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CHAPTER 3. BRIDGING PAST AND PRESENT:Africa and after, 1957–1974

Olive Jensen Theisen University of North Texas Press PDF

Chapter 3

Bridging Past and Present:

Africa and After, 1957–1974

The journey to Africa was the most significant of my life’s experiences. Living intimately with the African and understanding something of his problems enabled me to better understand my own. Thus strengthened, I gained a new confidence for the future.

—John Biggers, Ananse: The Web of Life in Africa

u  u  u 

West Africa, July 1957–December 1957

In July of 1957, John Biggers left America with his wife, Hazel, for six months of study in West Africa, funded by a UNESCO grant. The artist kept a careful record of his trip in words, drawings, and photographs, which he later incorporated into a book, Ananse: The Web of Life in Africa, first published in 1962.

In Ananse, he wrote of his thoughts in flight, as his plane approached the coast of Africa: “As an American Negro, my lifelong desire had been to bridge the gap between African and American culture. When I was an art student …Viktor

Lowenfeld taught us something about the noble meaning of African sculpture.”

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7. Idoma Sculpture: Colonialism and the Market for African Art

Sidney Littlefield Kasfir Indiana University Press ePub



The next two chapters describe the bridging from the colonial to the postcolonial phase in the trajectories of certain objects as they became collectible commodities. But first I clarify what I mean here by “the postcolonial” as a historical phase versus an experiential condition, how clearly it can be distinguished from the late colonial, and whether this is even a right way to characterize the changes I am describing in the African art world. There is a qualitative difference between using “postcolonial” as a temporal marker meaning “after formal colonialism ended” and using “postcolonial” as an intellectual construct involving a broad new kind of consciousness, a stepping away from one’s old identity as colonial subject and adoption of a critical stance toward the colonial experience. Today this second sense of postcoloniality is fading into abstraction as the colonial experience has become less personal and more remote in time and is morphing, often due to migration (Papastergiadis 2000), into the African artist’s experience of an expanded horizon in a global cultural field (Liep 2001, 46). For the Samburu pastoralists, these migrations are a new form of seasonal transhumance without cattle and, like the experiences of more urban Africans, they involve encounters with strangers and their ideas. But Idoma artisanal practice has remained largely local and rural so that the second sense of the postcolonial as a form of changed subjectivity is a mantle to be worn lightly, if at all.

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1. Talking to People about Art

Joanna Grabski Indiana University Press ePub


Without thinking about it deeply, you might not realize that talking to people about art is a practice fraught with difficulty. First, there is the fact that visual art especially, but also music and performance, deploy form to produce an effect in ways that often defy authoritative explanation. Art takes you to places filled with thoughts and emotions, but by a very different route than you would have traveled had words alone been the vehicle in which you rode. Indeed, it sometimes seems that art exists to provide a landscape of exploration and analysis in which words work only with the greatest deliberation, and then at the cost of losing some of art's provocative potency. When you talk to people about art, be they consumers or producers—audiences or artists—you face the problem that words can be clumsy, obfuscating, diffusing tools with which to record the making and experiencing of visual culture. It might be easier to use words to examine the things that exist around art, such as artists’ biographies, influences on their work, the influence they have on others, the ways they manifest technique, or the goals they seek to articulate, though these topics too impose obstacles and are not as straightforward as they might seem. But exploring the broad world of art, from artists’ backgrounds and abilities to the effects that artists seek to create and the experiences that audiences gain from art, is vitally important if we are to comprehend expressive culture's depth of resonance in the human condition and its relevance to all human affairs. So we must seek ways to use words that foster understanding of a creative domain that often seems anathema to verbal exposition.

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5 Invisible Humanism: An African 1968 and Its Aftermaths

Daniel J Sherman Indiana University Press ePub


One of the premises of this volume is that the full significance of what we call “1968” can only be grasped by attending to a wide range of ideas and events that unfolded at more or less the same time in many different locations around the world. This entails a recognition that there is not a single 1968 (with its epicenter in, for instance, Paris in May). The mood and moment of ’68, this volume insists, was irreducibly plural and meant different things in different places. To this it is necessary only to add that the same is true of Africa’s 1968s. This is why the title of this essay refers to “an” African 1968, not “the” African 1968. As I will argue, there were many African 1968s.

