Arts of Africa

Friday, November 11, 2011

This week I am honestly unsure about what to write. I decided that since we have been looking at contemporary African art that I would do a search of my own and find an artist that I am interested in and write about that.

The artist that I found is El Anatsui. He was born in 1944 in Ghana. Below is just a part of an artist statement that he gave.

About six years ago I found a big bag of liquor bottle tops apparently thrown away in the bush. At the time I was searching for a pot monument (pillars of stacked pots, each of which represents a bereavement in the village) that I had seen decades before in that locality. I kept the bottle caps in the studio for several months until the idea eventually came to me that by stitching them together I could get them to articulate some statement. When the process of stitching got underway, I discovered that the result resembled a real fabric cloth. Incidentally too, the colours of the caps seemed to replicate those of traditional kente cloths. In effect the process was subverting the stereotype of metal as a stiff, rigid medium and rather showing it as a soft, pliable, almost sensuous material capable of attaining immense dimensions and being adapted to specific spaces.

El Anatsui is an African artists that mentioned stereotypes in his artist statement. Able to see that his work is not as politically or culturally deep as some of the artists we have looked at, it still is visually appealing and has cultural ties.
I found it interesting to read a statement that he talks about a stereotype. While many of the artists we have talked about including Yinka and Fani-Kayode deal with larger issues of gender, culture, and sexual stereotypes and the limits it places on them as artists, El Anatsui seems to
deal with manipulating material more than anything else. Many times these objects have links to history and people.
He is changing the viewers idea about metal in the picture below.
Many of us think of everyday object in only one way. El Anatsui is able to see objects in many different ways and in ways that will make on think differently about an object the next time they see it. For instance he will use metal cans or liquor caps and sew them together and turn them into a cloth like piece of work. He also said that many times these cloth like pieces resemble kente cloth.

Personally I would love to see on of his works up close. I would like to take a look at the individual pieces and how they are put together and then i would like to step back and see the larger picture. I would like to understand why he chose the certain pieces of metal and what connections they have with him and his surroundings or history.
I was unable to view the collection at Waterloo Center for the Arts. When I arrived this morning they said they had taken down their pieces Thursday afternoon in preparation for an Art Festival. I would have liked to see these pieces up close and also see how the center displayed them as well as label them.

Friday, November 4, 2011

For me this week of class was interesting but challenging. We had three articles to read for Thursday. The first article I read was by Olu Oguibe. This article was a very difficult read for me. In all honesty I don't like to have to read slowly. Nonetheless this article was a challenge and one that I can see as an agreeable challenge for this class. A questions that I posed after reading this article was, why did Ouattara not just start talking about what he wanted to and get what he wanted to say out? I can see that he is in a way stuck in a catch 22 but as a person I would feel like getting my opinion out, if it is something very important to me, is something I would do no matter if my name got slandered or what was reported was nothing like what I said. McEvilley sounded like an ignorant man and I gave him the title of “white power” (not a good title in my book). It seems as though he already knew what he wanted out of the interview and didn’t really care what Ouattara said. Even when Ouattara gave a small verbal protest, McEvilley didn’t seem to nudge, ponder as to why he was protesting, or even take a second for a further explanation. Why is it that so many people are still putting stereotypes onto people because of their origin, race, or gender?

One question a member in my discussion group posed that I found to be very interesting was something to the effect of, “what could I do, if anything, as a young white female with this new information to help effect change?” This question got me thinking about many things one being about how we are being taught about other cultures, their art, and livelihood in schools from k-12. I know that when we studied African art we looked at the so called “traditional” art of Africa, and needless to say from only one ethnic group in Africa. So this got me thinking about my future as an art educator and what I can do to help embark on a journey to effect change in my k-12 curriculum of art education.

There are a few things that I would consider doing in my classroom, and I am also open to suggestions from anyone. One thing I would do while teaching about cultural art would be to show past and present works along with visuals of the cultural environment. And if this culture is to lie in a much larger group of people, like Africa, I would try to explain that the works they are seeing are only from a very small part of a country. You could maybe give them some basic facts that would help the students see how diverse the population is. I believe that too many times in classrooms today teachers feel the need to rush through a learning experience because “students can’t concentrate that long”, or “they really are not listening”, or they feel the need to have them produce a piece of work every time they are in the art room. It is true that teachers are only given a short amount of time with their students in the art room and even less time when they are younger. I do believe that many teacher need to change their teaching not just k-12 art educators.

Overall the question that was posed raised more concern than just about my future teaching, including the power of the female voice in today’s society, and age and how that could effect who listens to you but I feel that in my future school and classroom is where I can make a difference as a young white female.

Friday, October 28, 2011


In “Imaging Otherness in Ivory” by Suzanne Blier art from the African groups of, Beni, Kongo, and Sapi are studied and used to show that one can understand how these groups perceived the Portuguese when they arrived.

In another article we read titled “Mami Wata Shrines” by Henry Drewal African groups and their adapting spiritual beliefs through interculturation are talked about. Both articles talk about overseas visitors. I found the articles to be interesting and yet challenging at the same time.

