continues to concern us. We recognise that ethnic categories
are contingent, anything but "timeless', but part of the story we tell;
but what about that other taken-for-granted categorization, the
"traditional" versus the "contemporary"? Tradition (from the
Latin 'tradere' to hand over) defines one set of possibilities of change; and
most traditions bear some trace of eclectic engagement between the local and
the further away. In that case, 'modern' cannot be about some single set of
conditions and practices mediated via "the West", but simply about
the conditions of just now.
Qes Adamu Tesfaw and the
Limits of “Modernity”: A Consideration of the Life and Work of a
Contemporary Ethiopian Artist
Raymond A. Silverman (University of Michigan, USA)
Qes Adamu Tesfaw was trained as a painter while studying to become a priest in the Ethiopian Orthodox Church. For the last forty years he has lived in the capital of Ethiopia. His paintings are unique and could easily be classified as a hybrid of the traditional and the modern — an expression of “modernity” as it has been characterized in so many recent studies of urban-based African artists. This paper, informed by biography, an examination of paintings, and conversations with the Qes Adamu, argues that they are not, and suggests that “modernity,” as a theoretical construct, may be generating skewed perceptions of individual artists and the local cultures in which they live.
Tracing Modernities: Chant Avedissian’s Narratives of Egyptian Public Space
Elizabeth Harney (University of Toronto, Canada)
This paper will examine the links between nationalism, modernity, and popular imagery in the public sphere in contemporary Egypt, looking at the artistic oeuvre of multi-media artist, Chant Avedissian. Avedissian’s large scale, colorful and playful stenciled paintings, his textile designs and his photography are inspired by the vibrant visual lexicon of pop culture emerging in Egypt in the 1950s and 1960s and the strong connections between the rise of Arab nationalism and ideas of modernity.
A growing number of scholar’s now address the subject of “alternative” or parallel modernities. It is now clear that any study of these cultural matrices must take into account the complex manner in which they engaged with existing traditions and modes of modernity, European or imported ideas, images and objects, and shifting local and global socio-economic and political conditions. An artist of Armenian descent who often positioned himself as a critical “outsider” to the Egyptian visual arts community, Avedissian has been, nonetheless, a keen observer of the unique “culture of the new” that accompanied Gamel Abdel Nasser’s rise to power in an independent, modern Egypt. His interest in pop culture from the utopian era of the 1950s and 1960s--its associations with both American consumerism, Bollywood iconicity, and the exchange of technologies and goods due to cold war politics—introduces the viewer in the visual economy of an era. Moreover, Avedissian’s close relationship with famous populist architect, Hassan Fathy, has resulted in a careful and sensitive investigation of the lessons one can learn when bringing indigenous knowledge and traditions to bear on the modern.
VI-4 Young Scholars Forum: Contemporary Art from Africa and the Diaspora
Chair: Danielle Marie Snoddy (University of Iowa, USA)
This panel is a platform for graduate students to present
work based on their fieldwork experiences with living
artists. Papers should focus on contemporary artistic production in Africa and
the diaspora. The idea of contemporary arts is not limited to urban,
studio practices but includes all artistic production of the contemporary era. Papers that
deal with issues of gender, (post) colonialism, identity, memory, change,
appropriation, and bodies are especially welcome. Graduate students should be enrolled at
a university at the time of the presentation.
Growing Pains: The Legacy of History, Identity, and Displacement in
Monique Fowler-Paul (London, UK)
For artists of African, Afro-Caribbean, and Afro-Asian descent in Britain, identity and diaspora are inescapable issues. In the recent past, theories used to describe and interpret their work have centered on a certain triad of interrelated concepts, namely history, identity, and displacement. At the dawn of the twenty-first century, these artists have experienced much more varied ways of defining and understanding their personal and professional trajectories. While themes of history, identity, and displacement continue to recur in their creative practice, they do not feel restricted to these in order to express their experiences and circumstances in the world.
Capeverdeaness: Embracing a Diverse Cultural Identity through Artistic Expressions
Elisha Fernandes Simpson (Cambridge, MA, USA)
Cape Verdean culture derives from a unique mix of multifarious ethnic influences. The product of miscegenation among Africans, Asians, and Europeans; Cape Verdean culture is an illustrative example of mestizaje. One method for measuring the degree of mestizaje in a particular culture is to study its traditional and contemporary art forms. This paper examines the art forms of various Cape Verdeans, defines the distinct characteristic of Capeverdeaness, and presents examples of Cape Verde’s diverse cultural origins.
Aesthetic Experience and Expression: Cultural Memory and Gender Imbalance in Neo-Colonial Chaos
Emma Ross (Yale University, USA)
A comparison of three generations of scholarship on Dan art and culture reveals a fluid and rapidly changing understanding of women’s roles in initiation societies and masquerades. Not surprisingly one observes a shift away from intricately woven gender balances towards an increase in competition and open animosity between the sexes. This paper will seek to put this evolution in historical context, focusing the analysis on how current cultural memory reflects the scholarly understandings of the thirties while ritual practice exposes extensive antagonism and division between the men and women’s secret societies and leadership. The recent political turmoil and resultant economic crisis in the Cote d’Ivoire has only escalated these tensions, further exacerbating infringements on Dan women’s cultural agency and power.
Identity Politics, Multicultural Normalization, and “New Ethnicities”: The Recent Works of Zineb Sedira
Danielle Marie Snoddy (University of Iowa, USA)
Identity politics have been a major shaper of British art trends from the early nineties up until the present day, especially if an artist claims a diasporic ancestry. Often there is an assumption on the part of the public, cultural critics, or art historians that these artists’ works must engage with notions of “difference.” These artists are often invited to participate in group shows that draw upon the commercialization of multiculturalism, effectively ghettoizing some artists through identity politics. Drawing upon Stuart Hall’s notion of “New Ethnicities” and Kobena Mercer’s theorization of a market-based multicultural normalization, this paper examines London-based artist Zineb Sedira’s recent work as attempt to resist categorization by the art world and maintain her artistic integrity by creating her own ‘new ethnicity’ that reflects her lived experience of the world. In Sedira’s early work, she addressed issues of identity by including apparent Islamic referents, such as hijab or Islamic tile patterns. Since 2001, however, her work has continued to address identity politics though in a different manner. Rather than claim one identity—British-Algerian—she has begun to explore her French Catholic upbringing and her parents’ memories of the Algerian War. Her subject matter has become intensely personal and she has taken up digital media in order to explore the intersecting constellations of her identities. Instead of highlighting difference by using Islamic referents, Sedira’s work now offers up her own personal experiences as a woman living in diaspora in which the viewer is invited to share.
