African Art and the Colonial Encounter: Inventing a Global Commodity

African Art and the Colonial Encounter: Inventing a Global Commodity

African Art and the Colonial Encounter: Inventing a Global Commodity

African Art and the Colonial Encounter: Inventing a Global Commodity

Synopsis

Focusing on the theme of warriorhood, Sidney Littlefield Kasfir weaves a complex history of how colonial influence forever changed artistic practice, objects, and their meaning. Looking at two widely diverse cultures, the Idoma in Nigeria and the Samburu in Kenya, Kasfir makes a bold statement about the links between colonialism, the Europeans' image of Africans, Africans' changing self representation, and the impact of global trade on cultural artifacts and the making of art. This intriguing history of the interaction between peoples, aesthetics, morals, artistic objects and practices, and the global trade in African art challenges current ideas about artistic production and representation.

Excerpt

Books have their own stories quite apart from their published contents. When I first began putting together the ideas for this one in 1994, I wanted to address some of the big questions in African art that had surfaced since my graduate school days. the dominant ideas from the 1960s and ’70s were about theories of style and genre (Fagg 1965, 1970; Sieber 1961, 1966; Sieber and Rubin 1968; Fraser and Cole 1972; Picton 1974; and Bravmann 1973), aesthetics (Thompson 1973; later Abiodun 1983 and Hallen 2000), performance (Thompson’s paradigm-shifting African Art in Motion, 1974), and artistic process (Cole’s 1969 series of articles on “Art as a Verb in Igboland”). All of these except the minefield of style were derived wholly from on-theground evidence from Africa and couched in functionalist assumptions (e.g., the internal coherence of traditional communities and their symbolic practices). My academic generation began in the ‘80s to expand upon (and, in the case of style and notions of the traditional, to question) these ideas in detailed field studies of particular art and ritual genres (Cole and Aniakor 1984; Drewal and Drewal 1983; Nunley 1987; Lawal 1996; Ross 1998; Strother 2000). By then these studies were also enriched by ‘70s feminist anthropology and occasional departures into structuralism, especially in architectural studies (Blier 1987) and masking (Jedrej 1980).

There is a telling disjuncture between art history and anthropology in how generational influences have played out in the study of African art in the United States. in Europe, the academic study of African art usually resides in anthropology departments, but in the United States and in Africa itself, it is typically found under the disciplinary umbrella of art history or in art schools connected to . . .

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