Looking At African Things
Listed with AAS 407-001
In southeastern Nigeria, an Igbo proverb tells us, "You can't view a performance standing in one place." In the West, however, an understanding of African visual culture has long been centered on the practice of exhibiting African objects out of their vital contexts—rendering them motionless, making them available to our consuming vision, mapping out onto them our own systems of value. Such a practice has unfolded especially in museums dedicated to the exhibition of objects categorized as "African Art." But it is not these objects alone that are made to represent "Africa" so problematically; in world's fairs, theme parks, adventure tours and other cultural expositions, living Africans too are transformed into things, into images of themselves. In this course, we will examine the history of how African objects have become "African Art": What are the terms by which African people describe the objects they create and use? What are the translations that allow us to consider those objects within the canons of Art History? What is excluded from those canons, and why? How are such strange and even violent transformations a metaphor for how African people have been transformed into objects? And what do African artists themselves have to say about it?
HISTART Concentration Distributions: 4. Modern and Contemporary, B. Sub-Saharan Africa