VII-1 African Architecture: Cultural Translation and Artistic Invention
Chair: Randall Bird (Harvard University, USA)
The appropriation and incorporation of Western architectural ideas, forms and techniques in non-Western contexts involves an ongoing and continually changing process of cultural translation and artistic invention. A critical assessment of how African peoples make newly introduced architecture “their own” requires a close examination of the historical and political contexts in which their architecture acquires meaning. It is hoped that this comprehensive approach will provide insight into larger questions concerning the ways in which architecture, as it is refashioned, becomes a powerful agent with the ability to refashion its patrons, users and onlookers. This panel will open up and give special force to questions concerning the experience of modernity beyond Europe and North America, the role of cosmopolitanism in non-Western contexts and the interface between colonialism and the arts, as these important issues continue to be debated across academic disciplines in the humanities and social sciences. Papers that complicate and enrich our understanding of these issues in historical and contemporary African contexts are most welcome.
House and Household on Gorée Island, 1785–1837
Mark Hinchman (University of Nebraska, Lincoln, USA)
Lying off the west African coast, Gorée was a vibrant trading center in the early modern period with a diverse population. Looking at houses and furnishings, this project argues that objects also constitute representational and ideological structures, and are part of the identity-making process. The process of architectural translation – using local materials, relying upon African craftsmen – is one mechanism whereby styles change. Regarding the finished product, this is also a project of reception that involves patrons, users, visitors, and onlookers. For those underserved by archives and history, we do not have immediate access to their thoughts. But the material world does suggest that Goréens were part of a world community.
The Palace at Soanierana in the Central Highlands of Madagascar, 1820–1830
Randall Bird (Harvard University, USA)
In the early 1820’s, King Radama I of Madagascar requested Louis Le Gros, a French carpenter who had been living in Mauritius, to build a palace-retreat located on a small hill called Soanierana. The palace-retreat is among the earliest cases of European architectural techniques, forms and ideas being incorporated into royal Merina architecture. Modifications in the appearance of Merina architecture have generally been attributed to a unilateral process of European innovations with little reference to questions centered on the dynamics of cultural exchange and what architecture can reveal about the nature of such encounters. As Western architecture and technology were introduced and incorporated into Merina palaces, Merina building traditions were not brought to extinction but, instead, they survived with new or altered meanings.
The Spread of the Sooro: Symbols of Rulership in the Sokoto Empire
Mark D. DeLancey (James Madison University, USA)
This paper traces the use of the sooro, a pillared entry-hall, in the palaces of the Fulbe rulers of northern Cameroon. Sooros serve as the entrance to every Fulbe palace now existing in northern Cameroon. The history of this structure makes clear, however, that it did not feature in any of these palaces until the early twentieth century after the German subjugation of the region in 1900-1901. The sooro is a primary signifier of rulership, and became a feature of these palaces as a result of their political separation from the Sokoto Empire by the German conquest.
Think Cities, Otherwise
Dominique Malaquais (Sarah Lawrence College, USA)
At the dawn of the 21st century, definitions of what constitutes an Africa city are in crisis. This is so first and foremost because such definitions have historically been based on European and American models, many developed in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. This paper seeks to propose alternative approaches. Part of a much wider project on conceptions of the city worldwide, it argues for the need to put African cities center stage, looking to them as possible models for a re-thinking of European and North American urban environments. The paper’s primary focus is Douala, the economic capital of Cameroon. Douala, here, is not considered as cities often are – as an entity bound in space, characterized by a citizenry, communal norms and a communal “imaginary” (Mumford on cities generally, Sérpahin on Douala specifically). Instead, it is approached from the standpoint of movement, of links between it and other cities (notably Johannesburg and New York), of the impact these links have on conceptions, dreams and articulations of the city. Central to the ideas proposed is the argument that, alongside the term “city,” others, deemed essential to an understanding of urban spaces, are in need of re-definition as well. First and foremost among these are the terms “architecture” and “infrastructure.”
VII-2 Double Trouble? Representations of Twins and Doubles in African and African American Arts
Chair: Philip M. Peek (Drew University, USA)
Twin births are marked as serious matters, for better or worse, throughout Africa. Often these twin individuals are represented by carvings, but there are other images of doubling as well, such as spirit doubles and animal familiars. As the Senufo assert: "Twins have perfect knowledge of each other." That perfect communion is sought by diviners, by healers, by any individual seeking rapport with spiritual entities in the other world. These endeavors are aided and activated by visual and verbal arts. We hope to investigate these artistic
expressions of twins and doubling in African And African American
cultures in order to reveal the deeper philosophical and epistemological
meanings they embody.
Philip M. Peek (Drew University, USA)
Twin births are marked as serious matters, for better or worse, throughout Africa. Often these twin individuals are represented by carvings, but there are other images of doubling as well such as spirit doubles and animal familiars. While it is not clear whether multiple births brought about thinking about doubles or the phenomena of multiple spiritual entitites was linked to the existence of twins, there are striking artistic representations of both issues. As the Senufo assert: “Twins have perfect knowledge of each other.” That perfect communion is sought by diviners in their oracular communications, by healers as they cure their clients, by any individual seeking rapport with spiritual entitites in the other worlds. These endeavors are aided and activated by visual and verbal arts. As of now, a majority of the evidence on this topic comes from West Africa, especially for the Yoruba, Senufo, Dogon, and Bamana peoples, but it may well be that similar artistic representations addressing common communication concerns are present among Central African peoples and among African Americans.
