Contemporary African Art in Transnational Perspective
Mon. | Wed. | Fri. | 1:00 - 2:00pm
In February of this year, British-Liberian artist Lina Iris Viktor announced she was suing hip-hop superstar Kendrick Lamar, whose music video for “All the Stars” – one of the hit songs on the Black Panther soundtrack – appears to draw from Viktor’s Constellations series. Viktor’s lawyer claims that the “copyrightable elements” of the series, which embeds deified blue-black figures in dense constellations of abstract designs painted in 24k gold, are “stylized motifs of mythical animals, gilded geometric forms on a black background, and distinctively textured areas and patterns, arrayed in a grid-like arrangement of forms.” Ironically, many of the motifs in these works are identifiable as symbols from multiple African pictographic traditions, and their arrangement on the canvas recalls centuries-old conventions of textile, body, and wall art from the continent. These traditional African forms do not “belong” to a single artist, but rather constitute a shared repository historically subject to an endless chain of appropriations, both within the continent and throughout the diaspora.
In this course, we will use an African diasporic lens to examine contemporary artworks (and debates surrounding them) that raise intriguing questions about the circulation, ownership, and appropriation of African forms. How are these debates informed by the increasing visibility, celebration, and price of contemporary African art in global markets? Do different asymmetrical formations of power come into view as we shift the focus from the appropriation of African aesthetics by 20th century European modernists to high-stakes intra-diasporic borrowings in the 21st century, which may involve both gallery-oriented fine artists and black popular culture superstars? African American artists have long been inspired by African art, and we can track a multidirectional web of influences that makes it challenging to determine what belongs to whom. We will also consider contemporary artworks that engage the open-ended aesthetics of African traditions that have historically thrived on the appropriation of foreign forms – works that insist on seeing both art and identity as hybrid, contaminated, and on the move.
This course fulfills the following Major requirements: geographical area (D) and chronological period (III), based on the topic of the final research paper or project.