We do live in a world of centers and peripheries, and France was undoubtedly a center from which many things reverberated in those heady years (the United States was no doubt another). But the 1968 phenomenon is generally reckoned to be so significant precisely because it swept across (as it is often put) “the whole world.” It was never just a matter of Paris but also of Saigon and Hanoi. Czechoslovakia was in the middle of it, but so was Tokyo. In Mexico City as in Chicago “the whole world was watching.” In dealing with a set of events whose significance rests on their claimed globality, peripheries turn out to be surprisingly central.

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CHAPTER TWO: Early Years and Education, 1924–1949

Olive Jensen Theisen University of North Texas Press PDF

Early Years and Education, 1924–1949




ohn Thomas Biggers was a true child of the South. Born April 13, 1924, and raised in Gastonia, North Carolina, his ideas, values, memories, and talent were formed by his home and the circumstances of his birth. Growing up as a black child in a racially segregated time in the southern half of the United States deeply influenced his view of the world. Biggers’s drawings are filled with references to aspects of life that are far removed from our current preoccupation with technology and political and global matters. Yet these drawings speak so strongly of the human condition that they cannot be forgotten.

The early drawings of John Biggers centered on family and community in the rural South in the Great Depression, World War II, and the post-war era of the

1950s. He was a gifted African American artist who came to adulthood in the decades preceding the historic civil rights movement. He is best understood as one of the African American pioneers in the visual arts who developed his career despite the conditions that made the fight for civil rights inevitable.

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4 Zombie Media

Edward P Comentale Indiana University Press ePub

We are the hostages of news coverage, but we acquiesce secretly in this hostage-taking.

Jean Baudrillard, Virtuality and Events

The news is always horseshit.

Tony, Diary of the Dead

Taken as a whole, George A. Romero’s body of work has most often been thought to mark shifts in cultural anxieties—anxieties around the Vietnam War and the civil rights era, the rise of a consumer economy, the relation of science and the military during the Cold War, the war in Iraq, and the irruptive spectacle of terrorism—anxieties that his films not only embody but also critically respond to, and all of which have been well documented. Yet, by regarding these films as markers of cultural anxieties or repressions, such readings either implicitly or explicitly tend to use psychological models, often ones that have been transposed to a cultural level.1 Such frameworks, while certainly useful, also tend to domesticate the zombie.2 Under such models, the zombie becomes safe and familiar, immanently legible as political allegory and cultural construct. In the end, it all comes back to us humans.

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NINE Vulnerability Unveiled: Lubna’s Pants and Humanitarian Visibility on the Verge of Sudan’s Secession • AMAL HASSAN FADLALLA

Edited by Elisha P Renne Indiana University Press ePub

Journalist Lubna Ahmed Al-Hussein traveled to France to sign a book based on her story on the 23rd of November, 2009. Internet sales of her book . . . reached half a million copies, each selling for 18 Euros, 6% of which will go to Lubna. Lubna told reporters that the book will be translated into various languages.

—Reuters (Paris), 2009

In July 2009, the transnational media circulated news about yet another grave human rights violation perpetrated by Sudan’s Islamist regime, the latest in a series of violent crimes against humanity.1 Lubna Al-Hussein, dubbed “the pants journalist” for wearing pants in public and hence countermanding the prevailing dress code of modest body covering, was sentenced to flogging after an arrest by the public order police in Sudan. This case became one of the most widely reported narratives about the subordination of Muslim women in the world.2 Lubna was arrested, along with twelve other women, in a public restaurant in Khartoum and charged with disturbing public order by dressing indecently. Lubna contested the immodesty charge by addressing the media and arguing that at the time of her arrest she was wearing baggy pants, a long blouse with long sleeves, and a headscarf.

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6 The Big Lebowski and Paul de Man: Historicizing Irony and Ironizing Historicism

Edward P Comentale Indiana University Press ePub

Joshua Kates

Let me begin by historicizing, not irony, but the Dude, though these two options may turn out to be closer than one suspects. The link between the Dude, the hero of the Coen brothers’ 1998 film The Big Lebowski, and the era of the 1960s has seemed to many incontestable. I propose, however, not the 1960s themselves, but a certain reception and interpretation of this era in the 1970s as Jeff’s actual socio-cultural reference point.

