Special Topics in History of Art
Power Objects: Africa and Elsewhere

270 Tappan
M 4:00 - 7:00pm
3 Credit Seminar

Some basic questions: How do certain species of objects structure, express and compel human behavior via the sensorium, through affective experience and indexical impression? How do they draw persons into wider systems of meaning and power through processes of education, play, communication, and the engagement of spiritual, magical or medicinal potencies? Objects will be considered as interactive models through which ideology produces, reproduces, and even contests itself--not only in several African contexts, but also in other sites around the world. The selection of objects will be diverse, including: Black Atlantic altars, anthropological and zoological dioramas, Yoruba emblems of warning and punishment, LEGO and other building blocks; Froebel gifts, Sukuma protective medicines, racist memorabilia, Kongo minkisi, Barbie dolls and action figures, among other things. Readings will introduce an unconventional palette of methodologies for approaching such a range of objects and sensual phenomena; they will be drawn from many disciplines, and their application will be impudently cross-cultural. Among the readings and themes will be: Karl Marx, Georg Hegel, and William Pietz on the Fetish; Alfred Gell, WJT Mitchell, and David Freedberg on agency, indexicality, and enchantment; Robert Farris Thompson and Karen McCarthy Brown on Black spiritual space; Louis Althusser and Pierre Bourdieu on ideology and habitus; Susan Stewart on the miniature; Sigmund Freud on the uncanny; Donna Haraway on dioramas and taxidermy; Roland Barthes on plastic and fashion; Jean Baudrillard on the system of objects under capitalism; Zoë Strother on Central African objects and empowering language; Norbert Wiener and Stafford Beer on cybernetics and systems management; Frank Lloyd Wright on architectural toys.