Through the study of a selected group of African and African Diaspora cultures, we will investigate several pivotal issues and narratives that lie behind the surfaces of some extraordinary objects and practices. African people have their own stories to tell about these things, of course: stories of mythic power expressed as living form, stories of historical contact with other cultures, stories of struggle and redemption, stories of ordinary, everyday life. And over the past several centuries, we in the “West” also have had a decisive, often disturbing hand in the framing of African peoples, objects, and stories. The coupled histories of colonialism and the slave trade, along with our inevitably distorted views and representations of what African people are and what they do, have affected Africa and its peoples to the core. When we look at and think critically about “African Art,” then, we necessarily must look at and think critically about ourselves. Ultimately, the goal is to understand aspects of African cultures in the terms by which Africans understand them — to know African ideals and realities as they are shaped in word, sound, matter, and movement.
In this course, we’ll be taking a few steps toward that goal. In lectures and weekly discussion sections, in films, recorded sound, and perhaps even in live performance, we will examine objects and the many stories that surround them. Looking and listening closely, we will learn to see and to understand a wide range of African visual practices including architecture, textiles, body adornment, painting, graphic communication systems, photography, dance, ritual performance and, of course, sculpture — not only as these practices continue to unfold on the African continent, but also as they are transformed, and as they endure, in the African Diaspora.
Distributions: B. E. 4
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Lecture and weekly discussion