A Companion to Modern African Art -  - ebook

A Companion to Modern African Art ebook

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Offering a wealth of perspectives on African modern and Modernist art from the mid-nineteenth century to the present, this new Companion features essays by African, European, and North American authors who assess the work of individual artists as well as exploring broader themes such as discoveries of new technologies and globalization. * A pioneering continent-based assessment of modern art and modernity across Africa * Includes original and previously unpublished fieldwork-based material * Features new and complex theoretical arguments about the nature of modernity and Modernism * Addresses a widely acknowledged gap in the literature on African Art

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List of Figures

Notes on Contributors



Part I: Introduction

1 Writing African Modernism into Art History

Narrations of Modernism and Modernity

Centering Narratives on Africa’s Art Worlds

Chapter Overview

Lacunae and Disjunctures



Part II: “Africa Has Always Been Modern”

2 Local Transformations, Global Inspirations: The Visual Histories and Cultures of Mami Wata Arts in Africa

Sacred Waters: Ancient and Indigenous Arts for African Water Deities

Afro-Mami Meets Euro-Mermaid: A Fifteenth-Century Sapi Synthesis

The Mermaid: A Floating Signifier

The Double-Tailed Mermaid in the Art of Benin

Mami Wata and the Image of the Snake Charmer

The Snake Charmer as Mami Wata in Africa

Mami Wata and Hindu Gods and Goddesses

Communicating with Mami Wata: Writing, Reflecting, Calling

Troubled Waters: From Saint to Sinner



Part III: Art in Cosmopolitan Africa: The Nineteenth Century

3 Loango Coast Ivories and the Legacies of Afro-Portuguese Arts

Hybrids at Hello

Contact and Catastrophe

Afro-Portuguese Ivories

The Loango Ivories

“Authenticity”: Drawing the Line

Pointed Imagery

More Animal Tales




4 Roots and Routes of African Photographic Practices: From Modern to Vernacular Photography in West and Central Africa (1850–1980)

“COME ONE! COME ALL! and secure the shadow ere it fades”

Toward a History of Photography in West and Central Africa

Pioneer Photographers and Their Customers along the West and Central African Coasts

From Monrovia to Libreville: The Careers of Several African Pioneer Photographers

The Democratization of Photography: The Case of Fumban, Cameroon



5 At Home in the World: Portrait Photography and Swahili Mercantile Aesthetics

“Modernity” in African Art History

Challenging “Modernity” and “Place” on the Swahili Coast

Photography and the Colonial Moment

A Swahili Culture of Things

Portrait Photographs as Objects

Modernity on the Edge



6 African Reimaginations: Presence, Absence, and New Way Architecture

The Scenario for a New History of the Modern

The Palace and the Mosque

Lacuna and History

Removals and Reinstallations

Invisibility and Difference

Last Word: The Lines of a Future Argument



Part IV: Modernities and Cross-Cultural Encounters in Arts of the Early Twentieth Century

7 “One of the Best Tools for Learning”: Rethinking the Role of ‘Abduh’s Fatwa in Egyptian Art History


Art, Islam, and the Imam

An Insightful Traveler’s Observations

“And They Do Not Spare Any Effort in Preserving These Things”

Al-Suwar wa-l-Tamathil: A Fatwa without Fine Arts

Between the Educational and the Legal

The Fatwa’s Five Parts




8 Congolese and Belgian Appropriations of the Colonial Era: The Commissioned Work of Tshelantende (Djilatendo) and Its Reception


Tshelantende’s Personal History

His Oeuvre

Reception History



9 Warriors in Top Hats: Images of Modernity and Military Power on West African Coasts

Evidence for Top Hats and Global Trade in the 1860s–1890s

The Bissagos Islands

The Niger Delta

The Lagoons

Top Hats as Transfers of Technology



Part V: Colonialism, Modernism, and Art in Independent Nations

10 Algerian Painters as Pioneers of Modernism

French Colonialism and Its Impact on Algerian Art

“Parsimonious” Inclusion of Algerians in the Colonial Arts Scene

The First Algerian Painters, 1920s and 1930s

The Racims and Miniaturist Painting

Algerian Artists and European Orientalists – 1940s

Female Algerian Artists

The Algerian Revolution, Independence, and Modern Art

Postindependence Phase

Artists and the Algerian Civil War 1991–2002

Painting and Contemporary Trends in Algerian Art




11 Kofi Antubam, 1922–1964: A Modern Ghanaian Artist, Educator, and Writer


The Formative Years of Kofi Antubam

Institutional History, from Achimota to “Kumasi Realism”

Kofi Antubam as an Educator

Kofi Antubam as a Writer

The Lasting Impact of Antubam’s Art



12 Patron and Artist in the Shaping of Zimbabwean Art

The Mission Workshops

Stone Sculpture: McEwen and the First Generation 1960–1973

Majority Rule and the Second Generation



13 “Being Modern”: Identity Debates and Makerere’s Art School in the 1960s

The Art School in Transition

Two Dominant Colonial Views of Africans

Debates on Makerere Campus

African Literature or Literature from Africa?

Art: Debate on the Margin

A Twofold Task



14 The École des Arts and Exhibitionary Platforms in Postindependence Senegal

Making Modern Art at the École des Arts du Sénégal

New Art and Artists for a New Nation

Modern Art in the Narrative Frame of Négritude



15 From Iconoclasm to Heritage: The Osogbo Art Movement and the Dynamics of Modernism in Nigeria


When Even Statues Die: Revitalizing African Art

Newness and Rupture: The Osogbo Art School

Multiplying the New: Branding Osogbo Art

Reframing the New: Heritage




16 Modernism and Modernity in African Art

Exhibiting Africa

When Was Contemporary Art?

So When Was Modernity?

Indigo-Dyed Textiles and Yoruba Modernity

Bruce Onobrakpeya, Painter and Printmaker

In Conclusion



17 A Century of Painting in the Congo: Image, Memory, Experience, and Knowledge


Figurative Drawings on the External Walls of Village Houses

Pictures on Canvas




Part VI: Perspectives on Arts of the African Diaspora

18 Visual Expressivity in the Art of the Black Diaspora: Conjunctures and Disjunctures


Globalizing the Canon

African Art and History

Art and the Black Diaspora: The United States

Migration, Transnationalism, and the Black Diaspora

Transnationalism and Intercontinental Dialogs

Transnationalism: Making Space




Part VII: Syntheses in Art of the Late Twentieth Century

19 Art and Social Dynamics in Côte d’Ivoire: The Position of Vohou-Vohou

Spirit: The Narrative of Its Origins

Connections and Quarrels

The Ferment of Culture and Sociopolitical Dynamics



20 Contemporary Contradictions: Bronzecasting in the Edo Kingdom of Benin

Modern Precursors: Influential Artists during the Reign of Oba Akenzua II, 1933–1978

Contemporary Artists in Benin since the 1980s



21 Puppets as Witnesses and Perpetrators in Ubu and the Truth Commission


Historical Background

Theoretical and Critical Issues

Showcasing Ubu and the Truth Commission

Concluding Remarks



22 Moroccan Art Museums and Memories of Modernity

What Museum for Art? Frames and Questions

A Short History of National Museums in Morocco

The Intertwined History of Emancipatory Modernity and Modern Art in Morocco

Working through and Remembering Modernist Projects

Confronting the Modern Image and Images of Modernity

Rural Spaces and Nomadic Curation




Part VIII: Primitivism as Erasure

23 The Enduring Power of Primitivism: Showcasing “the Other” in Twenty-First-Century France

The Exterior: Architecture and Landscaping

The Interior: Layout and Lighting

Artists’ Names

Artists’ Voices

The Collection History of Exhibited Objects

Aesthetics and Ethnography

Admissions and Other Practicalities

How Did All This Happen?



