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African Art and Agency in the Workshop

Edited by Sidney Littlefield Kasfir and Till Förster

Publication Year: 2013

The role of the workshop in the creation of African art is the subject of this revelatory book. In the group setting of the workshop, innovation and imitation collide, artists share ideas and techniques, and creative expression flourishes. African Art and Agency from the Workshop examines the variety of workshops, from those which are politically driven or tourist oriented, to those based on historical patronage or allied to current artistic trends. Fifteen lively essays explore the impact of the workshop on the production of artists such as Zimbabwean stone sculptors, master potters from Cameroon, wood carvers from Nigeria, and others from across the continent.

Published by: Indiana University Press

Series: African Expressive Cultures


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pp. 1-3

Title Page

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p. 4-4


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p. 5-5


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pp. v-vi

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pp. vii-11

The essays presented herein began as a double panel on workshops convened at the Triennial Symposium in African Art, held at the University of Florida in April 2007. Several panelists were our own graduate students and former students—including...


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pp. 1-36

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Rethinking the Workshop: Work and Agency in African Art

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pp. 1-23

Workshops—preliminarily understood to be any group of artisans, large or small, who not only share a workspace but, in most cases, also draw on it as a stable framework of communication and learning governed by the acknowledged expertise of one or more senior members of the group—are one of the most basic institutions...

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The Contributions to This Book

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pp. 24-36

African Art and Agency in the Workshop brings contributions from art history and social anthropology together. The chapters address novel perspectives on the workshop in African art, but do so in related fields. These perspectives intersect concrete, heuristic, as well as conceptual problems in recent studies of workshops in African...

Part 1: Production, Education, and Learning

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pp. 37-122

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1. Grace Dieu Mission in South Africa: Defining the Modern Art Workshop in Africa

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pp. 39-64

Africa’s first modern art workshop began in the mid-1920s at Grace Dieu Mission near Pietersburg, South Africa. It developed a trademark style of wood carving that won considerable critical acclaim in the 1930s and allowed the school to support and promote South Africa’s first professional black artists. Two of them, Ernest Mancoba...

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2. Follow the Wood: Carving and Political Cosmology in Oku, Cameroon

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pp. 65-90

The kingdom of Oku, made up of three dozen villages spread over the highest peaks of a mountainous landscape, is a hierarchical polity headed by a king...

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3. Masters, Trend-makers, and Producers: The Village of Nsei, Cameroon, as a Multisited Pottery Workshop

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pp. 91-110

The village of Nsei is located in the Ndop Plain, a very fertile area about thirty kilometers east of the provincial capital Bamenda, the largest commercial center in the northern Cameroonian Grassfields. Like every other village in this region, Nsei is mainly an agricultural community. According to local customs, women grow the staple foods...

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4. An Artist's Notes on the Triangle Workshops, Zambia and South Africa

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pp. 111-122

African contemporary artists are often portrayed as individuals who are caught up in the dynamics of art formation spaces, sociocultural movements, and forces of globalization—as well as new discourses of artistic experience. Workshops in particular have been significant formative spaces in artists’ endeavors to become versatile in a globalizing environment...

Part 2: Audience and Encounters

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pp. 123-229

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5. Stitched-up Women, Pinned-down Men: Gender Politics in Weya and Mapula Needlework, Zimbabwe and South Africa

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pp. 125-153

The first of these passages quotes Charity Mugala, who was living in Weya—a communal area (formerly known as a Tribal Trust Land) about 170 kilometers east of Harare in Zimbabwe—in the mid 1990s (Mugala, interview by Brenda Schmahmann, October 27, 2006, Weya). The second—dating to 2001—is by Julia Makwana...

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6. Rethinking Mbari Mbayo: Osogbo Workshops in the 1960s, Nigeria [Contains Image Plates]

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pp. 154-179

The Osogbo group of artists, particularly those identified with the Mbari Mbayo Club and summer schools and art workshops between 1962 and 1966, has been compared with other contemporary workshop-trained artists elsewhere in Africa. Often their work has been treated as direct products of the colonial or romantic imaginations of European...

