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Introduction to African Art

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1 Introduction to African Art
This course will introduce you to the history of African arts. It will discuss key examples covering different regions, art forms and historical periods, Major concepts and ideas central to the study of African and other non-Western arts shall be introduced and critically assessed in the discussion of these examples. Introduction to African Art

2 But first let as for a moment, consider what we mean by African arts.
What comes to your mind if you think of African art? You might want to think about what kind of art works you associate with the continent, or how you would want to characterise African art. What is African Art?

3 wooden sculptures fetishes old colourful textiles traditional
body painting batiks tribes black wood simplified forms orange wooden sculptures fetishes pyramids masks old primitive drums elongated forms These are just a few of my ideas. I don’t think there are any rights and wrongs here, however, if you – as did my some of my friends – mentioned primitive, tribal, traditional you will find that they will come up and be discussed later on. Or in case you wonder why “modern”, “painting” or “mosques” come to my mind just bear with me a little bit longer. colourful textiles music and rhythm beads Picasso anthropology

4 varied and diverse modern painting Ethiopian Churches old sculpture
rich Great Zimbabwe change universities Negritude West African Mosques modern painting sophisticated Djenne varied and diverse Ethiopian Churches Benin masks and masquerades old exciting These are just a few of my ideas. I don’t think there are any rights and wrongs here, however, if you – as did my some of my friends – mentioned primitive, tribal, traditional you will find that they will come up and be discussed later on. Or in case you wonder why “modern”, “painting” or “mosques” come to my mind just bear with me a little bit longer. Oh, and regarding the suggestion of “pyramids” by a friend of mine – of course, Egypt is in Africa, isn’t it? sculpture printed textiles adaptation and appropriation stereotypes and preconceptions performance Nubia calligraphy western art market

5  A prayers’ mat from Tanzania
 A prayers’ mat from Tanzania. Note the prayer woven into the mat in Arabic script. 1 2  The Great Mosque in Djenne, Mali, has been designated World Heritage Site since It is built of mud in the so-called Sahelian style which is particular to the Western Sahel. 1 This house is located in Zaria, Northern Nigeria. The town is famous for the wall decoration on many houses in the old town. Many, like this one, include verses from the Quran.  This mask was used in the context of a West African secret society. As such it is associated with traditional religion. Quranic verses written on the inside indicate that, at least in the past, Muslims might have participated in rituals of localised religion and adherents of the latter drew upon symbols of Islam. 1 2 One of the reasons that those come to my mind is that I am particularly interested in contemporary art in Northern Nigeria, a predominantly Muslim region. Hence, the association with mosques, but there are also Muslims in other part of Africa. Their arts are diverse and many are in form and aesthetics, despite the Muslim/Arabic influence, very much specific to a particular regions. Here just a few examples.  Boys masquerade from Guinea Bissau that used to perform at the end of Ramadan.

6 The Sculpture Garden at Ahmadu Bello University in Zaria, Nigeria
The Sculpture Garden at Ahmadu Bello University in Zaria, Nigeria. These are works of past and current students of the local art department.  These works are by Obiara Udechukwu, a graduate of above department. His work draws upon the linear qualities of a southern Nigerian tradition of body and wall painting. So, why do the terms “modern” or “painting” come to my mind? Well, I happened to come across some really good sculptures and paintings during a visit to Ahmadu Bello University in Zaria, Nigeria, and have ever since been hooked on contemporary African art. Again, here some examples. Again, that’s not representative, just stuff I happen to like. Iba N’Diaye, Senegal (1970): Tabaski. this painting refers to the Muslim ritual of sacrificing a lamb. Senegal is a pre-deominantly Muslim country. El Anatsui (1996): Akua’s Surviving Children. El Anatsui was born in Ghana but lives and practices in Nsukka, Nigeria already for many years.

7 One question that might come to your mind, or at least it has often been mentioned in the literature, is “How African are these works?” A number of them uses Western art materials and techniques, i.e. the sculptures at Ahmadu Bello University are made from cement and/or metal, Iba N’Diaye’s Tabaski has been painted using oil paint on canvas, Obiara Udechukwu uses ink and even El Anatsui employed a motor saw and blow torch. Or does that question matter at all?

8 Gani Odutokun (date unknown): Dialogue with Mona Lisa.
Now, what do you think about this picture? Have a close look and try to describe it in as much detail as possible. You might want to think about what has been depicted, what these elements might symbolise and how they relate to each other. It might be useful if you take some notes. Gani Odutokun (date unknown): Dialogue with Mona Lisa.

9 Mona Lisa Western Art in general Mondrian
the tradition of naturalistic arts in painting and sculpture in particular, including associated techniques such as linear perspective Western art materials, such as oil pint, canvas etc. the Western artist Mondrian Western modernism in general Western abstract painting close relationship between naturalistic and abstract Western art Of course, you will have recognised the Mona Lisa. What might she refer to in the context of this picture? Here just a few ideas.

10 African Wood Sculpture/Mask (Baga Nimba Headdress)
This is a reference to classic African arts, here in particular a Baga Nimba headdress.