Pascal James Imperato (SUNY Downstate Medical Center, USA)
The traditional Bamana and Maninka believe that twins are a replica of Faro, an androgynous supernatural being who himself gave birth to the first pair of twins. Faro was born of God’s vaporous breath, from a bubble of his saliva while God was pronouncing the words of creation. Faro is the visible countenance of God, a countenance that is white. Faro is present wherever there is water. He is on the crest of a swollen stream after a heavy rain, within the swirling waters of the river, and in the vapor that arises above ponds early in the morning. He is the water God in the world of Bamanaya (the Bamana way of life). Faro provides equilibrium to creation, and is viewed by Moslem Bamana and Maninka as a water genie.
As implied offspring of Faro, twins are regarded as extraordinary beings endowed with special powers. Known as flani (two little ones), they are the object of a cult known as sinzin (support). Whenever a twin dies, which is often in the low resource world of the Bamana and Maninka, a statue or a stick is sculpted, known as a flanitokélé (twin that remains or other twin). This communication describes Bamana and Maninka beliefs and practices concerning twins and the role of flanitokélé in traditional Bamana and Maninka life.
I May Not Be Myself: Doubled Brass Amulet Imagery in Southwestern Burkina Faso
Susan Cooksey (Harn Museum, University of Florida, USA)
Double images of humans, animals, inanimate objects and abstract forms in cast brass abound in the southwest region of Burkina Faso and beyond. In the area around Toussiana, brasscasters produce a plethora of double-imaged amulets prescribed by diviners to cure various ailments of their clients. Diviners say that each type corresponds to a particular spirit being. Some are associated with an element the spirit inhabits—pond or forest. Still other doubled images are emblematic of twins, powerful but volatile beings. Doubling the image enhances its power twofold, diviners say, and speeds access to the spirit.
Other interpretations, based on local beliefs about the nature of spirit beings, can also be elaborated. For example, each individual has a spirit double, that may appear randomly. At these times, notions of identity are challenged, and the tension between the realities constructed through different processes of perception, intuition, and rationality are heightened. At the same time, the senses become the means for negotiating between these realities. Doubled images in brass may have a similar function of signaling and directing through a distinct visual channel, this heightened aesthetic awareness as a means of solving a spiritually induced problem. The amulet thus becomes emblematic of the spirit’s message that cannot be understood without further confrontation and contemplation of particular elements and attributes of various creatures and beings. Western concepts of this other, an alter ego, persona, animus/anima or others perhaps parallel this spirit double, yet another image of self. Both client and diviner have a role in positioning this self externally, objectifying it via different strategies.
The question of why some amulets are worn whereas others are secreted in chambers or sacred ground, also has bearing on ideas about how physical proximity affects client aesthetic response and action. Why does wearing an amulet constitute a sacrifice and further understanding of a particular illness or problem? Who is(are) the viewer (s) or participant(s) in this sacrifice? To what extent is this aesthetic action a social one?
One could also ask why some double images are stacked, others are adjacent and still others are so highly abstracted. This paper will explore various configurations of the amulets and offer some insight into their significance.
In this paper I will examine a number of full-sized and miniature amulets, some rarely documented in the literature. I will also offer local interpretations from diviners and brasscasters with my own and other scholars’ observations of their current and previous use and meanings in the context of local divination systems. Furthermore, I will discuss historical events in the 20th century that have affected the production of amulets, and the use and interpretation of amulets among local peoples.
Babatunde Lawal (Virginia Commonwealth University, USA)
Since the Yoruba of Southwestern Nigeria and the Republic of Benin have one of the highest twin births in the world, it is not surprising that the idea of "twoness" looms large in their cosmology and art. The popular Yoruba word "ejire," meaning "the friendly two," underscores the oneness in the twoness of twin birth. So far, much of the scholarship on the phenomenon has focused on "Ere Ibeji," the Yoruba twin statuettes, virtually ignoring its manifestations in other areas. This paper explores the deeper philosophical and epistemological meanings of
twoness in Yoruba culture, emphasizing its materialization in the visual
and performing arts. In addition, it highlights what the Yoruba regard
as its positive and negative aspects.
2=3: The Art and Ritual of Twins and the Trickster in Haitian Vodou
Marilyn Houlberg (Art Institute of Chicago, USA)
Twin and trickster beliefs have transformed as they came together in the cultural gumbo in what is known as Vodou in Haiti. Among the Yoruba of Nigeria and the Fon of The Republic of Benin not only are twins singled out for special veneration but also the child born after the twins, Idowu, who is referred to as a trickster. This concept carries over into Haitian Vodu where the twins (marassa) are said to be followed by dossu (m) and dossa (f) again considered to be a troublesome and very powerful child. Out of this complex set of ideas comes a range of visual imagery that relates to twinness and the tricksters in Vodou arts. They may celebrate together but various traits remain separate. Their ritual utensils, altars, songs, foods, dances, drumming patterns, and ritual flags can reflect which nation of twins they belong to (Kongo, Igbo, Fon, and so on). This paper concludes with examples of the latest developments in Vodou arts that involves a discussion of globalization, cyber-space and the effects of tourism, or the lack of it, in Haiti today.
VII-3 Expanding Diaspora: New Directions in the Study of African Art in International Contexts
Co-chairs: John Peffer (Northwestern University, USA); Laurie Ann Farrell (Museum for African Art, New York, USA)
This panel is a platform for new ideas on what constitutes the African
legacy of diaspora. We invite papers which present novel approaches to the
study of African art as something that is internationally distributed, from the postcolonial world and from other historical periods. For example, how do current discussions of global identities in contemporary art impact definitions of older forms of continental African art? How can new scholarship on “global” art avoid homogenizing individual artistic practices? And how can “traditional” African art objects themselves, as collected and reproduced items, be seen to operate as a sort of diaspora of images?
Africa's Diaspora of Images
John M. Peffer (Northwestern
This paper explores African art as something 'distributed', or
'sown through' other cultures, and as such I propose it may be expected
to stand-in, in meaningful ways, for speaking human subjects.
