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CHAPTER FOUR: Africa and Post-Africa, 1957–1974

Olive Jensen Theisen University of North Texas Press PDF

Africa and Post-Africa: 1957–1974




deas for drawings originate from many sources, just as do pieces of a quilt. They might emerge from the depths of an artist’s emotional memories and fantasies or from a draftsman’s powers of observation. The drawings that have been selected for the past three chapters have been expressionistic, emotional, and have come from inner memory as much as a reporter’s observations. Throughout the

first several decades of his career, Biggers’s images were deep and somber impressions of the downtrodden, tragic expressions of the human condition. When asked about this characteristic feature of his early work, Biggers explained that he felt that it was absolutely necessary to show his feelings about what happens to people in poverty. “This to me is what art is all about—showing the spirit of man struggling above the mundane, above the material, above suffering.”1

The influence of Viktor Lowenfeld can perhaps be understood by reviewing

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4. Photography, Narrative Interventions, and (Cross) Cultural Representations

Joanna Grabski Indiana University Press ePub



Every year in the wintry cold of late January or early February, Time, Inc., releases the much-anticipated Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue. The swimsuit-clad models are meant to transport readers out of the doldrums of winter to the warmth of tropical locations (e.g., Bermuda, Bora Bora, Dominican Republic, Mexico). Shot in a different location every year—Sports Illustrated identifies the locale each time, but in many ways one beach could be any other—each issue offers a fantasy world of sun-drenched fun. Occasionally, however, a site is chosen that manifests its location specifically through well-known land formations or the indigenous architecture. Such is the case with the 1996 swimsuit issue. Shot in South Africa, its presentation of Ndebele visual culture is fundamental to establishing the locale for readers. Beaded jewelry is most common, though there are two images in the photo essay in which Ndebele wall painting predominates.1

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Medium 9781603444668

4. Another Colorado: The Highland Lakes and Lady Bird Lake

Margie Crisp Texas A&M University Press ePub


“Who knew,” the ruddy-faced man seated in front of me whispered to his wife, “that bald eagles are really bald? That one doesn’t have a single feather on its ugly red head.” His wife lowered her binoculars and said doubtfully, “That’s a bald eagle?” Meanwhile, the enthusiastic birdwatcher had pushed her way out of the cabin and onto the foredeck of the Eagle II to misidentify more birds. I scanned the sky, “Oh look!” I called and pointed. A dozen sets of binoculars snapped to the section of sky above the limestone canyon. “Oh heck, it’s just another turkey vulture.” I announce. The couple murmurs to each other. “Bald eagles aren’t bald,” she says with satisfaction. “But turkey vultures are,” he replies.

I’m on the Vanishing Texas River Cruise1 with a group of birdwatchers and tourists; we are cruising up the limestone canyons at the head of Lake Buchanan, the first of the Lower Colorado River Authority’s (LCRA) Highland Lakes. Our boat, the Eagle II, is a big, broad vessel with a shallow draft and a glass-enclosed cabin protecting us from the raw January day. A few hardy souls stand outside in the drizzle and wind scanning the skies for bald eagles, osprey, and other winter residents of the canyons. Ferns embellish the cliffs near the waterfalls. Slender trees and shrubs, cactus, yucca, clumps of wiry grasses, and other determined survivors knot their roots into crevices and narrow pockets of soil along the rock face.

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Introduction: Colonial Power and Aesthetic Practice

Sidney Littlefield Kasfir Indiana University Press ePub



A Masai warrior is a fine sight. Those young men have, to the utmost extent, that particular form of intelligence that we call chic:—daring, and wildly fantastical as they seem, they are still unswervingly true to their own nature … and their weapons and finery are as much a part of their being as are a stag’s antlers.

—ISAK DINESEN, Out of Africa (1937)

The South was, for the most part, held in thrall by Fetish worship and the hideous ordeals of witchcraft, human sacrifice and twin murder. The great Ibo race to the East of the Niger… and their cognate tribes had not developed beyond the stage of primitive savagery.

—FREDERICK LUGARD, “Report on the Amalgamation of Northern and Southern Nigeria” (1919/1968)

Where does the new come from in an artist’s practice? In this book, I explore an unexpected source, colonial authority, and trace the ways widely different late-nineteenth- and early-twentieth-century European impressions of Kenya and Nigeria and the subsequent British colonizing policies toward their imperfectly understood subject peoples intervened in and transformed the objects and practices of two groups of African artists. Equally, this book is about the ways those artists—sculptors and smiths—reinvented these objects and created a new artisanal practice. Because the two cultures, Idoma in Nigeria (one of Lugard’s “cognate tribes”) and Maa-speaking Samburu in Kenya, are geographically remote and superficially very different, the common thread of the institution of warriorhood helps weave the comparison. At a more immediate level, this book is also about real people—the warriors, the artists, and the blacksmiths—and how they strategized and made choices to circumvent the authority of colonial rule and to create new forms.

