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Thursday, September 1, 2011

Initial Reactions to Arts of Africa

The first two weeks in Arts of Africa have already changed the way I view not only African art, but the culture and traditions of the people as well. After reading Giblin’s essay on Issues in African History, the Key Moments in Life website, watching the video, and class discussion and lecture, I felt as if there were a few overall themes that were the most intriguing to me, such as how African art is viewed differently throughout various cultures and whether it should really be displayed as an art form.
A big part of why it caught my attention was the part of the video that mentioned the word “art” wasn’t necessarily a concept in Africa. The preface in our textbook explains how instead they consider it more of a skill or tradition versus an art form. They don’t create things specifically for art; the objects must serve a purpose. Not only that, but they don’t even have complete freedom over what they create. They must follow certain signs and symbols. So if the people making these objects don’t consider it art, how do we justify putting the pieces in museums?
Traditional objects, such as the masks worn in ritual dances, become useless once put into a museum. They are displayed solely as masks, while still showing off their beauty and visual power, the viewer cannot take in the artworks purpose and meaning. Another issue with art being displayed in museums is the amount of people that get caught up in the racism and poverty Africa can be known for, altering their reaction to the art on its own. Much of the history and tradition so relevant in a piece is lost once taken out of context. 

Overall, the basic concept is that we do not see what Africans see. The fact that they create things so visually interesting without the intention of it being displayed as art is what captures my attention and makes their art so different.


  1. I noticed that you also brought up context as a key part in understanding African works. You bring up a valid point about how powerful viewing Kanaga maskers actually wearing and performing with the mask would be compared to viewing it in a museum setting. It's all about context. I see your point about not being able to justify the placement of these items in museums as art if the creator of the piece doesn't even view it as art but as a skill or tradition.

  2. Nice job, Kimberly. I like the comparative image!

  3. I like that you brought up the point about how they don't view their work as art then how can we. That is so true! I don't think we have the right to classify it as art when they don't themselves. Like you said they have certain guidelines and symbols for making the things they do. They also see them as part of a way of life but we do not see it as that we just classify it as art instead.