"Traditional" African art objects, given their later status as collected
and mechanically reproduced items outside of Africa (and inside as
well), may be seen to operate as a sort of diaspora of images analogous
to, and parallel with, a human diaspora. How can such a perspective
inform a novel inquiry into the altered 'fetish power' of the African
art commodity, now living outside of 'original' sacred or familial
contexts? How can the processes of decontextualizaton, devoicing, and nostalgia which can be seen operating in the realm of diaspora, also be
applied to art objects across time and space? In order to examine this
problem of images and mechanical reproduction and diaspora, my paper
will consider both the placement of African ritual sculpture in museums
and coffee-table books, and the current vogue for African portrait
The Upa Women Artists'
Collective: Artistic Identity between Two Discourses
Sarah Adams (University of Iowa, USA)
In this paper I encourage us to look at work produced in Africa,
but marketed for a global audience, as diasporic works. I look at how
the rhetoric that frames the work, and transformations in the work
itself, anticipate a global audience. The paper also directly addresses
the question of how current discussions of global identities in
contemporary art impact definitions of older forms of continental
African art through a specific case study: the analysis of the
historiography of discourse on artistic identity in the field. Through
the analysis of an uli art based cooperative founded in 1991 in Nsugbe,
Nigeria, this paper weaves theoretical insights gained through globally
oriented-studies of artistic identity in contemporary African studio art
back into earlier works on artistic identity in the field.
Allan De Souza (Los Angeles,
What Does a Diasporic
Body Look Like?
Steven Nelson (University of California, Los Angeles, USA)
In looking at the work of contemporary African American artists,
writers have rightly explored the ways in which notions of Diaspora have
informed their visual choices, serving as a template embodying notions
of "home" and reconciliation between an "African" past and present realities.
Moreover, such African American-centered visions of diaspora and its
articulation, despite the important work of Stuart Hall and others, are increasingly coming into vogue in investigations of non African American artists.
This paper examines the ways in which diaspora has gained currency in
discussions of contemporary art practice, addressing its continued
misinterpretation as applied to artists who are not African American. This paper insists for a more nuanced understanding of diaspora and its complex nature as
a means of comprehending (or even questioning) its value as a paradigm for
thinking though contemporary African art.
VII-4 ROUNDTABLE: Collecting African Art in the 21st Century: Current Practices, New Perspectives, and Challenges
Chair: Christraud M. Geary (Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, USA)
In recent years, collecting African art, be it in institutional or private settings, has changed fundamentally. Works, such as figurative sculptures and masks predominantly from West and Central Africa, were the mainstay of collecting African art throughout much of the 20th century. Now they have become increasingly rare and prohibitively expensive. Fakes abound, cashing in on this lucrative market. The stricter implementation of antiquities legislation in African countries and in the U.S., and the importance of provenance have also changed the face of collecting. Thus, institutional and private collectors turned to other types of objects, among them metal work, currency, pottery, and textiles. This changing emphasis echoes and follows, of course, shifts in scholarly interest away from examining the classic canon of African art, as constituted by art historians and collectors in the first half of the 20th century. Among the more recent entries in the ever-broadening field of what constitutes collectibles are works from formerly underrepresented regions, such as objects from Eastern and Southern Africa, works by contemporary African artists who participate in the global art scene, by African photographers, and local artists in urban African settings. Participants in this round table are encouraged to explore collecting from different perspectives, addressing such issues as their own or institutional collecting strategies and assessing current trends and challenges.
Participants in this roundtable will explore collecting from different perspectives, addressing such issues as their own or institutional collecting strategies and assessing current trends and challenges. After their short presentations, the audience is invited to participate in the discussions.
Herbert Cole (University of California, Santa Barbara, USA)
Andrea Nicolls (National Museum of African Art, USA)
Constantine Petridis (Cleveland Museum of Art, USA)
Barbara Plankensteiner (Museum für Völkerkunde, Vienna, Austria)
Dorit Shafir (The Israel Museum, Jerusalem, Israel)
William E. Teel (Marblehead, MA, USA)
Roslyn A. Walker (Dallas Museum of Art, USA)
Louis T. Wells (Harvard Business School, USA)
VIII-1 Africa in Florida: The Aesthetics of the Sunshine State
Chair: Amanda Carlson (University of Hartford, USA)
With over 500 years of diasporic history flowing from Africa and the Caribbean, Florida is the ideal destination for observing how a state (as a cultural, political, and geographical entity) both shapes and is shaped by the multiple African diasporas that move through it. They include Maroons, Seminoles, Haitians, Afro-Cubans, African-Americans, Yoruba-Americans (associated with Oyotunji village in South Carolina), and recent immigrants from numerous countries in contemporary Africa. This panel will explore interdisciplinary approaches to understanding Africa in Florida in order to develop a more dynamic understanding of diaspora, which is becoming increasingly more urgent in the 21st century. Papers will provide a new look at Florida and freshly squeezed research.
Crowning the Orisha: A Lucumi Art in South Florida
Joseph M. Murphy (Georgetown University, USA)
Metal crowns made in Greater Miami, the center of an ongoing revival in orisha-related arts and religion are the result of nearly two hundred years of intercultural contact in Africa and Cuba and, more recently, the United States. They are creoles, born of the interaction of Yoruba, Spanish, Cuban, and American aesthetic values and religious meanings. The Lucumi metal crowns, with their finials, arches, circlets, chains and tools, both blend and juxtapose multiple cultural antecedents. In the organization of these elements they restate the movement from outer to inner, explicit to implicit, exoteric to esoteric, that lies at the heart of Yoruba spirituality. This juxtaposition and dynamism seems particularly apt in the case of the crowns with Catholic saint finials. The crowns speak of an exoteric religious identity, signaling the more esoteric presence of the orisha armed with tools of power. The Lucumi crowns reveal a community that has organized its creole heritage into a spirituality that moves from symbol to mystery.
Abakuá Practice and Visual Arts in Florida: Exiled Members of the Cuban Brotherhood.