Part IX: Local Expression and Global Modernity: African Art of the Twenty-First Century

24 Zwelethu Mthethwa’s “Postdocumentary” Portraiture: Views from South Africa and Abroad

Mthethwa in the Context of Documentary-Style Photography and Afrapix

Mthethwa’s Pastel Paintings in the Context of Township Art

Mthethwa’s “Postdocumentary” Photography in a Transcultural World



25 Creative Diffusion: African Intersections in the Biennale Network


Examples and Exemplars


Diaspora, Pan-Africanity, and Practicality

African Intersections



26 Lacuna: Uganda in a Globalizing Cultural Field

The Case of Uganda: An Art World Lacuna

Some Sketches of Contemporary Ugandan Practice

The Connected, Disconnected, and Never Connected



27 Painted Visions under Rebel Domination: A Cultural Center and Political Imagination in Northern Côte d’Ivoire


Picture, Image, Imagery, and Imagination

Korhogo as the Heart of Senufoland

The Katana Festival and the Foundation of the Cultural Center

From Katana to Fofié Kouakou Martin’s Cultural Center

2006 – Sapéro de Farafina and the First Image Program at Womiengnon

Picturing the Experience of the Past

Imageries of a Better Future

The Renewal of 2009

Imagery and the Political Imagination of Past, Present, and Future



28 Postindependence Architecture through North Korean Modes: Namibian Commissions of the Mansudae Overseas Project


The Mansudae Art Studio, and Nujoma’s Firsthand Knowledge of Pyongyang

The Namibian Heroes’ Acre and the Performance of History

Nationalist Iconography and the New Namibian State House

The Independence Memorial Museum as Nationalist Symbol




29 Concrete Aspirations: Modern Art at the Roundabout in Ugep


The Kipali’s Setting

The Obol Lopon’s Address

Egele Enang’s Mma Esekpa

Concrete Aspirations






These invigorating reference volumes chart the influence of key ideas, discourses, and theories on art, and the way that it is taught, thought of, and talked about throughout the English-speaking world. Each volume brings together a team of respected international scholars to debate the state of research within traditional subfields of art history as well as in more innovative, thematic configurations. Representing the best of the scholarship governing the field and pointing toward future trends and across disciplines, the Blackwell Companions to Art History series provides a magisterial, state-of-the-art synthesis of art history.


1  A Companion to Contemporary Art since 1945 edited by Amelia Jones
2  A Companion to Medieval Art edited by Conrad Rudolph
3  A Companion to Asian Art and Architecture edited by Rebecca M. Brown and Deborah S. Hutton
4  A Companion to Renaissance and Baroque Art edited by Babette Bohn and James M. Saslow
5  A Companion to British Art: 1600 to the Present edited by Dana Arnold and David Peters Corbett
6  A Companion to Modern African Art edited by Gitti Salami and Monica Blackmun Visonà

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Cover image: Obiora Udechukwu, To Keep Nigeria One, 1997, watercolor and pencil. Reproduced by kind permission of the artist.Cover design by Richard Boxall Design Associates

To Sylvester Okwunodu Ogbechie

List of Figures


Map of the African continent.


West Africa, detail from the map of the African continent.


Attributed to Annang Ibibio artist. Mami Wata shrine figure, 1950s–1960s. Wood, pigment, metal, sacrificial materials, 87.6 cm.


Attributed to Sapi artist. Saltcellar, Sierra Leone, late fifteenth century. Ivory, 16 cm.


Joseph Kossivi Ahiator (b. 1956, Aflao, Ghana). Indian King of Mami Wata, 2005. Pigment on cloth, 225 × 267 cm.


Attributed to Sapi artist. Lidded saltcellar, fifteenth–sixteenth century.


Attributed to Loango (Vili) artist. Detail from a carved elephant’s tusk, nineteenth century.


Jonathan Adagogo Green. Chief of Benin (a king from the Warri area in the Niger Delta, Nigeria), circa 1895. Postcard, printed circa 1907.


Lutterodt Bros. & Cousin. Untitled [portrait of two young men], circa 1900. Carte de visite.


El Hadj Ousmanou. Portrait of two young men, circa 1968. Gelatin silver print.


Unknown photographer. Interior view of a stone mansion in Zanzibar, circa 1880s.


Jinadu Elegbede. Interior “courtyard” at the Ijora Palace, Lagos, Nigeria, 1922. Undated photograph.


Joas Baptista da Costa. Shitta Bey Mosque, front façade, Lagos, Nigeria, 1892. Undated photograph.


Tshela tendu of Ibashe (signature). Untitled, 1931. Watercolor on off-white paper, 32 × 50.3 cm.


Tshelantende (signature). Untitled (Docteur, le rat d’ . . . , Infermi ). Watercolor on paper, mended with needle and thread, 72.5 × 102 cm.


Unknown photographer. Un grand féticheur (war captain of an Akye age-set), 1910–1940. Postcard published by Lescuyer for [La Société des] Missions Africaines, Lyon.


Attributed to a Bidjogo artist. Orebok (iran), object from a shrine. Bissagos Islands, late nineteenth to mid-twentieth century.


War captain (chef guerrier or sabohin) of an Akye age-set during an initiation ceremony, 1981. Memni, Côte d’Ivoire.


Houria Niati. Painting from the installation No to Torture, After Delacroix’ Women of Algiers, 1834, 1982. Mixed media on canvas, 188 × 270 cm.


Baya. Untitled, 1947–1950. Paint on paper, 74 × 99 cm.


Mohammed Khadda. Calm Noon, 1983. Oil on canvas, 66 × 53 cm.


Alex Amofa. A Game of Mind (Draughts Players), 2000. Oil on calico.


Kofi Antubam. The Divine Supreme Chief Dancing to the Rhythm of the State-Drums, 1961. Colored pen-and-ink drawing.


Kofi Antubam. Mural B, 1956–1957. Distemper on cement wall (destroyed 2008), Ambassador Hotel, Accra. Detail.


Students of the Cyrene Mission School. Murals in the school’s chapel, 1940s.


Joram Mariga. Chapungu Bird, 1994. Springstone.


Gregory Maloba. Kampala’s Independence Monument, 1962. Concrete.


Katta Diallo. La jeune mariée (The Young Bride), 1977. Acrylic on canvas, 65 × 50 cm.


