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Art and Architecture > African Art

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Kongo Graphic Writing and Other Narratives of the Sign

Barbaro Martinez-Ruiz

Written symbols, religious objects, oral traditions, and body language have long been integrated into the Kongo system of graphic writing of the Bakongo people in Central Africa as well as their Cuban descendants. The comprehensive Kongo Graphic Writing and Other Narratives of the Sign provides a significant overview of the social, religious, and historical contexts in which the Kongo kingdom developed and spread to the Caribbean.

Author Bárbaro Martínez-Ruiz, a practitioner of the Palo Monte devotional arts, illustrates with graphics and rock art how the Bakongo’s ideographic and pictographic signs are used to organize daily life, enable interactions between humans and the natural and spiritual worlds, and preserve and transmit cosmological and cosmogonical belief systems.

Exploring cultural diffusion and exchange, collective memory and identity, Kongo Graphic Writing and Other Narratives of the Sign artfully brings together analyses of the complex interconnections among Kongo traditions of religion, philosophy and visual/gestural communication on both sides of the African Atlantic world.

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Nka: Journal of Contemporary African Art

Vol. 1 (1994) through current issue

Nka focuses on publishing critical work that examines the newly developing field of contemporary African and African Diaspora art within the modernist and postmodernist experience and therefore contributes significantly to the intellectual dialogue on world art and the discourse on internationalism and multiculturalism in the arts. Nka mainly includes scholarly articles, reviews (exhibits and books), interviews, and roundtable discussions.

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Osogbo and the Art of Heritage

Monuments, Deities, and Money

Peter Probst

Why has the home of a Yoruba river goddess become a UNESCO World Heritage site and a global attraction? Every year, tens of thousands of people from around the world visit the sacred grove of Osun, Osogbo's guardian deity, to attend her festival. Peter Probst takes readers on a riveting journey to Osogbo. He explores the history of the Osogbo School, which helped introduce one style of African modern art to the West, and investigates its intimate connection with Osun, the role of art and religion in the changing world of Osogbo, and its prominence in the global arena.

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The Politics of Dress in Somali Culture

Heather Marie Akou

The universal act of dressing -- shared by both men and women, young and old, rich and poor, minority and majority -- has shaped human interactions, communicated hopes and fears about the future, and embodied what it means to be Somali. Heather Marie Akou mines politics and history in this rich and compelling study of Somali material culture. Akou explores the evolution of Somali folk dress, the role of the Somali government in imposing styles of dress, competing forms of Islamic dress, and changes in Somali fashion in the U.S. With the collapse of the Somali state, Somalis continue a connection with their homeland and community through what they wear every day.

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Portraiture and Photography in Africa

Edited by John Peffer and Elisabeth L. Cameron

Beautifully illustrated, Portrait Photography in Africa offers new interpretations of the cultural and historical roles of photography in Africa. Twelve leading scholars look at early photographs, important photographers’ studios, the uses of portraiture in the 19th century, and the current passion for portraits in Africa. They review a variety of topics, including what defines a common culture of photography, the social and political implications of changing technologies for portraiture, and the lasting effects of culture on the idea of the person depicted in the photographic image.

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"Portuguese" Style and Luso-African Identity

Precolonial Senegambia, Sixteenth - Nineteenth Centuries

Peter Mark

In this detailed history of domestic architecture in West Africa, Peter Mark shows how building styles are closely associated with social status and ethnic identity. Mark documents the ways in which local architecture was transformed by long-distance trade and complex social and cultural interactions between local Africans, African traders from the interior, and the Portuguese explorers and traders who settled in the Senegambia region. What came to be known as "Portuguese" style symbolized the wealth and power of Luso-Africans, who identified themselves as "Portuguese" so they could be distinguished from their African neighbors. They were traders, spoke Creole, and practiced Christianity. But what did this mean? Drawing from travelers' accounts, maps, engravings, paintings, and photographs, Mark argues that both the style of "Portuguese" houses and the identity of those who lived in them were extremely fluid. "Portuguese" Style and Luso-African Identity sheds light on the dynamic relationship between identity formation, social change, and material culture in West Africa.

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Repainting the Walls of Lunda

Information Colonialism and Angolan Art

Delinda Collier

Repainting the Walls of Lunda chronicles the publication and dissemination of an anthropology book, Paredes Pintadas da Lunda (Painted Walls of Lunda), which was published in Portuguese in 1953. The book featured illustrations of wall murals and sand drawings of the Chokwe peoples of northeastern Angola. These reproductions were adapted in postindependence Angolan nationalist art and post–civil war contemporary art. As Delinda Collier recounts, the pictorial narrative foregrounds the complex relationships between content, distribution, and politicization. The result is a nuanced look at the practices of art entangled in political economies as much as in issues of aesthetics.

After historicizing the drastic changes in media for the Chokwe images, from sand and dwelling to book and from analog to digital, Collier analyzes the formal and infrastructural logic of the two-dimensional images in their subsequent formats, from postindependence canvas paintings to Internet images. Collier does not view any of these iterations as a negation or obliteration of the previous one. Instead, she argues that the logic of reproductive media envelops the past: each mediation adds another layer of context and content. As Collier sees it, the images’ historicity is embedded within these media layers, which many Angolan postindependence artists speak of in terms of ghosts or ancestors when describing their encounter with reproductions of the Chokwe art.

If, as Collier contends, “Africa troubles media,” this book troubles facile theories and romantic constructions of “analog Africa,” boundaries between art and cybernetics, and the firewall between the colonial and the postcolonial.

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Veiling in Africa

Edited by Elisha P. Renne

The tradition of the veil, which refers to various cloth coverings of the head, face, and body, has been little studied in Africa, where Islam has been present for more than a thousand years. These lively essays raise questions about what is distinctive about veiling in Africa, what religious histories or practices are reflected in particular uses of the veil, and how styles of veils have changed in response to contemporary events. Together, they explore the diversity of meanings and experiences with the veil, revealing it as both an object of Muslim piety and an expression of glamorous fashion.

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Vigilant Things

On Thieves, Yoruba Anti-Aesthetics, and The Strange Fates of Ordinary Objects in Nigeria

David T. Doris is associate professor of the history of African art and visual culture at the University of Michigan.

Throughout southwestern Nigeria, Yoruba men and women create objects called aale to protect their properties - farms, gardens, market goods, piles of collected firewood - from the ravages of thieves. In Vigilant Things, David T. Doris argues that aale are keys to understanding how images function in Yoruba social and cultural life.

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Visual Arts in Cameroon

A Genealogy of Non-formal Training 1976-2014

Annette Schemmel

Annette Schemmel provides a highly illuminating case study of the major actors, discourses and paradigm that shaped the history of visual arts in Cameroon during the second part of the 20th century. Her book meticulously reconstructs the multiple ways of artistic knowledge acquisition � from the consolidation of the �Syst�me de Grands Fr�res� in the 1970s to the emergence of more discursively oriented small artists� initiatives which responded to the growing NGO market of social practice art opportunities in the 2000s. Based on archival research, participant observation and in depth interviews with art practitioners in Douala and Yaound�, this study is a must read for everyone who wants to better understand the vibrant artistic scenes in countries like Cameroon, which until today lack a proper state-funded infrastructure in the arts.

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