Ivor Miller (DePaul University, USA)
The Abakuá society is a powerful example of West African cultural influence in the Americas. A mutual aid society for men based on religion, it was established by Africans in Regla, Havana by the 1830s. Abakuá is derived principally from the male “leopard societies” of the Àbàkpà (Qua Ejagham), Efut and Èfìk peoples of the Cross River basin (Old Calabar), in southeastern Nigeria, and Usak Edet in southwestern Cameroon. These societies are called Ngbè and Ékpè, after the Ejagham and Èfìk terms for ‘leopard’. This essay is concerned with the impact of Abakuá practices in Florida brought by Cuban migrants from the 1880s to the present. In order to establish what Cuban members were able to bring to Florida and what they were not, one must understand the basic mechanisms of Ekpe transmission. To do this I will examine various attempts to recreate Abakuá in the Cuban Diaspora, including Spanish penal colonies in northwest Africa and Fernando Po, today Bioko in Equatorial Guinea. After ascertaining what aspects of Abakua practice were recreated in Florida, in part by citing interviews with leading brothers, I will review significant Abakuá inspired visual arts in Florida.
The Many Faces of Ogun: The Ogun Shrine of Baba Onabamiero Ogunleye in North Central Florida
Robin Poynor (University of Florida, USA)
Baba Onabamiero Ogunleye began to acquaint himself with the Yoruba orisha in New York and eventually moved to Oyotunji, SC, where he felt impelled to carve. His move to rural Archer, Florida, near Gainesville, allowed him to create his own altar to Obatala as well as shrines to other orisha, among them Ogun, patron of carvers. Self-taught as a carver, he creates objects that are suggestive of Yoruba form, and he has carved wooden figures for Elegba, Osun, Yemaya, Obabtala, Shango, Ogun, and Oshosi for altars and for creating an environment conducive to living an "African" lifestyle in North Central Florida. The arrangement of objects and figures on the altars and shrines are determined by numerous factors, among them aesthetic consideration. This paper will focus on the changes that have taken place in the shrine to Ogun near the Temple Ile Tunbo as a result of both practical and aesthetic considerations as well as at the requests of Ogun through divination.
From Masquerades to Amusement Parks: African Realities and Hyper-realities in the Sunshine State
Amanda Carlson (University of Hartford, USA)
I will explore the performance of African culture in the United States through two field studies based in Florida (masquerades from eastern Nigeria and African theme parks) in order to better understand the processes of diasporic experience. The first study examines masquerades among immigrant communities in Florida whose recent or historical origins lie in eastern Nigeria. And the second topic, which has typically not been considered within the rubric of Diaspora Studies, examines the history of amusement parks in Florida that recreate African culture. From this seemingly ironic comparison between “real” and “simulated” performances of African culture, I question how distinctions of authenticity, the original versus the copy, have informed cultural practitioners as well as scholarly models of diasporic experience. This project utilizes art historical, sociological, anthropological theories to explore how authenticity, originality, reality, and hyper reality are performed in relation to African cultures within highly complex, politically oriented, systems of agency and power.
VIII-2 African Style: Negotiating Identities in Global Fashion Markets
Chair: Victoria Rovine (University of Iowa Museum of Art, USA)
This panel addresses Africa’s role as both an active agent in and a source of inspiration for global fashion design. Participants will examine the work of designers from Africa, Europe, and elsewhere, analyzing the diverse artistic strategies by which they make reference to Africa. Fashion designers have mobilized forms and materials, as well as personal identities and marketing strategies, to signify Africa as a specific location or as a generalized “Other.” The growing visibility of African fashion in international venues provides rich opportunities to examine the negotiations by which the continent’s “traditional” attire has been adapted, transformed, or discarded by contemporary designers.
The Biography of a Boubou between Gift and Commodity
Leslie W. Rabine (University of California at Davis, USA)
As cultural objects circulate through systems of exchange, they come to signify the economic, symbolic and emotional webs that entangle the exchangers. Such an object was a traditional, hand-dyed boubou, which during my field research in contemporary Dakar, Senegal, circulated out of the gift economy, and into the frenzy of commodity exchange. The boubou in question bears a fine, intricate resist design, which the women of a Saraxolé family take six months to create. A work of love and creativity, intended to be given to a daughter to wear on her wedding day and to cherish as a precious family gift, the fabric is not produced to be sold and has little or no value in Dakar’s lively fashion market. Fabrics and garments in Senegal are coded as “traditional” or “European” (modern), and in a similar manner do we divide economic systems, considering gift exchange as traditional in contrast to commodity exchange as modern. Yet, Senegal has, over a centuries-long history, intertwined the two. In the 1990s moreover, as the thoroughly modern forces of globalization and structural adjustment have weakened the formal economy of Senegal, forms of gift exchange have grown stronger as they come to fill the void. When a Saraxolé dyer and I set out to exchange the boubou for money, we unleashed a prolonged, tension-filled negotiation involving many people. As it circulated among people and places, the boubou did indeed come to signify the uneasy interplay of traditional dying and modern fashion, gift giving and commodity sale, global economy and local survival.
Fashion and the Idea of Africa
Hudita Mustapha (Emory University, USA)
West African fashion has come onto the global stage recently in venues as far apart as Parisian runways and South African liberation movement rallies. What is the appeal and flexibility of these cultural forms? What are the claims that they advance? This paper suggests that West African fashion enables a wide range of agents—West African or not, elite and popular—to construct their idea of Africa. They do so by engaging with these garments/images as embodiments of both ‘tradition’ and ‘modernity,’ of cosmopolitan sophistication and African authenticity. In fact, the Idea of Africa has always
been a transnational project of imperialist, panafricanist, African bourgeois agents. More recently, popular and diasporic agents have entered this discourse, especially through practices of consumption and popular culture. The transnational composition and mobility of fashion make it an ideal site for multiple agendas encompassed by the Idea of Africa.
African Fashion on the Global Platform: The Work of Seidnaly Alphadi
Kristyne Loughran (Florence, Italy)
Coverage of African-style attire and adornment in mass media indicates that African forms and aesthetic expressions continue to be a source of creative ideas in the international fashion arena. The communicative and aesthetic roles the "idea" of Africa play on the global marketplace raise interesting questions. This paper considers the work of Seidnaly Alphadi, a Nigerien fashion designer and the president of the Federation Internationale de la Mode Africaine (FIMA), whose designs and marketing strategies illustrate the globalization of African fashion. Alphadi lives and works in Niamey, Niger, and has a boutique in Paris. His designs are modern and he makes prolific use of hand-woven cotton textiles and modern African jewelry forms. By first looking at his designs, I will examine the renegotiation of African traditions to create new identities for a global audience. As the president of the FIMA, Alphadi plays a fundamental role in giving visibility to African fashion designers on an international scale. He uses sophisticated marketing techniques, including a web site. Using Alphadi’s site, I will explore the vital role of the internet in expanding local platforms to global conversations between players in the fashion arena.
