What are the cultural forces that have shaped the collecting and display of Africa—its animals, its peoples, and the things that people make—in the museums of Europe, North America and Africa? "Exhibiting Africa" examines the social, political, economic and aesthetic ideologies that have shaped interpretations of the continent in a variety of exhibitionary contexts, including expositions, natural history museums, art museums, zoological parks, and theme parks.
The course focuses on these museological traditions in three contexts. The first considers the history of museum representation in the West—practices associated with Europe's early encounters with Africa in the 16-18th centuries, the systematic collecting and display of African artifacts informed by Darwinian evolutionary theory during 19th century, and the "discovery" of African art at the turn of the 20th century. The second context examines the history of museums in Africa—indigenous analogues for the museum, the Western institution introduced during the colonial period, and new models for the museum that are grounded in the needs of local communities and the agendas of young nation states. The third context offers an opportunity to apply current strategies for representing culture in the museum in an exhibition project that “rethinks” the African gallery in the UM Museum of Art.
The course is presented as a seminar. Biweekly meetings will include lecture and discussion built around reading assignments and museum/gallery visits. Towards the middle of the semester, the class will visit the African galleries at the Detroit Institute of Arts as well as a couple of private collections of African art. There are no textbooks for the course; weekly reading assignments will be drawn from a set of articles, essays and book excerpts available on a dedicated CTools site. In addition to preparing written summaries of weekly reading assignments, students will prepare a critical analysis of an exhibition dealing with Africa, and develop concepts for the reinstallation of the UM Museum of Art African gallery.
No prerequisites are required, however, some knowledge of Africa and/or cultural theory associated with colonial and post-colonial encounters is recommended. There will be a modest co-pay for the museum and collections visit to Detroit. Category for Concentration Distributions: B. Sub-Saharan Africa, 3. Early Modern, 4. Modern and Contemporary
Textbooks/Other materials: No textbook is required. Weekly readings will be drawn from a set of articles, essays and book excerpts available on a dedicated CTools site.
Class participation (discussion) 25%, weekly summaries 25%, exhibit critique 20%, exhibition project 30%.
Upper level undergraduates with some knowledge of Africa and/or cultural theory associated with colonial and post-colonial encounters.
Two 1.5-hour seminar meetings per week with two-thirds of the time devoted to lecture and discussion, and one-third to work on the exhibition project.