Diatta Seck. M’bootay (Women Carrying Children), 1971. Collage and mixed media, 122 × 244 cm.


Prince Twins Seven Seven (Taiwo Olaniyi). Untitled (Devil Dog), 1964. Gouache on paper, 73.5 × 113.8 cm.


Susanne Wenger and Adebisi Akanji. Iya Mapo, 1960s. Cement sculpture. Osun grove, Oshogbo, Nigeria.


Two women wearing adire. Igarra, Akoko-Edo, Nigeria.


Bruce Onobrakpeya. Ki Ijoba Re De (May Your Kingdom Come), 1969. Printed cover for booklet.


Bruce Onobrakpeya. Egbene (Talisman), about 1985, high relief copper plate used for a series of prints.


Bwalia, Rêve adolescent (Teenager’s Dream), 2000.


Unknown artist. Drawing on a house of the Kwango region, in the southwest of the Democratic Republic of Congo, 1980.


Tshibumba Kanda Matulu. Belgian Colony, 1973.


Loïs Mailou Jones, Les Fétiches, 1938. Oil on linen, 53.3 × 64.7 cm.


Alexander “Skunder” Boghossian 1937–2003, born Ethiopia. The End of the Beginning, 1972–1973. Oil on canvas, H × W: 122.6 × 170.2 cm (48 ¼ × 67 in.).


Théodore Koudougnon. Untitled. Mixed media, 60 × 58 cm.


Youssouf Bath. La Porteuse (Woman with a Headload), 2011. Mixed media, 119 × 95 cm.


Sami Stenka. La Chevauchée des Esprits (The Ride of the Spirits). 2006. Natural pigments on canvas, 165 × 130 cm.


Peter Omodamwen sculpting in wax.


Princess Elizabeth Akenzua Olowu. The Zero Hour, 1986. Cement sculpture, approx. 150 cm.


Pa Ubu (Dawid Minaar) with Brutus, the three-headed dog, sing a scat quartet together, from Ubu and the Truth Commission.


A witness puppet, from Ubu and the Truth Commission.


Ma Ubu (Busi Zokufa) draws Niles, the crocodile puppet, toward her, against her breasts, from Ubu and the Truth Commission.


Mustapha Akrim. Article 13, 2011. Reinforced concrete, 130 cm diameter for image on left, variable dimensions for image on right.


Karim Rafi. Tout va bien (Everything Is Fine), 2011, from the artist’s contribution to the Working for Change project, Venice Biennale, 2011.


Zwelethu Mthethwa. Untitled, from the “Interiors” series, 1997. Chromogenic print, size variable.


Zwelethu Mthethwa. The Spirit of the Father, 1994–1995. Pastel on paper.


El Anatsui. Dusasa II, 2007. Aluminum liquor bottle caps and copper wire. Installation view at the 52nd Venice Biennale International Exhibition Think with the Senses, Feel with the Mind, Venice, Italy.


Odili Donald Odita. Give Me Shelter, 2007. Acrylic latex wall paint, colored pigment on wall. Installation view at the 52nd Venice Biennale Italian Pavilion, Venice, Italy.


from left to right: a. Maria Naita and George Kyeyune. Stride (CHOGM Conference Monument), 2007. Cast bronze, Kampala. b. Detail of Stride with child model, in Naita’s studio, Kampala.


Ahmed Abusharriah. Crisis, 2011. Acrylic. Collection of the artist, AfriArts Gallery, Kampala.


from top to bottom: a. Sapéro. Crise d’identité (Identity Crisis), 2006. Detail of mural, paint on cement wall. b. Sapéro. Transitions de l’histoire (Historical Transitions) (alterations made to this section of the mural in 2009). Paint on cement wall.


from left to right: a. Sapéro. La tour de Babel (Tower of Babel), 2006. Portion of a mural, paint on cement wall. b. Sapéro. Le commandant des rebels construit la ville de Korhogo (The Rebel Commander Constructs the Town of Korhogo), 2006. Another portion of the same mural, paint on cement wall.


from left to right: a. Sapéro, Place de l’Indépendance (Independence Square), 2006. Portion of a mural, paint on cement wall. b. Samson, L’avenir de la ville (The Future of the Town) (alterations made to this section of the mural in 2009). Paint on cement wall.


Mansudae Overseas Project. Unknown Soldier, detail of Heroes’ Acre Memorial, 2002. Outside of Windhoek, Namibia.


Mansudae Overseas Project. New State House, 2008. Windhoek, Namibia.


Mansudae Overseas Project. Bronze relief, detail of Heroes’ Acre Memorial, 2002. Outside Windhoek, Namibia.


Ubi Obongha Ikpi (aka Ubi Artist). Chief Aho Omini, unveiled March 27, 1990. Concrete, paint, Akpet Central, Biase Local Government Area, Cross River State, Nigeria.


Egele Enang. Mma Esekpa, completed August 2011. Reinforced concrete, enamel paint, and terracotta, installed as part of the Odjokobi fertility shrine located on the grounds of Umor Otutu Palace in Ugep, Cross River State, Nigeria.


Egele Enang. Mmanfe Maiden, 2011. Reinforced concrete, enamel paint, Ugep, Cross River State, Nigeria.