Victoria Rovine (University of Iowa Museum of Art, USA)
Lamine Kouyaté, creator of the Xuly Bët brand, recycles and reshapes used clothing to create distinctive garments that combine high fashion with thrift shop cast-offs. Nearly all of the press coverage devoted to Xuly Bët, focuses on two themes: the recycled clothing (only one portion of the designer’s oeuvre), and Kouyaté’s African origins. In some interviews, he has made a connection between the two themes, noting that in his home country Mali, tailors and their clients are adept at disassembling and adapting imported garments to suit their own needs. But does Xuly Bët’s recycled fashion grow out of Malian or African precedents? Can students of fashion distinguish between an African aesthetic of recycling, based largely in a need to make do, and the Western-based aesthetic of the thrift shop and grunge style? And to what degree have the two merged in the globalized fashion and style markets? This paper will investigate the urban African context out of which Xuly Bët’s successful line of recycled clothing emerged.
VIII-3 Mami watas: The Roots and Routes of African Water Spirit Arts, Beliefs, and Practices (Part 1)
Chair: Martha G. Anderson (Alfred University, USA)
This panel will examine the nexus between the pan-African spirit or complex known (in various guises) as Mami Wata and locally named water spirits, for whom the pidgin term mami wata sometimes serves as a gloss. The arts, beliefs, and practices associated with mami watas both intersect with and diverge from those identified with Mami Wata. Panelists may present papers on Mami Wata or mami watas in Africa and the Diaspora. In keeping with the theme of the Triennial, they should address the roots of widespread ideas and practices and consider the routes these may have traveled.
Brass Trays, Shrine Cloths and Cafe Walls - Old and New Representations of Mammy Wata in Coastal West Africa
Jill Salmons (Worcester College of Technology, UK)
This paper will discuss early twentieth century representations of Mammy Wata on brass trays decorated in Calabar, S.E. Nigeria, and will compare the iconography and use of these to late twentieth century two dimensional images of the spirit in a variety of mediums in Nigeria, Ghana and Benin. It will draw on the fieldwork of Jill Salmons and Keith Nicklin and museum research of Jeremy Coote, Pitt Rivers Museum
Mami Wata: An Urban Presence or the Making of a Tradition in Benin City, Nigeria
Charles Gore (School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London, UK)
This article considers the making of a ritual tradition of Mami Wata in Benin City, Nigeria during the 1990s. It highlights how Mami Wata develops in specific trajectories at particular locations and historical moments. The making of such traditions relates to both local contexts, other traditions and more wide ranging social processes, drawing on both ritual practices but also more diffuse popular imaginings of Mami Wata, portrayed in the arts, mass media and elsewhere. The article investigates some of these sites through case studies and the shifting relations between different religious traditions as well as with popular imaginings of Mami Wata over time. In the 1990's Mami Wata has become an important deity at local shrines developing into a particular tradition that for its followers is imbricated in the making of local notions of modernity and globalisation. The article highlights the antagonistic interdependence between Mami Wata and the Pentecostal church movement in Benin City where there is an exceptional vitality in the local shrines and an equally strong rejection of them by the Pentecostal churches. Mami Wata is a key figure in these competing claims.
Possible Roots and Routes for Carvings of Hanuman Collected in Nigeria
Jessica Joye Stephenson (Michael C. Carlos Museum, Emory University, USA)
Two wooden images of the Hindu deity Hanuman, are located in
collections of African art in museums in the USA and Europe. Both sculptures are
reported to have been collected in the Niger Delta region. There is much documented evidence, from Ghana to Nigeria, for the incorporation of images
of Hindu gods, including Hanuman, into Mami Wata belief systems. However,
there islittle evidence for the presence of such imagery in the Niger Delta
region. Focusing on the sculptures as primary evidence, and employing diverse
methods of inquiry, this paper addresses issues of provenance and context of
use. Were the sculptures made in southern India or southeastern Nigeria? Were
they used in a Hindu or African shrine context? Comparison with Indian, Ibibio,
and Ogoni sculpture, in terms of both style and construction techniques, gives
rise to tantalizing questions. Wood species identification and chemical
analysis of surface accretions will provide more conclusive answers.
VIII-4 New Directions in the Study of Architecture and Symbolic Space
Chair: Monica Blackmun Visoná (Metropolitan State College, USA)
While the first studies of African architecture to appear in English documented the formal characteristics of buildings, French writings often focused upon the philosophical values assigned to both spaces and structures. How do recent research projects either refine or refute the French insistence that African cultures have constructed environments in response to social and cosmological systems of thought? How have changing spatial configurations in African homes, compounds, shrines, towns and cities prompted new approaches to the study of architecture, and how are these approaches still shaped by the work of earlier scholars?
Physical Space and the Division of Supernatural Power in the Lagoon
Region of Côte d'Ivoire
Monica Blackmun Visoná (Metropolitan State College of Denver, USA)
The spatial format of communities founded by all twelve of the Lagoon peoples of Côte d’Ivoire appears to be related to a Cartesian grid, and has been easily integrated into governmental attempts to divide towns into regular lots (“la lotisation”). Yet the axial arrangement of these communities is based instead upon the organization of spiritual authority in Lagoon thought. The need for both spatial and spiritual juxtapositions of these powers becomes evident during the performance of age-grade ceremonies, where the visible and invisible demarcation of territory underlies the sequence of events
Elizabeth Perrill (Indiana University, USA)
Prior to the recent political unrest, many Zimbabwean galleries were successful commercial spaces that encompassed both the creation and consumption of stone sculptures. This paper is an exploration of shifting spatial worlds of Zimbabwean stone sculpture galleries and stone sculptors from the late-1970s and new millenium. Building off of Anthony Gidden’s theory of complex agency and Edward Casey’s conceptions of place, it also analyzes Dominic Benhura’s negotiation of his own creative space, from the sculpture parks of the 1990s to the international art market of 2004.
