Course Syllabus for "ARTH304: African Art (OLD)".

This course will introduce you to the art and architecture of Africa from a Western art historical perspective. This Western perspective is influenced by developments in modern European art, which have claimed African art as an inspiration for more “primitive,” intuitive art forms. Note that the visual arts, as traditionally performed and held in various African societies, are largely incongruent with Western artistic values. For example, most traditional African art was not meant to be displayed, but rather viewed when in use and in motion, especially in mixed-media masquerades. Meanwhile, body adornment and textiles have long been important forms of visual communication and expression in Africa, whereas painting, common in Western art, is not a historically prevalent practice in many African regions. These cultural gaps cannot be overcome, but this course will try to recognize and consider them in examining and appreciating specific objects. The objects, images, and sites featured in the resources below represent a small cross-section of the diverse ethnic and artistic heritage in Africa. This course will emphasize the role of art as manifested in the lifestyles, spiritualities, and philosophies of particular African societies, while also broaching aesthetic principles and the study and display of African art. Viewing original works in person is important for any study of art. Public museums throughout the West display examples of historical African art, secured mainly during the time spanning the height of the European slave trade through the end of the colonial era and well into the 20th century. Additionally, contemporary African art has been widely collected and exhibited throughout the world in recent decades. If at all possible, you should do the self-evaluative assignment below, given at the end of Unit 4, in which you are asked to write about at least one work, and preferably several, of African art that you have viewed in a museum or gallery. You will also encounter a number of other “homework” assignments, which should serve as learning tools, helping you absorb the material and get an idea of what specialty studies of African art history entails. Lastly, note that as with most translated material, you will find slight variations in English transcriptions of African names across resources. Click on all images encountered in the websites below, as doing so will usually enlarge the image and reveal the artwork’s details. Finally, be sure to take note of the data provided with the artwork reproductions, such as the size, medium (material), and place of origin (as given).

Preliminary Information

Course Overview

  • 6.2 The Congos  
  • 6.2.1 Kongo Peoples  
  • 6.2.2 The Chokwe (Congos/Angola)  
  • 6.2.3 The Kuba  
  • 6.2.4 Other Groups in the Modern Nation of the Democratic Republic of the Congo  
  • Unit 7: Eastern and Southern Africa  

    Swahili is an indigenous East African language and culture that has been influenced by several centuries of trade with and hegemonic infiltration by Indian and Arab Islamic culture, as seen in the region’s architecture.  Note that other indigenous groups with strong ethnic identities extending west from the coast remain in the region.  However, this course’s discussion of these groups is limited due to a lack of accessible examples.  Note that South Africa was the last African country to maintain legal apartheid (overturned in 1994) and retain white European rule from the early colonial era.  These influences took a toll on the livelihood of traditional arts crafted by the region’s people.  As a result, we will focus on this area’s early art, with a few limited examples of more recent objects. 

    Unit 7 Time Advisory

    This unit should take you approximately you 3 hours to complete.

    ☐    Subunit 7.1: 1 hour

    ☐    Subunit 7.2: 2 hours

    Unit7 Learning Outcomes

    Upon successful completion of this unit, the student will be able to:

    • Explain the syncretistic aesthetic of Swahili culture.
    • Discuss the culture of the Maasai.
    • Discuss the architectural remains at Great Zimbabwe.
    • Articulate several traditions of beadwork in among various groups in Africa.
  • 7.1 East  
  • 7.2 South  
  • Unit 8: Contemporary African Artists  

    In this unit, we will learn about the spread of African art forms and contemporary African artists.  These are starting points for further investigation.  In discussing and analyzing contemporary African art, critics have focused on the extent to which expressions of ethnic and cultural heritage may be intended by particular artists.  Pay attention to how the modern works discussed are described and contextualized through references to past art as well as to modern art of the West.  Also note how the artists themselves (when applicable) and commentators describe the meanings and inspirations in these works.

    Unit 8 Time Advisory
    This unit should take you approximately you 4 hours to complete.
    Unit8 Learning Outcomes

    Upon successful completion of this unit, the student will be able to:

    • Discuss and analyze how many modern art forms of the West were influenced by close viewings of traditional African art.
    • Discuss aspects of African culture that can be seen in various Caribbean works of art and art forms.
    • Explain the basics of Haitian vodou spirituality.
    • Explain how many modern African artists have integrated past traditions with forms of Western art.
    • Discuss unfamiliar art in terms of form and potential symbolism from observation.
  • Web Media: Jean Pigozzi’s “Contemporary African Art Collection”

    Link: Jean Pigozzi’s “Contemporary African Art Collection” (HTML)
     
    Instructions: This website has an extensive image base of art by African artists since approximately 1980, including some of the most high-profile artists on the international scene at the turn of the new millennium.  Please browse the site and consider in what ways our historical study of African art has influenced the way you may consider some of this work, both in general and in particular cases.
     