Notes on Contributors

Pamela Allara is associate professor emerita of contemporary art and visual culture at Brandeis University. She is currently a Visiting Researcher in the African Studies Center at Boston University. Her current research area is activist art, with an emphasis on South African contemporary art. She has published in African Arts, Nka, and H-AfrArts. In 2012, she guest curated “International Collaborations” for Coming of Age: 21 Years of Artist Proof Studio at the Johannesburg Art Gallery, and curated The Boston-Jo’burg Connection: Collaboration and Exchange at the Artist Proof Studio, Johannesburg, 1983–2012 at the Tufts University Art Gallery.Barbara Winston Blackmun received a PhD in art history from UCLA in 1984, specializing in Benin’s early ivories and bronzes. She has worked extensively in Benin City to identify figures depicted in sixteenth-century bronzes or carved on eighteenth-century altar tusks. She is a frequent museum and exhibition consultant, is emeritus professor of art history at San Diego Mesa College, and has taught at UC San Diego and at UCLA.Nichole N. Bridges is associate curator, Arts of Africa, at the Newark Museum. Her doctoral thesis, “Contact, Commentary, and Kongo Memory: Souvenir Ivories from Africa’s Loango Coast, ca. 1840–1910” was awarded the 2010 Prix de Thèse from the Musée du Quai Branly. Her research on Loango ivories was supported by research fellowships from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Smithsonian Institution at the National Museum of African Art, the Belgian American Educational Foundation at the Royal Museum for Central Africa, and a Fulbright grant for fieldwork in the Republic of Congo.Henry John Drewal is currently the Evjue-Bascom Professor of Art History and Afro-American Studies at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and adjunct curator of African Art at the Chazen Museum of Art, University of Wisconsin-Madison. His books, catalogues, and edited volumes include: Yoruba: Nine Centuries of African Art and Thought; Beads, Body, and Soul: Art and Light in the Yoruba Universe; Mami Wata: Arts for Water Spirits in Africa and Its Diasporas; and Sacred Waters: Arts for Mami Wata and Other Divinities in Africa and the Diaspora.Till Förster holds the chair of social anthropology and is founding director of the Centre for African Studies at the University of Basel, Switzerland. He has specialized in visual culture and political transformations in western and Central Africa and conducted field research in northern Côte d’Ivoire and Cameroon. His recent publications focus on questions of governance and social creativity in northern Côte d’Ivoire and on urban visual culture in Cameroon. Together with Sidney Kasfir, Till Förster has recently edited African Art and Agency in the Workshop.Christraud M. Geary, Teel Senior Curator of African and Oceanic Art, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston (MFA), began research on photography in Africa during the late 1970s. Before joining the MFA in 2003, she served as Curator of the Eliot Elisofon Photographic Archives at the National Museum of African Art, Smithsonian Institution. She is the author and editor of numerous publications devoted to the arts and photography in Africa. Her most recent book, Bamun, appeared in 2011.Joanna Grabski is associate professor/chair of art history at Denison University. Her research on artists, visual life, and art institutions in Dakar has been published in several edited collections and journals including Art Journal, Africa Today, African Arts, Fashion Theory, NKA, and Présence Francophone. She is co-editor of African Art, Interviews, Narratives: Bodies of Knowledge at Work (2012) and guest editor of a special issue of Africa Today dealing with visual experience in urban Africa.dele jegede earned a BA from Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, Nigeria, and a MA and PhD from Indiana University. He was art editor at the Daily Times before joining the faculty of the University of Lagos in 1977, and a Fulbright Visiting Professor at Spelman College (1987–1988). In 1993, he joined the faculty at Indiana State University. He left for Miami University, Ohio, where he served as chair and is currently full professor. He has curated exhibitions and published extensively on modern and contemporary African art. His Encyclopedia of African American Artists was published in 2009.Bogumil Jewsiewicki, professor emeritus of the department of history, Université Laval, Quebec, holds the Canada Research Chair in Histoire Comparée de la Mémoire. He taught in Congolese universities from 1968 to 1976. The 2006 recipient of the Distinguished Africanist Award of the African Studies Association, he has organized exhibitions on Congolese urban painting and photography, including those for the Museum of African Art in New York and the Museum für Völkerkunde in Vienna. His numerous books include Mami wata: La peinture urbaine au Congo.Sidney Littlefield Kasfir conducts annual research in Uganda. She is currently transitioning from teaching at Emory University to fulltime research and writing on Uganda, Kenya, and Nigeria. Her most recent books are Central Nigeria Unmasked: Arts of the Benue River Valley, edited with Marla Berns and Richard Fardon (2011), and African Art and Agency in the Workshop, edited with Till Förster (2013). She lives in Atlanta and with her husband on a farm in Kenya.Kinsey Katchka is an anthropologist, independent scholar, and curator specializing in contemporary arts of Africa, museum practice, and cultural policy. She has worked at the North Carolina Museum of Art, the Smithsonian Institution, and the Detroit Institute of Arts and has curated exhibitions including Lalla Essaydi: Revisions and Julie Mehretu: City Sitings. She has served as adjunct professor at University of North Carolina and visiting professor at St. Mary’s College of Maryland, and received fellowships from the Andy Warhol Foundation, Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, and Woodrow Wilson International Center. She has attended each Dakar Biennale since 1996.Meghan L. E. Kirkwood holds an MFA in photography from Tulane University, an MA in art history from the University of Kansas, and is completing a PhD in art history at the University of Florida. Her field research in Namibia (2010) and South Africa (2012) was facilitated by a Morris Family scholarship and two pre-dissertation research grants. Her doctoral research examines contemporary South African photographers who work with land-based imagery.Yacouba Konaté received a doctorat d’état from the Université de Paris 1. He holds a chair in philosophy at the Université de Cocody in Abidjan, and is a member of the Académie des Arts, des Sciences et des Cultures d’Afrique et des Diasporas. He is honorary president of the International Association of Art Critics (AICA), and is a consulting expert on cultural development for the European Union and the African Union. He has written numerous books and articles on contemporary art, music, and culture, including a 2009 report on Dak’art.Atta Kwami is an independent artist, art historian, and curator. He taught painting and printmaking for 20 years at the KNUST, Kumasi. His paintings are held in public collections: the National Museums of Ghana and Kenya; Newark Museum, USA; the Victoria and Albert Museum, London; the National Museum of African Art, Washington DC; the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York and the British Museum. He is a research fellow (2012/2013) with the Cambridge/Africa Collaborative Research Programme, Art and Museums in Africa.Kathrin Langenohl is an art historian and curator. She focuses on contemporary art from Africa. Her publications include “Repeat when necessary:” zum Verhältnis von Tradition und Moderne im malerischen Werk Tshelantendes (Djilatendo), Belgisch-Kongo (2003); Podai-Malerei der Frauen aus Westafrika, a catalog she co-edited with Christoph-Danelzik-Brüggemann for the Museum Kunst Palast in Düsseldorf, Germany (2003), and “Didier Amevi Ahadsi. Szenen urbanen Lebens in Lomé, Togo,” in Dorina Hecht and Günter Kawik eds., Afrika und die Kunst. Einblicke in deutsche Privatsammlungen (2010).Prita Meier is assistant professor of African art at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Her primary research focuses on the arts of the Swahili coast and the politics of cultural translation. She is currently completing a book manuscript on Swahili port city architecture and the colonial encounter. Her writing, on topics ranging from colonial period photography to contemporary exhibition praxis, has been featured in African Arts, Nka: Journal of Contemporary African Art, Artforum, and The Arab Studies Journal.Elizabeth Morton is associate professor of art history at Wabash College and adjunct curator of African and Oceanic Art at the Indianapolis Museum of Art. Her career in African art began in 1992 as a curator at Botswana’s National Museum and Art Gallery. She has a PhD from Emory University (2003), and has written numerous articles. She has curated many exhibitions, including Dynasty and Divinity: Ife Art in Ancient Nigeria at Indianapolis Museum of Art in 2011.Ikem Stanley Okoye teaches art history at the University of Delaware where he holds a joint appointment in Black American studies. His work on both African and European histories of art, architecture, and film is published in several journals including the Art Bulletin, the Harvard Architectural Review, Interventions – a Journal of Postcolonial Studies, RES, and Critical Interventions, as well as in edited books that have included Architecture and Pictures (Koehler and Anderson, eds.), The Anthropologies of Art (Mariet Westermann, ed.), and Strangers, Diasporas, Exiles (Kobena Mercer, ed.). His forthcoming book Hideous Architecture focuses on early twentieth-century Nigerian architecture.Katarzyna Pieprzak is associate professor of French and comparative literature at Williams College (USA). Her research is primarily concerned with urban institutions and spaces in the Moroccan postcolonial city, and how they open and close discourse on citizenship, subjectivity, memory, and identity.John Picton is emeritus professor of African art, School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London. He was employed by the British Museum, and by the Department of Antiquities (the National Commission for Museums and Monuments) of the Federal Government of Nigeria. His research interests include Yoruba and Edo sculpture, masquerade, textile history, the inter-relationship of traditions and practices in the Niger–Benue confluence region of Nigeria with particular reference to Ebira and Akoko-Edo, and developments in visual practice since the mid-nineteenth century. He was given an ACASA Leadership Award and an honorary fellowship of the Pan-African Circle of Artists.Sally Price is the author of Co-Wives and Calabashes, Primitive Art in Civilized Places, and Paris Primitive: Jacques Chirac’s Museum on the Quai Branly. She has co-authored (with Richard Price) books on art forgery (Enigma Variations: A Novel), an eighteenth-century slave society (Stedman’s Surinam), the history of anthropology (The Root of Roots), folklife festivals (On the Mall), folktales (Two Evenings in Saramaka), African American art (Romare Bearden: The Caribbean Dimension), and Maroons (Les Marrons and Maroon Arts: Cultural Vitality in the African Diaspora). She divides her time between Martinique and Paris.Peter Probst is professor of art history and adjunct professor of anthropology at Tufts University where he is teaching African art and visual culture. He has published widely on issues of heritage, historical preservation, African modernities, and visual publics. His most recent publications are “Iconoclash in the Age of Heritage,” a guest-edited special issue of African Arts in 2012, and Osogbo and the Art of Heritage. Monuments, Deities, and Money (2011), which won the Nigerian Studies Association 2012 book award.Dina A. Ramadan is assistant professor of Arabic at Bard College. She is a senior editor of the Arab Studies Journal and a founding board member of the Association for Modern and Contemporary Art of the Arab world, Iran, and Turkey (AMCA). Her current research is concerned with the development of the category of modern art and the relationship between education and artistic production in early twentieth-century Egypt. She has been published in Art Journal, Arab Studies Journal, Journal of Visual Culture, Middle East Studies Association Bulletin, and others.Gitti Salami is associate professor of art history at Pacific Northwest College of Art, Portland. She has received numerous research/visiting fellowships, including Fulbright-Hays DDRA, Smithsonian Institution, West African Research Association (WARA), and Sainsbury Research Unit (University of East Anglia) fellowships. Her research focuses on Yakurr culture in the Middle Cross River region of southeastern Nigeria. Her publications have appeared in African Arts and in Critical Interventions. A monograph, “Postcolonial Yakurr Studies,” is forthcoming.Sunanda K. Sanyal originally from India, is associate professor of art history and critical studies at the Art Institute of Boston at Lesley University. His research interest includes contemporary African and South Asian art. His two-part documentary film (2008 and 2011), A Homecoming Spectacle, explores the visual culture of Durga Pujo, a religious festival held in West Bengal, India. Sanyal is currently working on a book on transnational South Asian artists.Peter Ukpokodu is professor/chair of the department of African and African American studies at the University of Kansas. His publications include African Political Plays; It Happened to the Blind Beggar, and Socio-Political Theatre in Nigeria, a co-edited volume, African Literatures at the Millennium, and many journal articles. He has directed numerous plays, including Sizwe Bansi is Dead, The Island, Eshu and the Vagabond Minstrels, Oedipus Rex, and Waiting for Godot, and acted in plays and a television production. A monograph on the history of African theatre is forthcoming.Monica Blackmun Visonà is associate professor of art history at the University of Kentucky, and was the principal author of both editions of A History of Art in Africa. In addition to numerous articles (including an essay in Art Bulletin on “Agent Provocateur: the African Origins and American Life of a Statue from Côte d’Ivoire”), she has published Constructing African Art Histories for the Lagoons of Côte d’Ivoire (2010). She is currently investigating cross-cultural notions of artistic identity and practice for an exhibition on divinely inspired artists of the Lagoon peoples.Mary Vogl is associate professor in foreign languages and literatures at Colorado State University. Her publications include Picturing the Maghreb: Literature, Photography, Representation (2002), articles on Orientalism and explorations of inter-art relations. Her current book project, developed with a Fulbright research grant, is called “Articulating Morocco: The Role of Art and Art Criticism in Defining National Culture.” In 2010 she co-curated an exhibition of Middle Eastern and North African art at Colorado State University’s Hatton Gallery.