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8. Politics of Narrative at the African Burial Ground in New York City: The Final Monument

Joanna Grabski Indiana University Press ePub




The African Burial Ground located in lower Manhattan was used by Africans and people of African descent from approximately 1700 until 1790. It covered five to six acres and likely contained the remains of ten thousand to twenty thousand people. A small portion of the African Burial Ground was unearthed in 1991 when the General Services Administration (GSA) built on top of the cemetery a thirty-four-story Federal Office Building at 290 Broadway between Duane and Reade Streets. The eighteenth-century colonial cemetery was located in what has become today's Civic Center of lower Manhattan, surrounded by City Hall, Federal Plaza, and the New York Supreme Court. Because the plot of land at 290 Broadway is prime real estate, it was initially treated as such, rather than as a sacred, historical burial site. Eventually, after community activism and governmental involvement, several commemorative art projects were eventually commissioned for the site.1

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5. Mask and Spear: Art, Thing, Commodity

Sidney Littlefield Kasfir Indiana University Press ePub



Material objects are chains along which social relationships run.

—E. E. Evans-Pritchard, The Nuer (1940)

Every material object is constituted as an object of discourse.

—Christopher Tilley, “Michel Foucault: Towards an Archaeology of Archaeology” (1990)


In this chapter I reach the core of the book’s second and more aesthetically focused set of arguments, which concern the interpretations, both indigenous and exogenous, of the masks and spears of my historical narrative. In earlier chapters (1 and 2), I argued that missionaries’ and explorers’ accounts, novels, the popular press, and colonial government reports created a discursive field around the institutions and practices of warriorhood in what became the British colonies of Nigeria and Kenya. The inscriptions were very different in the two locales and resulted in markedly dissimilar governing policies. And because these policies had a direct effect upon artisanal practice related to warriorhood, I have argued that they inadvertently set the conditions for artistic and technical innovation. Because the Idoma and Samburu cultural scripts were very divergent, innovation meant something different in each case: the transformation of a mask genre for the Idoma and the opening up of the smith’s previously limited spear repertory for the Samburu. In the next section (chapters 3 and 4), I turned to a closer scrutiny of the power and limitations of the Idoma sculptor and the Samburu smith within a larger cultural script of African practice. But the argument cannot end there, because although I have traced the innovations in certain kinds of objects as they relate to a repertory and practice, I have not looked at them as visual texts. To understand the place these objects have come to inhabit in an externally structured art-world or material-culture concept, one has to trace the variations in ways they have been talked and written about in the colonial and postcolonial spaces they have inhabited.

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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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Chapter Five Sailing on Rachel’s Wet Floor

Samuel S. Bak Indiana University Press ePub
Medium 9780253013873

14 Zombie Cocktails

Edward P Comentale Indiana University Press ePub

We take great pleasure in drinking big zombies.

Simone de Beauvoir, America Day by Day

When Betsy Connell, female lead in Jacques Tourneur’s I Walked with a Zombie (1943), confesses that is she isn’t in fact familiar with zombies, her interlocutor, Dr. Maxwell, first tells her that she is dealing with “a ghost, the living dead” and then informs her more cheerfully that the Zombie is also a drink, at which point Betsy finds herself on more familiar territory. “I tried one once,” she says, “but there wasn’t anything dead about it.” Uttered in 1943 at the height of Hollywood’s tiki craze, these lines are no doubt an inside joke. By this time, actors and audience alike were more than familiar with the real Zombies that had overrun America’s bars and the mystical powers they allegedly possessed. And much like Val Newton’s cinematic living dead, the Zombies served at bars such as Don the Beachcomber and Trader Vic’s evoked echoes of Haitian vodou, supernatural possession, and the mystical, transatlantic origins of the zombie myth.1

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8 · Lusinga’s Lasting Laughs

Allen F. Roberts Indiana University Press ePub

“A thing itself is a person or pertains to a person” [and] this intimate conjunction of person and things . . . establishes . . . an “irrevocable link” between their donors and recipients, a link with an onerous burden which can even make a gift “dangerous to accept.”


The continuing “life” of the “Lusinga” figure as it stood on Storms’s mantelpiece raises “what if” questions: if the sculpture had remained in Lusinga’s hands—supposing, of course, that the “sanguinary potentate” had managed to hold on to his head—what might it have represented to and, more significantly, done for the chief and his people? Asking now does reverse the ordinary order of things, since locally defined efficacies and purposes obviously preceded Bwana Boma’s seizure of the figure; but if he was aware of these at all, Storms understood such capacities and practices through his own culture and as a function of his own political agenda. Here we shall engage another archaeology of knowledge based upon archival materials and exegeses from Tabwa of the 1970s. Among people then living in and around Lubanda, overt use of sculpture had long been curtailed because of intense pressure from Catholic missionaries. Material manifestations of spirit and agency remained important nonetheless, however clandestine the praxis was compared to overt ways that sculpture was used in the days of Swift-of-Foot and Bwana Boma.

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

Edited by Sidney Littlefield Kasfir and Indiana University Press ePub

Namubiru Rose Kirumira and Sidney Littlefield Kasfir

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 (Deliss 1995; Kirumira 2008; Sanyal 2002). It is worth observing that several types of workshops that include long-term (three-month) residencies, short-term (two-week) workshops, and symposia have existed in Africa for some time; many were begun by colonial patrons. Publications such as catalogs produced by the Triangle Art Trust, and articles by Court (1992) and Richards (1998) have given varied, if limited, accounts of the status of art workshops in Africa.