One of the key points I got out of reading these two articles was that through interculturation Africans have become adaptors. Africans saw the Portuguese and associated them with Olokun and in turn their ancestors based on where they came from and what they looked like. Also many peoples of Africa would receive a new lithograph or picture from another country and make a connection to fit it into their beliefs.

My question is why did or do they do this. Why did they or do they see new articles or pictures and change their belief. Is it because they are not certain what to believe so they chose to incorporate as many things as they can when they see a connection to an object or a picture? I do not see what their belief is based on because it seems to be ever changing and growing with new ideas. Does their belief have and solid beginning. Africa is full of so many differing beliefs and traditions. I wonder how they all started. I look at their differing beliefs and then try to connect it to America in some way. I look at how even in a school there are many different cliques that do not always communicate with each other and hold their own values and beliefs about others, life, and what is considered fun. In the same way Africans have so many differing beliefs across the continent but is it because the lack of communication with each other? Or is it deeply held in family roots and beliefs? I believe it to be a lack of communication because some do change their beliefs due to interculturation.

Also after reading the two articles I am interested to know if Mami Wata and Olokun have any major connections other than being thought of with objects like water, snakes, and wealth. Was Mami Wata created from Olokun?

Something that I found to be very interesting in Blier’s article was that all three groups, the Beni, Kongo, and Sapi peoples connected the arrival of the Portuguese to Olokun and to their ancestors. Blier talked about the idea that in all three cultural groups“… it was widely held that after leaving the earth, the dead travel across a great body of water to reach the place of the ancestors”, as well as that the dead were buried facing West with expensive items so that when they arrived to the other land they would be better off (378 Blier).In Benin the Portuguese were associated with Olokun because they brought many riches and were white. Olokun “the wealthy god of the sea” in Benin was believed to have mighty wealth (380 Blier).So when the Portuguese came from the water with many great new things they automatically associated them with Olokun. But because the Portuguese were white the Beni people associated them with death and their ancestors. Another question I have is where did Olokun originate?

Overall I see a lot of interculturation in Africa but I do not fully understand why it is seen more in their spiritual beliefs and not in other parts of their lives.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Sample of Yoruba Beliefs

This week we read about the Yoruba peoples of Nigeria. After reading about the Yoruba people(s), I have found that the Yoruba show their portrayal of women in a greater way than some other African peoples. It is obvious to many that they honor and cherish women and their power of fertility. I also have found that they have deeply rooted beliefs that are as current today as it was years ago.

Below is a picture of an Opon Ifa (divination board). At the top of this board the god Eshu is carved, and multiple figures/objects surround the board. These boards are used by a babalawo, when a client comes to them, and dust is put in them. Then the babalawo throws 16 palm nuts to look for signs/patterns. After finding the patterns, the babalawo will then say the verses that correspond to the signs/ patterns that were created. The client then interprets that info to apply it to their own situation. The Opon Ifa relates to the Yoruba peoples beliefs because of the imagery, like Eshu carved at the top, and the way it is used to guide people(s) in their own life situations.

Above is a picture of a Yoruba mother, of Nigeria, with two Ere Ibeji dolls. These dolls are carved figures that are embodied by the spirit of a deceased twin child. Multiples are frequently born within the Yoruba peoples, although there is a high mortality rate among the twins. When a twin does die the mother has an Ere Ibeji doll made in the same gender as the dead child. The mother takes care of this figure like it her child; she will feed, cloth, and bathe the Ere Ibeji. She does this because she believes a few things. One, she believes her live twin may be drawn to the dead twin and die as well. Two, she believes a mother of twins will be prosperous. And three, she believes the people who give offerings to a mother with twins will be blessed. A more current version of an Ere Ibeji doll would be that of a photograph or a plastic doll.

One can see that as times change the Yoruba have not changed in their spiritual beliefs. The Yoruba may create new versions of objects (i.e.: going from carved wooden figures to photographs or dolls) but their beliefs about the twins spirits needing to reside in the figure/object has not changed. In the same way Opon Ifa are still being created, but they may have many different carvings around the boarder. The Yoruba are a people with deep spiritual beliefs.

Friday, September 30, 2011

Week Five

While looking at the “Equestrian Figure” of the Jenne people(s) of Mali on can see that the man riding the horse is larger than the horse itself. This emphasizes that men are powerful and strong. But the horse could also be small and not have an elongated neck because of the material it was carved from, a wooden log. Horses are also seen as a sign of status. One may find that the rider may be a hero or an important figure in the community. There are multiple meanings that can be drawn from every piece of African art.

The figure on the right was made by the Bamana people(s) of Mali. It is titled “Seated mother and child.” The mother seated with child is wearing a helmet this represents power, and that she is important to their community. The helmet is something the men who are strong warriors and hunters wore. She also is holding a child; this show the importance of fertility to the Bamana people, also the passing down of wisdom and characteristics to the next generation. Women hold a great deal of power in African cultures, sometimes it can look like men take the majority of the roles in African cultures. Women are by no mean forgotten or considered unimportant. Women, especially older women are considered wise and very important. Many people(s) of Africa see a need for balance. Balance being one of needing a male and female to reproduce and grow as a community.