Indeed, at issue in the character and way of life of Jeff—as his homonym, the Big Lebowski, points out—is the fate of the already failed revolutionary hopes of the 1960s, as these have been taken up and “processed” by the 1970s. Jeff as we are shown him, in fact, has no living contact with that earlier era. The Dude cannot even be imagined actually doing any of the earlier deeds attributed to him, or to his supposed archetype Jeff “the Dude” Dowd: taking over campus buildings, writing the Port Huron Statement, etc. So, too, from the beginning of Lebowski, Lebowski little and big are distinguished along the axis of activity and quiescence, laziness and achievement (suited to the reference of the 1970s), not in terms of politics or political commitment (as would befit the 1960s). Big Lebowski is credited with being an achiever at least five times after the film’s opening, and even the doting cowboy narrator calls the Dude the laziest man in L.A. (Of course, by the end of the film, the attribute of achievement having been stripped from the putatively “larger” Lebowski, and Jeff having fathered a still smaller Lebowski, it is not clear who really is the big Lebowski: perhaps the larger-than-life, and about to become large with child, Maude Lebowski?)

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9 Bodies Count: The Sixties Body in American Politics

Daniel J Sherman Indiana University Press ePub


Historical discussions of feminism in the United States typically locate post-1968 women’s liberation as the origin of a new politics of the body in post–World War II American political discourse. By making the personal, especially the sexual and the reproductive, political, women’s liberationists redefined how the socially constructed body was understood. Constrained by male control of female bodies, they contended, women lacked the power to shape their sexual and reproductive destinies. Their bodies were not fully their own. After 1968, however, white women’s liberationists, Third World feminists, and other activist women of color politicized abortion and reproductive health, along with rape, sexual harassment, and other dimensions of “sexual politics.” The result was a new political language, a tide of new legislation, and a vibrant jurisprudence—forged by Supreme Court decisions in such cases as Roe v. Wade (1973), Craig v. Boren (1976), and Meritor Savings Bank v. Vinson (1986)—that were collectively transformative, if contested and incomplete. Ascribing these developments to post-1968 feminist activism is right, provided we acknowledge earlier precedents in European and U.S. feminisms in both the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.1

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Olive Jensen Theisen University of North Texas Press PDF

mature years: 1983–1993

Fig. 6.2

Song of the Drinking

Gourds, 1987.

Exterior-quality acrylic on prepared plaster over concrete.

360 x 480 in. Tom

Bass Regional Park

Craft House, Harris

County, Texas

North Carolina and two at his alma mater, Hampton University in Virginia. In all of his work, he continued to develop universal symbols that transcended regional and ethnic boundaries, affirming the common humanity of all people. This may be the enduring legacy of John Biggers’s art.

Song of the Drinking Gourds

Song of the Drinking Gourds (fig. 6.1) is another outdoor mural, painted on the main exterior wall of the Senior Citizen Craft House in Tom Bass Regional Park outside of Houston. The building, designed by James Marshall, is set on a grassy knoll so that the mural can easily be seen from many points in the park. It has the effect of a large quilt hanging in the open air.1

Tom Bass was a Harris County commissioner who brought a sense of humanism to politics in the county. The park was named in his honor, a sign of the high regard people had for him. It was Mr. Bass who had suggested me earlier for the Adair mural.

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11 What Condition the Postmodern Condition Is In: Collecting Culture in The Big Lebowski

Edward P Comentale Indiana University Press ePub

Allan Smithee

In the spring of 1998, moviegoers had the chance to purchase a ticket to a magic carpet ride called The Big Lebowski, a strange new Coen brothers project that may never have gotten off the ground had it not been for the assured wizardry of its creators and its colorful cast of likable actors. In the end, it sank like a bowling ball after just a few short weeks, having racked up a paltry domestic gross of $17,451,873, a largely unsympathetic reaction from critics and indifference from a mass audience that seemed interested only in keeping the good ship Titanic afloat at the local multiplex (boxofficemojo.com). At that point, Lebowski might very well have settled into its designated slot in the home video graveyard, fondly remembered, perhaps, by the same clutch of diehard Coen brothers fans who continue to defend disappointments like The Hudsucker Proxy. What happened instead was a massive revival, one that has by now easily transcended the esoteric confines of the “cult movie” and settled into a strata of public awareness somewhere just this side of the American pantheon of immortal favorites like Star Wars, The Wizard of Oz, and The Blues Brothers. Of course, the belated adoration of Lebowski is not unique in and of itself, for there are plenty of other recent comedies such as Half-Baked or Office Space that have also turned into breakout hits only after their release on home video, thanks in no small part to that peculiarly imitative ritual whereby people recite memorable dialogue or recount favorite scenes. Though such vernacular mimicry has also contributed heavily to the Lebowski phenomenon, I want to begin my discussion by suggesting that what truly distinguishes The Big Lebowski as a film—what compels us to watch it repeatedly, what makes it a phenomenon worthy of study, and what swells its continually growing ranks of admirers—is its almost unrivalled capacity to act as an occasion for the collecting of culture.