Murray, Picton, and Loder (2005) argue that the condition of being an artist in Africa is a condition of continuous transition. In the same vein, for over fifty years, African workshops have presented themselves in a continuous transition from artist’s colonies, communities, and craft villages to international workshops. A revealing example of what has changed in the African workshop scenario since 1985 is the introduction and spread of the so-called Triangle Workshops, originated by the British art collector and entrepreneur Robert Loder and sculptor Sir Anthony Caro in 1982. The initial triangle was the familiar one of the United States, Canada, and the United Kingdom; but three years later the first African Triangle Workshop, Thupelo, was organized in South Africa by artists David Koloane and Bill Ainslie.

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Medium 9780253353801

17 Abiding (as) Animal: Marmot, Pomeranian, Whale, Dude

Edward P Comentale Indiana University Press ePub

David Pagano

Non-human animals do not get much screen time in The Big Lebowski. We do see two domestic, misnamed mammals, one that Walter calls a Pomeranian and another that the Dude calls a marmot, but they are onscreen for only seconds. Other animals appear even less prominently, but before the film is over we hear the songs of humpback whales and the cries of seagulls, encounter a woman named Bunny, and apprehend references to bears, camels, walruses, steers, and pigs (in a blanket). It seems, then, that though they are not often visible in the film, animals manage to leave their tracks or traces in the possibilities of meaning that the movie generates. The question is, can we follow those tracks, master these traces, or do they constitute too many strands to keep in our heads? A little of both, I suggest: animals are an essential component of the Dude’s journey or anti-journey, but because they speak insistently to the question of language in the film—more specifically, the question of how or whether language can cross boundaries and establish communication—they must to a certain extent escape our snares. In a word, in this film, animals abide, both with and within the Dude and his friends. Although I do not have time to address all of the species cited in the film, I show that animality, if there is such a thing, is a central concern for the Dude and for the human comedy he inhabits.

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

Edited by Sidney Littlefield Kasfir and Indiana University Press ePub

Jessica Gerschultz

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, create, critique, and exhibit. Although individual workshops in Kenya have been discussed (Picton et al. 2002; Kasfir 1999; Burnet et al. 1999:15–18; Nyachae 1995), no attempt has been made to present Nairobi’s workshop network as a fluid system that allows artists to develop and sustain relationships beyond a particular studio space or moment in time. This system fosters relationships among artists and between artists and other social actors, such as children participating in artist-led workshops in community spaces. The oversight in the literature occurs because of the term’s limited connotations. In order to better understand the social networking at the heart of Nairobi’s art infrastructure, it is first necessary to reexamine what the term “workshop” implies and to whom. It is then constructive to outline the configuration of this system in order to consider how it shapes and is shaped by artists’ relationships. I will also discuss its relevance to artists’ conceptions of how knowledge, specifically technical and organizational knowledge, is disseminated. By reevaluating the workshop in this particular context, I will show that workshops comprise a navigable system in which artists develop professionally, relying on each other for training and support. I will demonstrate the centrality of this system and its impact on artists’ modes of working by tracing the career paths of several Nairobi artists who are representative of the wider grouping of workshop-affiliated artists. I will also underline how the workshop system intersects with wider audiences in Nairobi.

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9 Zombie Politics

Edward P Comentale Indiana University Press ePub

Euretē moi he entolē hē eis zoēn, autē eis thanaton. (And the commandment, which was ordained to life, I found to be unto death.)

Saint Paul

Carl Grimes, the cowboy-hat-wearing son in The Walking Dead, gives his father, Rick, a cold reminder about the world they live in: “The costumes, the candy—everyone walking around, acting like nothing is happening around them. They’re all stupid. The roamers [zombies] don’t go away because you can’t see them. I hate this place, Dad. It doesn’t feel real. It feels like everyone is playing pretend. . . . I don’t want to get used to this. It will make us weak” (Kirkman 16). This cynical political philosophy—more “pragmatic than argumentative”—marks Carl as a member of Generation Zombie (Žižek, Sublime Object 29). Unlike the adult survivors in his group, he barely remembers a world before zombies, harboring no idealistic nostalgia about “recreating” what once was. In Critique of Cynical Reason, the German philosopher Peter Sloterdijk describes the new generation of late twentieth-century cynics as those who understand “that things must first be better before you can learn anything sensible. . . . Basically, no one believes anymore that today’s learning solves tomorrow’s ‘problems’; it is almost certain that it causes them” (xxix). Slavoj Žižek derives his signature concept from this zombified version of political reason: “they know very well what they are doing, but still, they are doing it” (Sublime Object 29). In this regard the cynicism present in zombie texts touches on an important political question: what does it mean to have a politics after a better, more reasonable world no longer retains credibility? This problem in turn concerns the existential contours of a world that is consensually shaped for a zombielike aimlessness in which they know very well that they’re becoming more and more like zombies, but still they are doing it.

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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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