Jeff Fleischer (Lehigh University, USA)
This paper looks at the evolution of the most internal and sacred spaces in Swahili houses—the innermost rooms that were adorned with complex niche systems and objects of display. I discuss the way these architectural forms may be read as ‘technologies of the self’—attempts by nascent elites to constitute themselves as a social class, beginning in the 14th century AD. Such an analysis requires the Swahili house to be contextualized in a broad temporal frame, in order to understand the evolution of structural oppositions that are often regarded as timeless. When viewed as technologies, the activities in and elaborations of private spaces of Swahili houses can be seen as a means by which elites sought to neutralize fears about their position within an increasingly competitive and divided society.
Landscapes of Conflict: Ditches, Discord, and Discourse in the Coast
Forest of Benin, West Africa
Neil L. Norman (University of Virginia, USA)
Archaeological research has greatly increased the understanding of elements of the built landscape associated with urban settlements that flourished in the coastal region of Bénin from the late 17th century AD. Throughout the region, African groups used massive ditch systems to define social space and designate zones of protection and inclusion. The predominate interpretation of these landscape features draws from European travelers accounts and relates their use to defensive posturing aimed at checking military hostility from rival groups. Through drawing together, oral histories, archaeological, and anthropological data, this paper explores alternative understandings of these features based on West African cosmologies and local political maneuverings.
Vertigo: Fragmentation and the Modern in an Izhon (Idzo, Ijo, Ijaw) House
Ikem Stanley Okoye (University of Delaware, USA)
Against a background of the history of critical writing on African architecture (beyond African Studies as such), this paper will explore the spaces of a locally designed locally built modern African house in Okrika, southern Nigeria. Using an appropriate vocabulary of space, it will show how attention to this building’s visual character links it to three of the ideologies of modernity i) to the rhetorics of technology (photography especially), ii) to a modern sculpture of the Izhon duen fogbara, iii) to a vertiginous and vortical sense of space iv) to an highly itinerant trans-national design team. I especially also describe how the house’s spatial complexity helped me reconstruct the history of architectural modernity in southern Nigeria –pushing the idea of the modern (even Modern) architecture and its spaces here back from the late 1950s to the early 1910s, unexpected because produced by local Igbo builders for Izhon (Idzo, Ijo) patrons. This history effectively coincides with its simultaneous European moment, indicating that modernities were not ‘alternate,’ in the terms typically deployed in cultural studies, but were instead in mutual contestation and competition --any one with all its others forms.
IX-1 Mami watas: The Roots and Routes of African Water Spirit Arts, Beliefs, and, Practices (Part 2)
Chair: Martha G. Anderson (Alfred University, USA)
Rosalinde G. Wilcox (Saddleback College, USA)
The Duala and their coastal neighbors, the Suwu, share a belief in water spirits known as miengu (jengu, s.). Mami Wata is also a familiar term in the region for a water spirit or jengu. Using archival and field data concerning local coastal water spirit rituals, this paper proposes that Mami Wata is located in a European context, and refers to a specific set of ideas that are not correspondent with miengu. Whereas Mami Wata is discussed openly, references to the miengu are circumspect. This paper argues that Mami Wata is an independent and relatively recent phenomenon along the Cameroon coast, associated with European trade and the European presence.
A Myriad of Mermaids: Mami Watas, Mami Wata, and False Mami Watas in the Niger Delta
Martha G. Anderson (Alfred University, USA)
The Ijo, who live in the Niger Delta, find water "good to think," for they express beliefs in a plethora of water spirits which vary widely in appearance and behavior. Though they seldom refer to a particular spirit named Mami Wata, they often employ the term as a pidgin gloss for a water spirits, especially the type that bestows material wealth. Moreover, many of the aquatic spirits that feature in Ijo shrines, stories, and "eyewitness" accounts share traits commonly identified with Mami Wata. In a situation where many spirits resemble Mami Wata, yet few deviate widely from local patterns, separating the "indigenous" from the "intrusive" proves difficult. This paper will investigate the points at which Ijo beliefs and practices intersect with those identified with Mami Wata in hopes of gaining a historical perspective on both.
Mammy Wata, Inc.
Joseph Nevadomsky (California State University, Fullerton, USA)
This paper provides new data based on an investigation of the Mammy Wata phenomenon. Hank Drewal, CEO of Mammy Wata, Inc., is guilty of selling Mammy Wata as an international knockout. Besides pushing a meta-narrative that deceives investors, Drewal is also charged with sucking in art historical groupies who parrot their motivational speaker's vision of a global empire. With Yoruba talking drums they sell junk bonds to a gullible art historical audience. Evidence from Britney Spears and Madonna (both of whom own live snake wraps) and from Benin City (on Pappy Neptune and Mammy Neptune who don't own snake wraps) are offered to support the prosecution's allegations against Drewal. Drewal and his Manson-like groupies are offered a 10-20 max trip to the Big House.
IX-2 Out of Africa: Dress and Identity of Africans beyond the Continent
Chair: Joanne B. Eicher (University of Minnesota, USA)
In the last few decades, African nationals have been migrating to North America, the UK and Europe as refugees and immigrants, often remaining to put down new roots. This panel explores issues of identity as expressed through dress by Africans who are now "Out of Africa." Do patterns of gender, religion, occupation, and/or ethnic background encourage the production and reproduction of dress signifying a link to African heritage? Possible papers could include examples such as Somalis who wear "ethnic dress" in Minnesota, or Igbo and Kalabari who wear African clothing for their ethnic festivals. Papers include examples such as Somalis who wear "ethnic dress" in Minnesota, Tunisians whose dress has been influenced by a long history of contact with many outside their culture, and a Brazilian Roman Catholic Sisterhood whose dress also indicates their Yoruba heritage.