Several weeks before a Triennial conference of the Arts Council of African Studies Association in 2007, Sylvester Ogbechie contacted a group of colleagues in the USA and South Africa and assigned everyone a task. Never mind that the scholars were all in the process of writing their own lectures – he wanted each of them to prepare a presentation on a specific approach that authors could take in writing a book on modern African art. Such was his fervor, and his powers of persuasion, that every colleague agreed, and the hastily convened panel was packed with informed and vociferous Africanists at the conference. Gitti Salami gave the group’s presentation on thematic approaches to modern African art, while Monica Blackmun Visonà mapped out a chronological approach that was to eventually serve as the structure of this volume. It was thus the determined efforts of Ogbechie that launched this project, one of several initiatives he has pursued in order to focus scholarly attention on the modernity of Africa’s artists.

Yet many other Africans, Americans, and Europeans have shared Ogbechie’s ­passionate desire to introduce a broad spectrum of students and scholars to African modern art, to allow the voices of African artists to be heard in art historical discourse. Robin Poynor surveyed colleagues who taught contemporary African art, and he assisted Sylvester Ogbechie and John Peffer in presenting the results of his findings at an earlier Triennial meeting. Lectures, publications, journals, exhibitions, and other endeavors that have inspired this project were spearheaded by Janet Stanley, Jean Kennedy, John Picton, Salah Hassan, Olu Oguibe, Okwui Enwezor, Susan Vogel, Achamyeleh Debela, Moyosore Okededji, Sidney Kasfir, Simon Njami, Jean-Loup Pivin, and other committed advocates of modern art who are too numerous to mention here; some graciously accepted our invitation to contribute to this volume. Gitti Salami thanks Okwui Enwezor for his conversations with her about his own engagement in these efforts. She was able to devote time and energy to planning this volume thanks to a West African Research Association fellowship and residencies at the National Museum of African Art in Washington, DC and the Sainsbury Research Center at the University of East Anglia. She further thanks Judith Arnold for her support. Monica Blackmun Visonà is grateful for a Zora Neale Hurston fellowship that allowed her to begin surveying material on African contemporary art at Northwestern University in 1993. She is deeply indebted to Mark Getlein, and to her co-authors for A History of Art in Africa, for insights into the writing and editing process.1 Both Salami and Visonà have profited from the wise counsel and extensive knowledge of Janet Stanley.