11 The Baga - Map of French Guinea -
The Baga are a cultural union of peoples from West Africa. There a five different Baga dialect groups which are closely related to Temne, one of the official languages in Sierra Leone, and part of the Atlantic language family to which widely spoken languages such as Wolof (Senegal) and Fula (spoken by nomadic Fulani across the West African Sahel region. Anyway, with regard to art history the name Baga is often used to define a geographical region stretching from the area just south of Conakry to the insular coast of Guinea-Bissau south of the city of Bissau and inhabited by neighbours who share many different cultural traditions with the Baga. Map of French Guinea. Cartographer: Malcolm Swanston. Reprinted by permission from Mobilizing the Masses: Gender, Ethnicity, and Class in the Nationalist Movement in Guinea, 1939–1958 by Elizabeth Schmidt. Copyright ©2005 by Elizabeth Schmidt. Published by Heinemann, a division of Reed Elsevier, Inc., Portsmouth, N.H. All rights reserved.

12 Baga culture, as represented by art objects in Western museums, spans several hundred years. It is particularly famous for its masks and headdresses. Here a few examples. Left to right: a-Mantsho-na-Tshol Headdress, 19th–20th century, Wood and pigment; H. 65 1/2 in. (166.4 cm), Private collection Baga a-Bëmp, 19th-20th century, Wood and pigment, measurements unknown. Illustrated in: Frederick Lamp (1996): Art of the Baga: A Drama of Cultural Reinvention. Baga D’mba/Nimba, 19th century, Wood, H. 140 cm. Musée du Quai Branly, Paris.

13 In particular Baga Nimba headdresses are sought after by collectors of African art. They were worn on top of the head with the four base posts attached at the bottom to a hoop encircling the dancer’s chest and back. The costume consisted of a bulky palm-fibre undergarment suspended from the hoop to the ground and a dark cloth tied at the neck of the headdress, exposing the breasts, and falling to the waist. Baga Nimba headdresses have bee documented as early as 1886 (Coffinières de Nordeck) and was used by the Baga, Sitemu, Pukur and Buluñits until the late 1950s. Left to right: 20th century re-enactment of a Baga dance ( 21/10/07) Baga Nimba Headdress, Mid-19th/early 20th century, Wood and metal tacks, x 33 x 59.1 cm. The Art Institute of Chicago. Baga Nimba Headdress, supp. 1930s, Wood, 55" x 16" x depth 19“. Currently (21/10/07) on sale on

14 Nimba appeared at the rice harvest festivals, during planting, as well as at marriages, births, funerals and rituals of ancestral commemoration. She represented a universal mother, honoured because she had borne many children and nursed them successfully. Flawless in character, exquisitely coiffured and cosmetically refined with continual polishing with oil before each appearance, she presented the villagers with an inspiring image of nobility and prosperity. Through her effecting power engendered in ritual, young women derived the strength to bear children and to nurture them to adulthood, the ancestors were encouraged to participate in the continuance of community well-being, rain was induced to fall and young men were driven to feats of cooperative excellence in agriculture. Baga Nimba Dance c. 1930

15 Dealers in African Art buying of Baga Nimba headdresses
In the beginning of the1950s Baga culture experienced a dramatic redirection in the form of increased conversion of members of the community to Islam. A major factor commonly discussed in this context is the Baga’s conversion to Islam between Other reasons included local politics that led to the demise of traditional religious institutions; the decline of agricultural prosperity and the move by large numbers of young men to the cities; the rising fervor for independence from France; the disaffection of the young and their involvement in nationalistic efforts; and, finally, the shattering ‘demystification’ programme of 1959–60 that enforced the public revelation of religious secrets and the destruction or disposal of all traditional ritual regalia including masks and sculpture (Rivière). With the religious structure destroyed, patronage for the arts was lost, the young grew disenchanted and knowledge of established cultural conventions began to die out. By the early 1990s, only a few minor forms of costumed dance remained, and even these had largely lost their religious significance and were performed only for entertainment on public holidays. During this period Baga headdresses started to appear on the Western art market. Dealers in African Art buying of Baga Nimba headdresses

16 Dated to second half of 20th century.
US $750.00  Dated to second half of 20th century. This impressive wooden shoulder mask comes from the Baga people. It is known as a D'mba headdress, that is by far the most well known Baga work of art. This is a classical example that displays many traditional components […] This mask is powerful sculpture and work of a skilled artist. The surface shows traces of long use. Despite crack damage this is example remains delightful piece that would hold a prominent place in any collection of African Art. US $4,250.00 Dated to c. 1930 African Baga Bid Mask Nimba or D'mba. […] This impressive carving represents a ritual mask of he Baga one of three tribes who inhabit the atlantic coast of southwestern guinea. Worn by members of the dominant Simo secret society, it depicts the spirit Nimba, goddest of increase and fecundity. The most monumental of ritual African Masks.   The fact that Baga masquerades were largely abandoned during the 1950s has interesting consequences for the art market: Baga headdresses produced after this date cannot, so the argument goes, have been produced for local use. In consequence Western dealers do not consider them authentic, as this usually means that artefacts have been used or at least been produced for local use and, if possible, should still display signs of this use. In contrast, pieces directly produced for the local art market are regarded as fakes, even if they might have been produced by the very same sculpture working for local clients. This, of course, has the effect of limiting the number of ‘authentic’ pieces at the market, thus, increasing the prices that can be achieved. Baga masquerades are a good example for such a case. Just compare the prices asked for the above two pieces at The descriptions are those of the dealers published on the site. (21/10/07)