I chose these two figures because its shows representation of both sexes and it equally shows the power held by each sex. Both figures have abstracted idealized forms. The female has large breasts and torso. She also has the classic almond eyes. The male is created larger than the horse emphasizing power. He has almond eyes as well along with a beard. One may represent fertility and the other may represent a hero or important figure but they both represent power and the necessity/importance for each sex.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Week Four

This week was heavily about Masquerades. We learned about the Baule, Bamana, and Bawa people(s). We also read an article by Herbert Cole titled, "Introduction: The Mask, Masking, and Masquerade in Africa". Something that I found to be very interesting in this article was when Cole talked about a hypothesis that, "women first had the secret of masks" (Cole 15). He talked about how the men felt women were very powerful, powerful enough that the men “…avenged this awesome feminine power by forming secret associations and taking control of cults, some of which used masks” (Cole 15). I liked this hypothesis because it does help one try to understand or make sense of why men do most of the dancing and women many times are not allowed to.

I also liked his quote, “Masquerades are probably Africa’s most resilient art form, continually evolving to meet new needs” (Cole 16). I chose to like this quote because it emphasizes the continuing change in African art. It may help some realize that Africa is not a stagnant continent full of multiple countries, but that Africa is as ever-changing as Americans may be in many ways.

An example of change in the masks of the Bwa would be that of the serpent mask. These masks have grown taller and taller because of the belief behind them. In a very short version one village created a serpent mask because it was commissioned by the serpent after the mask was made many of the men found women and were married. Other villages caught wind of this and their spirit diviners told them to make a mask that was taller and that would bring them luck with women. One village can be seen affecting another village.

The Baule people have masquerades that mark change and also celebrate life and wisdom. The Goli is a dance that has four pairs of maskers each pair marks a change in age and maturity.

The Bamana have masquerades that mark change. The Ndomo and the Ci Wara are age grades that are used to make boys men and girls women. Many of the masks represent balance, a balance that is found with women and men. They believe in the need for a man and women to be together to have balance and reproduce.

This article also talked about when these masks are taken and put in museums. Putting these masks in an art gallery may not be the best way to show them to others. Cole talks about how when a masker dances a mask that person becomes the spirit/character the mask represents. The dancer is no longer themself. And it is not just the mask that is important. The audience, drummers, and clothing are equally as important as the mask. When a mask is taken from its surroundings it is a mask, but masks are a part of masquerades and these are so much more important and interesting. Not many people would know this by seeing just a mask. In essence putting a mask on display is not teaching us the real meaning of masquerades. I by reading watching and listening in class this week have only begun to understand masquerades. I know that I would not have learned much of this just by visiting a museum and looking at a mask.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Week Three

This week we read an article titled “The Radiance of the King” by Donald Cosentino. This article was about some contemporary Ghanaian paintings. Donald talked about how earlier paintings were utilitarian and many times about movies. There was a time in the late 90’s when these paintings faded because of other items like the chalkboard or computer. But at the start of the 21st century painting was back in style. It was said that, “these guys paint because they can’t help it. It’s therapy. It’s what they are born to do” (Cosentino). These new paintings were made with a lot of meaning. The artists were free to put their own spin on things, to have their thoughts/beliefs be put into paintings.
Something that I found interesting was that earlier on all they had was cinema movies to paint from, but now they have the television to go off of and that gives them a huge range of media to go off of. This also means that they get information much quicker from around the world.
In the beginning of the article it mentioned that these paintings were, “…ambassador(s) of cross-cultural pollination.” There is a lot of cross-culture in the Obama paintings in the article. Since they were made in Africa and the images are of our type of government and our political leaders it does have a crossing of cultures. Images of the American flag appear many times in these paintings along with other government symbols including the white house. So it is obvious that much of our culture and its ideas are being brought to Africa in some way. After reading this article it would seem that some parts of Africa were infatuated with Obama.
I can also possibly see cross-cultural pollination in some of the Ghanaian textiles. Of course there are the printed textiles of political figures like Roosevelt, Churchill, or Obama. But there is also the cell-phone which eventually got to Africa from another culture. Or there is the idea that Britain’s brought tea to Africa. And then some Africans used the tins to make tin stencils for their textiles. There is also an ethnic group called the Tuaregs that give tea to their guests. This idea of serving tea may have come from another culture. Another example could be the backed chairs for the hene(s). It may have been that it was stools that were used first and then the Portuguese may have brought the backed chair over.
Overall I believe that there is a lot of cross-culture pollination going on at all times. If people have access to visual culture it is almost impossible to not be an object of cross-culture pollination. I think that just based on that fact that I am writing about another culture and how it may have an influence on the way that I think is an example of cross-culture pollination.