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Thursday, November 3, 2011

Reactions to Shonibare, Kasfir, and Oguibe

          The overarching theme of this week’s readings and discussion revolved around the awareness of authenticity and what it means, as well as expectations of people, such as Yinka Shonibare, based on where they're from and assumptions already formed about that area. The readings from this week included “Art, Identity, Boundaries: Postmodernism and Contemporary African Art” by Olu Oguibe, “African Art and Authenticity: A Text with a Shadow” by Sidney Kasfir, and an interview between Okwui Enwezor and Yinka Shonibare. Each reading brought up different issues that affect artists, such as being considered an “other” and living in a society as a minority.

          “For Ouattara, though, the game is already over. It was over before it even began. It was over from the moment he was born, from the moment he was destined to be – designated as – an Other.” I was intrigued by this quotation from Oguibe’s article mainly because we have been focusing on the “others” by looking into who they are in the eyes of various cultures and how they have influenced each culture as outsiders or foreigners. It raises questions in my mind about what it would be like to live life as an “other”. It was interesting to read about the interview and how the person asking the questions was more focused on where he was from and how he grew up versus the art he created, even after Ouattara pointed out that he would rather discuss his artwork. It was mentioned that the interviewers questions were intended to objectify the artist in a way, emphasizing even more how Africans are denied many of the rights we take for granted. Oguibe’s article also touches on the issue of authenticity, explaining that much of this issue has more to do with putting boundaries or limits on what African artists create as to keep a distance between their work and Caucasian art. He looks to authenticity as a way of defining and categorizing identity, much like in Kasfir’s article.

          “Ironically, it is not knowledge but ignorance of the subject that ensures its authenticity.” When I first read this quotation it seemed as if it was too simple to cover the ideas and controversy surrounding authenticity. However, as direct as it is, it still manages to encompass how authenticity is defined as something lacking identity rather than emphasis on the individual and their purpose for the piece. Kasfir mentions that anonymity is what many people are looking for when they are looking for something authentic. Basically, the more that is known about an object the less of a mystery it is, which can be taken as less appealing. This is explained, in a way, by Kasfir saying “the Western connoisseur is the essential missing factor that transforms artifact into art.” It is just another way the public reinvents the African cultures to fit into their own ideals and views.

          I found the discussion on how Africa is thought of as an entire continent as a whole rather than the various cultures found within it to be intriguing, mainly because it is how I had thought of it before this class. “So for you the trauma is this consciousness of your blackness, which you had no awareness of because you were living in a society that did not work in this racially charged hierarchical way.” I find this quotation from Enwezor during his interview with Shonibare particularly interesting because I feel as if I relate in the sense that I am not aware of my “whiteness”. We may live in a society that is “racially charged” in a hierarchical fashion, but this quotation raises questions in my mind, much like the quotation from Oquibe, about what it would be like to be among a minority, or to be surrounded by people expecting certain things of me based on their assumption of my background. In our discussion it was brought up that some people who have never been to Iowa think we have only gravel roads and don’t have access to technology like computers. To us that may seem ridiculous, but this is a major issue Shonibare must face on a regular basis; he is expected to create art based on all of the generalizations surrounding Africa.

How oblivious or limited are we regarding our expectations and perceptions of cultures outside our own?


  1. I enjoyed reading your blog, particularly, the last paragraph. I had the same notion as you about Africa as a whole. I did not realize how many cultures it was made up of. In relation to your question at the end of your blog, this class has definitely made me realize how oblivious people, including myself, can be to other cultures around the world. We have learned about so many different peoples that make up Africa and the different regions within. They all have similarities, but are completely different at the same time. I also touched on the quote about "blackness." I agree that we are not aware of our "whiteness," but as I stated in my blog, if I were to go to Africa or some other place where I was in the minority, I would be more aware of how people view me. We just do not realize it here, because we are surrounded by people of the same culture.

  2. So glad you both are becoming more aware of the privilege of being part of a dominant cultural group--in your case, white. Of course, you ARE an "other", as you recognize--just go to Africa, Russia, the Middle East--everything about you will make you stand out, and confirm or deny stereotypes about you.

  3. I also found your last paragraph very interesting and I relate to it as well. I think many people think of Africa as a whole and don't think about it being made up of many different cultures of peoples. Having people make assumptions about other peoples based on their skin tone or even how they dress is wrong and I didn't realize how much of an issue this really was until reading this article.