17 Baga Sibondel Masquerade
However, despite that fact that many established masquerades were abandoned, masquerades as such were not. In fact, around 1954, a new masquerade invented by the carver Salo Baki Bangoura. Baga Sibondel Masquerade

18  Popular print depicting al-Buraq.
Significantly, this new masquerade depicts al-Buraq, the horse of prophet Mohammed who in the seventh century delivered the Prophet from the climate of persecution that he found in his hometown of Mecca. The Baga, too, were under severe duress in the mid-1950s. Salo Baki's horse's head was transformed into the head of a Baga man, as is evident from the two small Baga scarification marks on the cheeks. The addition of a Muslim cap common to the Malinke appealed to a self-image that modern young Baga men found palatable. Baga Sibondel headdress, carved by Salo Baki Bangoura, Lamp 1996: ‘The Baga and their art’ In: African Arts, Apr/May97, Vol. 12, Issue 2  Popular print depicting al-Buraq.

19 Baga Nimba Headdress African art in general
Western ideas of African art as opposed to the reality of it: so-called ‘authentic’ African art, hence, art originally produced for local uses African art as the art of a traditional past destroyed by outside, in particular Western influences African art as wooden sculptures and masks - what about pottery, brass casting etc.? African art as art associated with ritual abstract qualities of African art the African artist So, why do you think Gani Odutokun might have chosen, of all examples of classic African art, a Baga Nimba headdress. And what might it refer to in the context of this painting. Here just a few ideas.

20 The Baga painting the Mona Lisa
African art’s impact on Western art African artists’ uses Western derived techniques and media and, formally, drawing upon an array of Western styles Mona Lisa’s hammer and chisel the formative (sculpting not just surface painting) impact of Western art on African arts Western artists drawing upon African (formal) traditions in their own work But what else is going on: The Baga is painting the Mona Lisa; the Mona Lisa holds hammer and chisel, is if it just stopped working on the Baga. Also, Mona Lisa’s hands appear particularly strong hands, surprisingly strong for a lady.What do you think the artist wants to express here? Again, a few ideas. Mona Lisa’s strong hand the strengths of the Western (artistic) impact

21 Gani Odutokun: Dialogue with Mona Lisa.
- Interpretation Attempts - African and Western art have influenced each other. The artist considers this a dialogue, i.e. an exchange in which both parties learn from each other and, one assumes, are entitled to draw upon this knowledge in their artistic practice. Hence, the title. In this dialogue the impact of Western upon African art has been stronger than vice-versa – Mona Lisa sculpts in opposition to just superficially painting the Baga. African artists’ use Western derived techniques and media and, formally, drawing upon an array of Western styles (naturalistic and abstract) continued So, considering all our ideas and notes what do you think it was that Gani Odutokun wanted to communicate with this painting. Also, consider the title: Dialogue with Mona Lisa. Some ideas.

22 This dialogue goes back right to Renaissance times – for what other reason does the Baga work on Mona Lisa’s face rather than on the Mondrian-style abstraction? Left-most: Afro-Portuguese salt-cellar, 15th–16th century, Nigeria; Edo peoples, court of Benin. Ivory, H. 7 ½”. Left and above: Paintings in the Church Bet Maryam, Lalibela, Ethiopa. These are said to be the oldest surviving church paintings in Ethiopa, ca. 15th century. In fact, the so called Afro-Portuguese ivories dating from the 15th-16th century are only one example of early Western influences on African art production. (see left) They were collected and used by European princes. Ethiopian Church art is an even earlier example of how an African tradition adapted outside influences: It derived, directly or indirectly, from late antique and medieval Byzantine models. Nevertheless, it also demonstrates that Africans not simply adapted any outside influence. Ethiopians were aware of the developments in Italy but chose to reject Craceo-Roman illusionism and the concept of paintings as windows looking out into space. This also means that ideas of art without any outside influences as the only ‘authentic’ African art are unhistorical. continued

23 In that sense, with its emphasis on the exchange of ideas between Africa and Europe Gani Odutokun’s painting embodies the central theme in this introductory course to African arts: It will argue that there is no such thing as African arts unspoilt by outside influences. Not only has there always been an exchange of ideas, also about art, between neighbouring peoples within the continent but also many cultures have long been in contact with Europe, the Arab world, India and, at times, even China.

24 Introduction to African Art
African arts are extremely varied and diverse and this course will only be able to introduce you to some key examples. Along the way, however, we will discuss key concepts in the study of African arts that, shall you be interested, will enable you to take you study further. Introduction to African Art to be continued …

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