The Construction of “African Dress” in Minnesota
Heather Marie Akou (University of Minnesota, USA)
In the 1970s, Immigration and Naturalization Services (the INS) accepted the first major groups of Africans to settle in this country since the abolition of slavery. This was made possible by the abandonment of the “quota system,” which severely limited all legal migration from continents other than Europe and North America. Some of the first Africans to arrive were political refugees from Ethiopia, Eritrea and Liberia. Individuals and smaller groups trickled in from other countries such as Nigeria, Mali, the Congo, and South Africa, for reasons including asylum, family reunification, and opportunities for education and jobs. Since the 1970s, Minnesota has become home to approximately 5,000 Eritreans, 10,000 Liberians, 10,000 to 15,000 Oromo, and an unknown number of immigrants from other parts of Africa. Although the “Twin Cities” of Minneapolis and St. Paul have always had a small population of African-Americans, this community also expanded in the 1970s and 80s due largely to migration from Chicago. In the mid-1990s, Minnesota began accepting refugees from Somalia. This population (both from new and secondary migration from other parts of the United States) has grown very rapidly to the point where the Twin Cities in now home to the largest Somali community in the country, an estimated 60,000 people living in Minneapolis-St. Paul and greater Minnesota.
Although many of the earlier African immigrants were able to quickly and quietly find new lives for themselves in Minnesota, Somalis have been highly visible. This is due to several different factors including the sheer size and rapid growth of the community; relatively low levels of education and ability to speak English; a willingness to become politically involved in the larger community (a Somali man for mayor of Minneapolis during the last election); ethnic profiling after the events of 9/11; a need for, ability, and interest in establishing new restaurants and businesses; and styles of “ethnic dress” that are worn not just for special occasions but every day. Support from the Muslim community as well as new initiatives to help refugees and immigrants (a result of earlier Hmong, Vietnamese and Latino migrations), have led to the building of two “Somali malls” named Suuqa Karmel and the African International Marketplace. What does this mean for the creation of an “African” identity and style of dress in Minnesota? In my presentation, I will explore some of the major styles of dress for sale, why Somalis are not “fitting in” like earlier immigrants, and how their dress has shaped and reflected tensions between Somalis and African-Americans. This is based on field research for an MA thesis and PhD dissertation, which I have been conducting over the past four years.
Out of Africa in Africa: What Is Tunisian Dress?
Meriem Chida (University of Minnesota, USA)
Tunisia has a 3,000-year history of invasions from outside civilizations, including the Phoenicians, Greeks, Romans, and Arabs. Paradoxically, the dress of contemporary men and women in Tunisian society is almost indistinguishable from dress in Western countries. This is very different from other parts of the continent (such as Nigeria and Ghana) where African dress is worn with pride. Western sociologists and economists have considered Tunisia a very ‘modern’ and ‘developed’ country—an assessment based not only on statistics but perhaps on how Tunisians are dressed. What does this mean for Tunisian identity? Whose identity does their dress reflect?
A Celebration of Women’s Liberation from Bondage: Toward an Ethnography of Dress and Adornment in an Afrobrazilian Festival
Bamidele Agbasegbe Demerson (Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History, Detroit, USA)
The Sisterhood of Our Lady of Good Death—a Roman Catholic lay sodality composed of women of African ancestry—conducts an annual mid-August festival in honor of the Virgin Mary’s Assumption into heaven. Set in Cachoeira, Bahia, northeastern Brazil, the observance also celebrates the liberation of women from the institution of slavery. Moreover, through dress, adornment, and sacred acts, the sisters pay homage to Divinities of the West African Yoruba derived religion, Candomble Nago. These Divinities inspired the quest for freedom. Not surprisingly, the Catholic clergy, tourist industry developers, and “Black consciousness” advocates have different responses to this “meeting” of two religious traditions.
IX-3 Upper Guinea: Past and Present
Chair: Bill Hart (University of Ulster, Ireland)
The Upper Guinea Coast between Senegambia and Sierra Leone historically has been a site of interaction between Africa and the outside world and between the coastal peoples and the civilizations of the Sahel. The panel will examine how these cultural influences manifest themselves in the arts of the area and, drawing upon the wealth of historical sources available for Upper Guinea, attempt to situate some of these artistic manifestations within the broad history of the area.
The Bansonyi Serpentine Headdress: New Data from the Field (Bulongic Country, Guinea, Conakry)
David Berliner (Harvard University, USA)
The serpentine headdress mistakenly named Bansonyi is renowned as one of the masterpieces of West African art. However, our knowledge of the local religious uses of this mask is still fragmentary. This paper is an attempt to look at the past ritual performances of the Bansonyi headdress in the Bulongic country (one of the Baga subgroups). It will provide new ethnographic data about the various social and ritual contexts in which the mask appeared; and, secondly, examine the current persistence of religious representations, emotions and practices linked to the Bansonyi in the absence of its material component, which is now displayed in museums in the West.
Bill Hart (University of Ulster, Ireland)
Ragbenle survives today as an organisation or sodality among the Temne people of central Sierra Leone, but it has a history stretching back at least to the first decade of the 17th century when it was described in a manuscript by a Portuguese Jesuit missionary Manuel Alvares. The paper will review present-day activities of Ragbenle, including its masquerades, and will discuss the problems of using such early ‘outsider’ sources as evidence of historical change or continuity in the cultures of the Upper Guinea coast.
Labelle Prussin (New York, USA)
To date, Saharan, Sahelian and West African history has focused on the role of Islam and the European presence in the development of West African trade networks, state formation and artistic creation, whereas Judaism has never been considered as having any significant role. However a re-reading of Saharan and Sahelian art and technology in historic context, in combination with a focus on material culture and the integration of Jewish smiths into the indigenous milieu, suggests a new interpretation of African stylistic continuities which stresses the contribution of Jewish traders-cum-scholars-cum-artisans to the unfolding of the African artistic genius.
Two Seventeenth-century Jewish Communities in Senegambia
Peter Mark (Wesleyan University, USA)
Inquisition records recently discovered in the Portuguese National Archives document in some detail the presence of Jewish communities in Senegal by the early 1600s. The origins of these communities are obscure but may well reach back to the earliest period of Portuguese settlement on the west African coast. The paper argues that there is primary evidence of such an earlier Jewish/New Christian settlement in the ‘Afro-Portuguese ivories’ made in Sierra Leone in the period 1490-1560, whose ostensibly Christian iconography could have held a double meaning for Marranos or secret Jews.