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7: The Last Fight 1923–1935

Rachel Berenson Perry Indiana University Press ePub


FORSYTH'S PAINTING THE SMOKER WON THE Mary T. R. Foulke Purchase Prize of $150 at the Richmond Art Association's Twenty-second Annual Exhibition in 1923. Calling it “that portrait of myself with a cigarette in my mouth,” Forsyth wrote to Dorothy, “I'm afraid I won't be a good example to the Richmond High School kids with that cigarette…and that impudent grin in evidence, as if I didn't give a whoop who saw me…. I never dreamed of it getting a prize and really didn't want to part with it…. Well, the prize money will come in handy.”1

In fact, the prize money was sorely needed. Extra income from awards and judging paid the tuition for the three girls’ Butler University education, which were high priorities in the Forsyth family.2 Despite his regular employment at Herron, occasional artwork sales, and some painting repair work, the Forsyths always struggled to make ends meet. Alice continually patched, sewed, and refashioned to keep her family respectably clothed, and the garden provided fresh vegetables and canned goods. They made their own cherry juice and raised chickens in their spacious backyard.

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1 Indigenous Fashion: Embroidery and Innovation in Mali

Victoria L. Rovine Indiana University Press ePub

You come from afar, you have brought lots of clothes, everyone sings your praises, the best clothes come from Accra, and the person who wears them is the best.

—Dogon song, documented by Isaie Dougnon

A tilbi is more than a boubou.

—Baba Djitteye, embroiderer, Timbuktu, 23 July 2008

In a single region in Mali, two styles of men’s dress embody diverse forms of social status, attitudes toward innovation and perpetuation of past practices, and sources of stylistic inspiration. These styles, known as “Ghana boy” and “tilbi,” have in common a reliance on embroidery as a means of embodying messages, histories, and identities. Yet, these embroidered garments represent quite distinct approaches to style change, the hallmark of fashion. Neither of these sartorial innovations participates in the global fashion system, which is rooted in Western styles and methods. Instead, they offer insights into different fashion worlds, with their own histories, economies, and precedents from which they draw inspiration. Furthermore, these styles contain traces of local as well as global networks of commodities and cultures, literally made legible in the embroidered patterns and figures that adorn the garments.

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3. Gaze, Sacred and Secular

Pravina Shukla Indiana University Press ePub

SEEING AND BEING SEEN are given particular importance in Hindu India by the concept of darshan, sacred sight. An understanding of the power of sight in Hinduism—for communication and for blessing—helps contextualize the secular realm of vision, aiding in our appreciation of how individuals make judgments and convey messages based on what people wear. In the moment of worship, eye contact and focused vision establish connection and narrow the gap between the devotee and the deity. In the crowded street, people temporarily join in brief, casual or intense, exchanges of contact through the eyes.

Darshan, auspicious sight, is a visual exchange between a worshiper and a murti—a representation of a deity in stone, metal, or clay—during the act of puja. Whether or not the statue eternally contains the deity varies in different parts of India. In some places, the statue is a permanent embodiment of the deity that can be worshiped at any time. In others, it is a receptacle into which the deity descends, and through which the god is worshiped. Darshan means the gaze of the person looking at a deity and the gaze of the deity looking back at the person. To take darshan of a deity—in Hindi, darshan karna, to do darshan—is proof of proximity, legitimizing the experience of being in the same place as a god. This concept may also apply to seeing an important human being. People used to crowd for a glimpse of Mahatma Gandhi, to take darshan, carrying away a bit of him, a fleeting vision of the Great Soul permanently stored in the mind’s eye.

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Chapter Twelve What, How, and When: On My Art and Myself

Samuel S. Bak Indiana University Press ePub

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