    Terms of Use: Please respect the copyright and terms of use displayed on the webpage above.

  • Web Media: The Studio Museum in Harlem: Naomi Beckwith’s “Zwelethu Mthethwa: Inner Views”

    Link: The Studio Museum in Harlem: Naomi Beckwith’s “Zwelethu Mthethwa: Inner Views” (HTML, Adobe Flash)
     
    Instructions: Listen to the Naomi Beckwith’s introduction (approximately 3 minutes) with Zwelethu Mthethwa’s work as a South African photographer.

    Terms of Use: Please respect the copyright and terms of use displayed on the webpage above.

  • Web Media: Hood Museum of Art: “Resonance and Inspiration: New Works by Magdalene Odundo”

    Link: Hood Museum of Art: “Resonance and Inspiration: New Works by Magdalene Odundo” (HTML)
     
    Instructions:  Read the introduction and view the images by acclaimed artist Magdalene Odundo, a Kenyan native whose ceramic forms are related to the tradition of East African burnished pottery that we studied in Unit 7 above.  At the bottom of the page, you can find a link to an extensive talk by the artist; you might listen while searching for other images of her works.
     
    Terms of Use: Please respect the copyright and terms of use displayed on the webpage above.

  • Web Media: News Grist: ArtKrush: “Okwui Enwezor on Snap Judgements”

    Link: News Grist: ArtKrush: “Okwui Enwezor on Snap Judgements” (HTML)
     
    Instructions: In this interview, Okwui Enwezor, an influential critic, scholar, and curator, discusses issues in cross-cultural translations of visual culture, in the context of a major exhibition of contemporary African photography exhibition he organized.  
     
    Terms of Use: Please respect the copyright and terms of use displayed on the webpage above.

  • Web Media: National Museum of African Art: Virtual Exhibitions: Contemporary/ Gallery One: “Yinka Shonibare MBE,” “Artists in Dialogue: Antonio Ole and Aime Mpane,” “El Anatsui: Gawu,” “Body of Evidence: Selections from the Contemporary African Art Collection,” and “Textures: Word and Symbol in Contemporary African Art”

    Links: National Museum of African Art: Virtual Exhibitions: Contemporary/ Gallery One:  “Yinka Shonibare MBE” (HTML), “Artists in Dialogue: Antonio Ole and Aime Mpane” (HTML),  “El Anatsui: Gawu” (HTML, Quicktime), “Body of Evidence: Selections from the Contemporary African Art Collection” (HTML), and “Textures: Word and Symbol in Contemporary African Art” (HTML)
     
    Instructions: Click and view each of these presentations. For “El Anatsui: Gawu,” click and listen to the podcasts located in the bottom, right-hand corner under “Podcasts.”  Note that the National Museum of African Art has excellent presentations on contemporary African artists based both in Africa and abroad, found in these presentations.  While all the exhibits in “Contemporary/ Gallery One” and “Contemporary/ Gallery Two” are relevant, those exhibitions listed here are especially recommended as introductory material.
     
    Terms of Use: Please respect the copyright and terms of use displayed on the webpage above.

  • Web Media: National Museum of African Art: Virtual Exhibitions: Contemporary/ Gallery Two: “Transatlantic Dialogue: In and Out of Africa” and “Claiming Art/Reclaiming Space: Post-Apartheid Art from South Africa”

    Links: National Museum of African Art: Virtual Exhibitions: Contemporary/ Gallery Two: “Transatlantic Dialogue: In and Out of Africa” (HTML) and “Claiming Art/Reclaiming Space: Post-Apartheid Art from South Africa” (HTML)
     
    Instructions: Click and view these two online exhibitions.  As noted earlier, the National Museum of African Art has excellent presentations on contemporary African artists based both in Africa and abroad. 
     
    Terms of Use: Please respect the copyright and terms of use displayed on the webpage above.

  • Activity: The Saylor Foundation’s “Comparison of Contemporary African Artists”

    Link: The Saylor Foundation’s “Comparison of Contemporary African Artists
     
    Instructions: Please complete the linked activity above.  This should take you approximately one hour to complete.

  • Unit 9: Final Exam