This volume would not have been possible without Jayne Fargnoli’s courageous decision, supported by the careful feedback of anonymous reviewers and her editorial board, to devote a Wiley Blackwell Companion to this new and energetic field of enquiry in the African humanities. Visonà thanks Rebecca Brown for recommending us to Wiley Blackwell, allowing practical discussions on this ambitious project to begin. Heartfelt comments in public discussions at conferences of the College Art Association (in Los Angeles) and the African Literature Association (in Athens, Ohio) have helped the editors identify many pitfalls (if not avoid them altogether). Most of all, we thank all of the authors who graciously endured our challenges, queries, and unsolicited suggestions, responding with aplomb to our intrusive, dialogic approach to the editing process. Particular thanks are due to the authors who patiently assisted us as the editors struggled through the task of translating their sophisticated concepts into English idioms.


1 Visonà, Monica Blackmun, Robin Poynor, Herbert M. Cole, and Michael D. Harris (2000) A History of Art in Africa. New York: Abrams.

Part I



Writing African Modernism into Art History

Gitti Salami and Monica Blackmun Visonà

Narrations of Modernism and Modernity

Modernity has taken many forms. It may be understood as the emergence – after centuries of global commerce – of cosmopolitan outlooks adopted by local cultures negotiating with one another across vast geographic distances, and across gulfs of profoundly incompatible cultural conceptions. Exchange of material culture has been accompanied by trade partners’ cultural translations and highly selective rejection or incorporation of foreign objects and ideas. Genuine mutual admiration for the trade partner’s respective “Other” at times characterized this traffic in newness. However, significant power imbalances governed the terms of these exchanges during much of their duration, and continue to do so today.

Modernism, modernity’s expressive aspect, has as many local and regional variants as modernity itself. Until recently, those in control of the discourse within the international art world saw modernism’s European variant – in reality, one of many local forms – as normative. Specific features characterizing French artistic movements of the late nineteenth and early twentieth century are still regarded as a set of ­universal ­principles, standards that might be used to evaluate modernism worldwide, and Paris was seen as a center to peripheral modernisms located elsewhere. The notion of a French “­avant-garde,” as an example, as Gitti Salami (chapter 29) points out, has ­militaristic connotations, suggesting that its intellectual feats typically entail rupture, shock, and conquest of unknown territory.1 Such paradigms are alien to those African societies that embrace newness via conceptual frames stressing ­ancestral authority and ­continuity within egalitarian principles and consensus-­building. The notion of the “avant-garde” is only one of the filters rendering African modernisms simply invisible to art historians. As dele jegede (chapter 18) notes, Paris, London, and New York were cities teeming with African, African American and ­Afro-Caribbean intellectuals and artists throughout the twentieth century, yet African epistemologies were never ­considered when “standard” art historical canons were established. This volume ­provides many ­perspectives that challenge dominant, yet unexamined, ­paradigms. It thus contributes to a broad ­international endeavor, shared by artists, critics, and art historians alike, that would move beyond Eurocentric models to less parochial representation.

For African artists in particular, being modern has implied a progressive outlook, a desire to inscribe new contemporary experience with meaning. Just as European and American modernists have absorbed insights offered by African figurative ­representations in their painting and statuary, utilized knowledge of African ceremonies and body arts in their performances, and drawn on their impressions of African shrines in their installations, African modernists have studied the “traditional” art of Europe and Asia. They have incorporated responses to Chinese painting in their pen and ink washes, Turkish imagery in their reverse-glass paintings, Italian Renaissance figures in their sculpture, and, as Monica Blackmun Visonà shows (chapter 9), top hats in their performances. As citizens of the world, generations of African artists have sought to contribute to an international art world. Acknowledgment of their successes in the past usually omitted their names; though, in rare cases, as Sylvester Ogbechie has shown, some African artists were afforded short-lived celebrity status within international art circuits, but were subsequently written out of history.2

African modernist explorations can be traced as far back as the late fifteenth century. Frequently, these are a matter of continuously adapting indigenous institutions and practices to new circumstances, as many of the chapters in this volume demonstrate.3 Other African modernisms have been intellectual, interdisciplinary responses to new educational models and artistic frameworks. As contributors to this volume explain, some of the new venues in which African artists were trained upheld the standards of elite foreign institutions. Others were products of a colonial system that sought to train workers for the colonial empire – and in many cases both types of educational institutions had been altered for a local or national context. Individuals of varied ­backgrounds, including custodians of “traditions,” masters of workshops or royal guilds, commercial artists, and academically trained artists, have shaped local and national art infrastructures that promote particular forms of art and train future ­artists. Two strands of modernism – one based in indigenous culture and the other in foreign-derived institutions – variously coexist as separate platforms for artistic ­creativity, but they are simultaneously intertwined, often inextricably so. Together, they reflect not only the tension between the local and the global that typifies ­modernisms worldwide, they also model tremendous command of the paradoxes induced by the meshing of diametrically opposed value systems. Writ large, modern African art brings the expertise of sophisticated artists (at work on the continent for centuries) into the academic discourse swirling around the “antinomies of art and culture” in the contemporary, postcolonial world.4

Centering Narratives on Africa’s Art Worlds

A Companion to Modern African Art foregrounds just one slice of a larger corpus of artistic production tied to Africa; it highlights African artists who live and work (or who have lived and worked) on the continent (Figure 1.1 and Figure 1.2). The 29 case studies place a premium on African artists’ agency and their grounding in African epistemologies. This focus upon Africa challenges sophisticated arguments, some of which are raised by the contributors themselves. In her chapter on Swahili visual ­culture, Prita Meier (chapter 5) critiques the practice of grouping artists by their place of origin or the current location of their practice, reminding the reader that the dominant discourse on modernism foregrounds time rather than space; by writing about art that is geographically bound – particularly if writing about art on the African continent – Africanists write its artists out of history. Okwui Enwezor and Chika Okeke-Agulu also feel that Africa as a classification has outlived its usefulness, for the mechanisms of the contemporary world are global.5 While these perspectives are intriguing, they unwittingly validate the outmoded idea that African artists must have a place within the dominant discourse if they are to be taken seriously. This assumes that Eurocentric though this discourse may be it is the only framework we need to consider. Rustom Bharucha is one of the critics who believes that this discourse need not be central to our debates, particularly since Europe “is scarcely at the center of the world any longer, politically or ideologically.”6 As Salah Hassan and Iftikhar Dadi point out in a pivotal and groundbreaking catalogue, Unpacking Europe, Europe and Europe’s “Other” constituted each other; the latter, racialized and subjugated, acted as “a foil against which Europeaness struggled to emerge.”7

FIGURE 1.1 Map of the African continent. Richard Gilbreath, Gyula Pauer Center for Cartography and GIS, University of Kentucky.

FIGURE 1.2 West Africa, detail from the map of the African continent. Richard Gilbreath, Gyula Pauer Center for Cartography and GIS, University of Kentucky.