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7. Working on the Small Difference: Notes on the Making of Sculpture in Tengenenge, Zimbabwe

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pp. 180-206

The entrance to the village of Tengenenge at the beginning of the year 2000 was marked by a huge bird sculpted of stone. A few meters farther down the dusty road, one sees the first sculptures on wooden plinths. As soon as the eyes become adjusted to the dancing shadows of the trees, more and more stone sculptures become visible to the visitor. Only...

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8. Navigating Nairobi: Artists in a Workshop System, Kenya

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pp. 207-229

Governing Nairobi’s contemporary art scene is a complex web of relationships among artists. These relationships are formulated and sustained through the dynamic workshop system underlying production and exhibition. In this system, multiple levels of workshops act as the key unifier, bringing various individuals together to share materials...

Part 3: Patronage and Domination

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pp. 231-321

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9. Lewanika's Workshop and the Vision of Lozi Arts, Zambia

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pp. 233-251

In 1995, two works of art were selected to represent a Lozi cultural identity at the Royal Academy’s renowned exhibition Africa: Art of a Continent.1 The controversial exhibition was ambitious in its efforts to envision a continent. Through the selection of approximately eight hundred works of art, an idea of the African continent was given a material...

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10. Artesãos da Nossa Pátria: Makonde Blackwood Sculptors, Cooperatives, and the Art of Socialist Revolution in Postcolonial Mozambique

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pp. 252-273

On a sunny day in northern Mozambique in 1973, the British journalist Iain Christie interviewed Samora Machel, the political and military commander of FRELIMO, or the Mozambican Liberation Front, and future president of Mozambique. Christie had come to the northern province of Cabo Delgado to write about...

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11. Frank McEwen and Joram Mariga: Patron and Artist in the Rhodesian Workshop School Setting, Zimbabwe

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pp. 274-297

The Rhodesian Workshop School, in existence from the late 1950s until 1973, is one of the best-known African workshops. Its key patron, the Britishborn aesthete Frank McEwen, is a prominent figure in African art history who has been credited with spurring the growth of stone sculpture in Zimbabwe. With a host of talented...

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12. "A Matter of Must": Continuities and Change in the Adugbologe Woodcarving Workshop in Abeokuta, Nigeria

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pp. 298-321

In the 1970s, the Adugbologe kin-based workshop located in the family compound in the Egba Yoruba city of Abeokuta was the site of a remarkable and successful family craft industry. The woodcarvers of Adugbologe Compound had catered to the needs of the local community for over a century. Whereas in the past the Adugbologe carvers supplied...

Part 4: Comparative Aspects

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pp. 323-343

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13. Work and Workshop: The Iteration of Style and Genre in Two Workshop Settings, Côte d'Ivoire and Cameroon

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pp. 325-359

Workshops offer a unique occasion to observe and document how cultural knowledge on art is reproduced. They bring masters and apprentices, teachers and pupils, and also artists of the same status together—and, thus, provide opportunities to learn from each other, to develop a shared style, or to distinguish the members as a group from other...

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14. Apprentices and Entrepreneurs: The Workshop and Style Uniformity in Sub-Saharan Africa

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pp. 360-384

One of the major questions in African art scholarship concerns the degree to which the African artist was and is free to invent. Despite the early insights of Boas (1955[1927]:155) and his followers concerning artistic invention in oral cultures, the accepted picture until recently was that of the African artist as slave to tradition. He could not innovate because...


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pp. 385-404

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Apprentices and Entrepreneurs Revisited: Twenty Years of Workshop Changes, 1987–2007

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pp. 385-398

The original version of chapter 14 was prepared for a graduate seminar taught by John Picton at the School of oriental and African Studies. It was further developed several years later for “The Artist and the Workshop in Traditional Africa,” a conference organized by Christopher Roy in 1985, and appeared in the 1987 The Artist and the Workshop in Traditional Africa as “Apprentices and ...


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pp. 399-400


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pp. 401-410

E-ISBN-13: 9780253007582
Print-ISBN-13: 9780253007414

Page Count: 424
Publication Year: 2013

Series Title: African Expressive Cultures