Henry Drewal reminds us in chapter 2 that the currents of modernity are “rarely unidirectional.” The fact that Western explorers did not document what terms Africans used in the nineteenth century to describe the phenomenon of “modernity” hardly means that Africans did not define or debate it. Nor does the fact that European definitions of modernity prevailed therefore mean that Europe invented modernity, or that the rest of the world is bound by those definitions. Thus Nichole Bridges’ deconstruction of the reliefs carved onto ivory tusks from the Loango coast (chapter 3) would suggest that Kongo (Vili) engaged in lively, even humorous debates about changes to their sociopolitical and economic environment in the late nineteenth ­century, and that their images were partially designed to transmit these debates to foreigners. She explains that Loango ivories helped shape European and American understanding of modern Africa; particularly as some of these artists carved their wares in the shadow of the Eiffel Tower for the Universal Exposition of 1889 in Paris!8 Gilane Tawadros points out that “the world is . . . littered by modernities and by practicing artists, who never regarded modernism as the secure possession of the West,”9 while Ali Mazrui argues that Europe’s claim to universality has no legitimacy, given the cultural, ­historical, and empirical relativism embedded in its own ­modernism.10 The idea that Africa can move “beyond its Eurocentric provincialization,” as Paul Tiyambe Zeleza puts it,11 to become an equal actor on a decentered world stage, is altogether feasible. It is a perspective many of the volume’s authors entertain.

dele jegede (chapter 18) joins other critics and scholars who would abandon an “African art history” for a “diasporic art history.” He makes the case that the notion of “Black art,” which conceives of Africa in conceptual terms, is a more viable construct than “African art,” whose origins lie in the “terms and conditions” of the West. “Black art,” or even “Black Atlantic art,” emphasizes the continuities between artists of African descent across the globe and often pays tribute to Pan-African ideology and the philosophy of Négritude as historical bases for contemporary attempts to counter a hegemonic Eurocentric discourse. By subsuming African artists within diasporic art (created both by descendants of enslaved captives brought to the Americas, Europe, and Asia against their will, and by members of later diasporas provoked by vast ­economic inequalities and the political instability of neocolonialism) critics can bring a vast pool of talent within their purview. To a substantial degree, this view of the African continent’s creative production as a “subtext to the main story” (as Sidney Kasfir characterizes it in chapter 26) now predominates in the literature.12

Artists of the Diaspora do have pivotal roles in many local and national narratives on the continent, of course, and are noted throughout this volume. Ikem Okoye (chapter 6), for example, demonstrates how the creativity of architects born in Brazil inspired an early African modernism in architecturally innovative structures. Yacouba Konaté (chapter 19) traces the contributions of diasporic intellectuals, artists, and educators on both cultural policies and art movements in Côte d’Ivoire. Likewise, the concerted effort of contemporary transnational African artists, scholars, and curators to insert themselves into the power structure of the international art world, as ­discussed in greater detail by dele jegede (chapter 18) and Kinsey Katchka (chapter 25), has had significant repercussions in Africa. One might say their success has inspired confidence in African artists, which in turn has led to bolder attempts at communi­cation with a global audience and even to improvements for the continent’s art ­infrastructures. Abdellah Karroum’s exhibition space L’Appartment 22 in Rabat, Morocco, discussed by Katarzyna Pieprzak (chapter 22), and workshops in Uganda based on the Triangle model, discussed by Sidney Kasfir (chapter 26) are cases in point. Not only does the influence of these transnational artists and culture ­brokers surface in many of the volume’s essays, but one could say that A Companion to Modern African Art owes its very conception to a shift in the discipline they ­created. Prior to the mid-1990s, a pioneering group of scholars, such as Ulli Beier,13 Jean Kennedy,14 and Janet Stanley,15 labored to bring African modernism into the art historical and critical mainstream, with little success. As Okwui Enwezor, Salah Hassan, Olu Oguibe (in the USA), and Simon Njami (in Europe) drew scholars’ attention to contemporary African art, they infused the field with critical theory, redirecting much of the discourse in African art history. Their publications are required reading for scholars of global modernism, especially Nka: Journal of Contemporary African Art, Whitechapel Gallery’s Seven Stories about Modern Art in Africa (1995),16 Oguibe and Enwezor’s Reading the Contemporary (1999),17 Enwezor’s The Short Century: Independence and Liberation Movements in Africa, 1945–1994 (2001),18 and Simon Njami’s Africa Remix (2005).19

However, as the many new insights into modern African art presented in this ­volume clearly demonstrate, transnational scholars, critics, and curators have neglected African artists on the continent. Consideration of the “Black Atlantic world” results in representation of transnational experiences defined by the African émigré’s relationship to a more powerful “Other.” Transnational intellectuals’ cause – to create a formidable African presence within the international sphere – is better served by African artists living abroad than by artists in Africa. The former assume global audiences for their artwork and create meaning within a discourse developed by critics, dealers, and artists enmeshed in the global art market. Thus a highly acclaimed British Nigerian artist such as Yinka Shonibare MBE, who lives and works in London, can entice Western audiences with his stunning tableaux and reflections on European history and canonized European artworks; Shonibare MBE’s headless figures and their (im)plausible hybrid couture – Victorian-era clothing made from fabrics mistakenly felt to be “authentically” African – destabilize entrenched essentialisms only after both their strangeness and familiarity have already ensnared the viewer.20 Such works raise complex identity issues and create shifts in awareness regarding the relationship between Europe and Africa from within the international art world, yet they address European rather than African viewers. We would argue that they thus ultimately reify Europe’s “foundational” definitions of modernity. African expatriates such as Shonibare MBE are overburdened by the expectation that they represent Africa, something they decidedly cannot do.

A host of global venues modeled after the Venice Biennale, discussed by Kinsey Katchka (chapter 25), have provided African artists with opportunities to address international audiences relatively free of the constraints associated with more conservative, donor or patron-dependent museums. The latter, moreover, tend to explore modern African artwork’s debt to African epistemologies, ethics, and aesthetics merely as novel subtext to artworks’ formal appeal. Who could resist the tantalizing beauty of El Anatsui’s recycled bottle-cap tapestries (see Figure 25.1), but how many viewers understand the poignant critique of European imperialism their hazardous tactility – about as friendly to the touch as barbed wire – evokes?21 Even efforts to introduce modern African artists in small, focused group exhibitions often lead audiences astray. Introduced beneath the umbrella of multiculturalism, which retains colonialism’s paternalistic undertones, “Others” are said to “take up the twenty-first-century ­challenge of locating one’s place in society against the backdrop of globalization.”22 Yet the omission of white male artists from the same exhibitions conveys that the ­latter’s ideological position at the center of the international art world is as secure as ever. Despite Enwezor’s reconfiguration of the events of Documenta 11 (2002) as a series of globally staged “platforms,”23 or Nicolas Bourriaud’s pinpointing of ­multiple centers of modernity in the Altermodern exhibition at the Tate Gallery (2009),24 the struggle to decenter the international art world is ongoing and the search for ­terminology free of an implied center remains elusive.

The artists whose work is evaluated in this volume (in Kasfir’s words) are “deeply invested” in an African locale. In-depth studies focused on the continent, most of them based on prolonged field research or scrutiny of archives, or both, draw out precisely those intricate aspects of African histories, issues, and values that other ­narratives of African art worlds are unable to capture. It is a premise of this volume that bringing modern African art into the mainstream of art historical discourse is not a matter of selecting artworks that reify European paradigms, but rather one of discerning those that are alien if not diametrically opposed to established models, and which, constituting a critical outside perspective, are ultimately able to contribute to the emergence of a decentered intercultural aesthetic. After all, as Jürgen Habermas has argued, completion of the project of modernity requires ­all-encompassing, not partial, access to knowledge.25 Will a full comprehension of the world not depend upon the capacity to negotiate contemporary contradictions? And are not Africans, who have mastered such negotiations, in the position to create powerful new modernisms that build upon paradox? As Enwezor argues, African artists are well into the process of disaggregating “the architecture of colonial modernity” from their social context with a “possible tabula rasa for a future composition” of modernity the likely outcome.26

Chapter Overview

How, then, could we organize these in-depth views of specific African settings in ways that would allow for points of intersection with other narratives in the world? We opted to arrange them in roughly chronological order by selecting a moment of major impact within their internal chronologies. This was not a neat affair, as many chapters span extended periods of time and their placement involved subjective ­judgments. Three chapters stand alone, either because they are sweeping surveys that defy ­assignment to a particular time period or because their topics, important to the ­discussion though they are, fall outside of the volume’s explicit parameters. Part II is thus given to the chapter by Henry John Drewal, the chapter by dele jegede forms Part VI, and Sally Price’s chapter appears as Part VIII.

The chapters and the sections that group them into clusters appear in the following order: Henry John Drewal’s essay on “Local Transformations, Global Inspirations: The Visual Histories and Cultures of Mami Wata Arts in Africa,” comprises Part II and opens the volume’s discussions. After tracing the “preexisting frameworks” for water spirits to the fifteenth century, he documents the late nineteenth-century German print of an Asian snake charmer whose widely reproduced image still inspires ­devotees of Mami Wata in Africa; he sees the transformations she has undergone as exemplary of the multiple modernities that allow local communities to adapt to change, and contribute to a “planetary” modernity. In this sense, “Africa has always been modern.”

Part III: Art in Cosmopolitan Africa: The Nineteenth Century then groups studies that describe African participation in global modernity in the aftermath of the slave trade, as men and women of African descent travelled back and forth across the Atlantic to Africa, to Europe and the Americas, as independent agents. Others crossed the Indian Ocean, visiting Arab and Indian ports. As European empires did not ­establish control over most of their African colonies until the last decades of the ­century, Africans were able to freely select concepts, practices, and material objects offered by foreign cultures and integrate them into their own societies in novel, ­innovative ways.

“Loango Coast Ivories and the Legacies of Afro-Portuguese Arts,” by Nichole N. Bridges, reflects upon the fifteenth century, when encounters between Portuguese mariners and African coastal populations entailed “curiosity, sizing-up, and [an] unpredictable leap toward opportunity and danger,” setting “Africa’s modernity in motion.” She describes sculpted ivories produced by Kongo (Vili) artists, sometimes in settings such as the 1901 Exposition in Buffalo, New York. Although these sculptures were made for foreign patrons, Bridges argues that they contributed to the agency of artists in “contact zones,” as their images express local commentaries on African–European interactions. Christraud M. Geary, in “Roots and Routes of African Photographic Practices: From Modern to Vernacular Photography in West and Central Africa,” sees African photographers as at “the center of explorations of modernity and modernist practices.” Here she maps out a brief history of photographers who, starting with Augustus Washington in Liberia in the 1850s, traveled throughout ­western and Central Africa by 1900. Her discussion of photographic practices in the kingdom of Bamun, in Cameroon, includes a description of the court photographers of the 1920s, and the local invention of an “instant camera” in the 1930s. Photographs from the 1880 s also give Prita Meier, in “At Home in the World: Portrait Photography and Swahili Mercantile Aesthetics,” insight into the “globally circulating iconography” of “codes of modern self-representation.” She is particularly interested in the precolonial era “mercantile modern” culture of the Swahili coast, a result of centuries of trade across the Indian Ocean. She resists labeling Swahili “practices of appropriation” as an “alternative modernity,” as they are rooted in a liminal space where the old and new, the local and global, overlap and interact. Ikem Stanley Okoye turns to nineteenth-century West Africa for “African Reimaginations: Presence, Absence, and New Way Architecture.” Coining the phrase New Way as a translation for local ways of speaking of modernity in Nigeria, he looks at “conceptually original” structures. He describes an 1892 mosque (built in Lagos, Nigeria, by a Brazilian-born architect for a Sierra Leonean patron) and a palace (built in Lagos in 1922 for a local king by a Yoruba architect). Unlike the imposed International Style Modernism built in African cities by European and European-trained architects from the 1950s onwards, this New Way architecture was the “dialogical outcome of global modernism.”

Chapters in Part IV examine modernities and cross-cultural encounters resulting from the conflicts and negotiations set in motion by Europe’s colonization of Africa during the cataclysmic early twentieth century. The studies show how Africans, ­confronted with often brutal colonial exploitation, invented and developed artforms that maintained a sense of self, created counternarratives, and resisted or manipulated outside forces.

Dina A. Ramadan, in “‘One of the Best Tools for Learning’: Rethinking the Role of ‘Abduh’s Fatwa in Egyptian Art History,” examines a series of articles written by an influential Muslim cleric in 1903 and 1904 that served as the basis for an edict, or fatwa, on the visual arts. She challenges characterizations of this educator and judge as an intellectual who sought to make Islam adapt to “the ways of modern life,” ­seeing those interpretations as fitting into a narrative that regarded “Westernization” as progress, a narrative formulated by the al-Nahda, or Arab Renaissance, in the nineteenth century. Kathrin Langenohl looks at watercolors created from 1930 to 1936 by an artist in the Kasai region of what is now the Democratic Republic of Congo. In “Congolese and Belgian Appropriations of the Colonial Era: The Commissioned Work of Tshelantende (Djilatendo) and Its Reception,” she examines how critics have seen these works as only “precursors of modernity,” rather than recognizing the ­artist’s ­ability to draw upon local knowledge to create a Congolese modernism. An extended time period is covered by Monica Blackmun Visonà in “Warriors in Top Hats: Images of Modernity and Military Power on West African Coasts”; statues from the 1860s (in the Niger Delta of Nigeria) and 1880 s (in the Bissagos Islands of Guinea-Bissau, and in the lagoons of Côte d’Ivoire) and photographs of the 1920s are all considered as backdrops to performances in the twenty-first century. She investigates why top hats, first associated with cosmopolitan modernity, were transformed into “traditions” of subversive, supernatural warfare in three separate regions.

In Part V, studies survey a multitude of local modernities that gave rise to artistic modernism throughout the continent by mid-century. Colonialism and modernism were so intertwined – as were modernist explorations and the rise of independent nations – that untangling the complexity of narratives on modern art in Africa from the 1930s through the 1970s requires a close reading of texts (be they oral or written). In some cases, contributors are providing the first published account (or the first survey in English) of a nation’s history of modern art. In other cases, authors apply new insights to narratives that have already been written.