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ARTH304: African Art

Unit 1: Orientation   This unit will provide a foundation for the study of African art, familiarizing you with Africa’s history and geography, introducing terminology basic to cross-cultural studies, and demonstrating some of the overlaps and diversity in form and function of objects from different regions.

Unit 1 Time Advisory
This unit should take you approximately 10 hours to complete:

☐    Subunit 1.1: 5 hours

☐    Subunit 1.2: 5 hours

Unit1 Learning Outcomes
Upon successful completion of this unit, you will be able to: - examine the European infiltration of Africa; - identify current African geography; and - explain why formal descriptions of artworks are used.

1.1 Geography   - Web Media: The Guggenheim Museum’s Africa: Art of a Continent: “Regional Map of Africa” Link: The Guggenheim Museum’s Africa: Art of a Continent: “Regional Map of Africa” (HTML)
 
Instructions: In order to approach aspects of African culture historically, it is crucial to understand Africa’s evolution and current geography. After four centuries of colonization, Europeans laid out the beginnings of modern national divisions at the Berlin Conference in 1885. Unsurprisingly, indigenous groups did not fit these boundaries. Therefore, it is often considered more reflective of Africa’s historical situation to discuss the African continent in terms of regions.
 
This map is a good approximation of the major topological and cultural regions: the North (the Maghreb and the Sahara), the Sudan (the Sahel and the savannah to the edge of the modern country of Sudan), the Nile Valley (Egypt and Nubia), Central Africa, East Africa, and Southern Africa. Please note that in 1997, a year after this website was created, the country of Zaire in Central Africa was renamed the Democratic Republic of the Congo under a new regime. A set of more current maps is linked below. However, this regional map is a clear diagram and includes further resources. Click on any section of the map to open up a new webpage with an introduction about that area. At the bottom of these pages, click through to learn more about each region. Used in this manner, this map serves as an overview of this course’s material.
 
Terms of Use: Please respect the copyright and terms of use displayed on the webpage above.

  • Web Media: Wikimedia’s “Pre-Colonial Map of Africa” Link: Wikimedia’s “Pre-Colonial Map of Africa” (HTML)

    Instructions: View this pre-colonial map of Africa, which delineates major kingdoms before European and Arab hegemony, or sustained infiltration.

    Terms of Use: Please respect the copyright and terms of use displayed on the webpage above.

  • Reading: Myra Wysinger’s Ancient Africa’s Black Kingdoms: “The Berlin Conference” Link: Myra Wysinger’s Ancient Africa’s Black Kingdoms: “The Berlin Conference” (HTML)

    Instructions: After four centuries of colonization, European powers solidified their division of Africa at the Berlin Conference. This site provides a detailed account of the Conference as well as a map that demonstrates that division, which solidified new national boundaries over which European powers ruled well into the 20th century. For comparison, a map of these divisions superimposed on a map of modern Africa can be found at UniMaps below.

    Terms of Use: Please respect the copyright and terms of use displayed on the webpage above.

  • Web Media: Wikimedia: Declan Graham's "Colonial Africa 1914 Map" Link: Declan Graham's "Colonial Africa 1914 Map" (HTML)

    Instructions: As noted above, use this site to compare a map of modern Africa with the division of Africa at the Berlin Conference.

    Terms of Use: This reource is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported license. It is attributed to Declan Graham, revised by Lucy.

  • Reading: The New York Public Library, Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture’s Africana Age: Benjamin Talton’s “The Challenge of Decolonization in Africa” Link: The New York Public Library, Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture’s Africana Age: Benjamin Talton’s “The Challenge of Decolonization in Africa” (HTML)

    Instructions: Read this article to learn more about individual countries’ circumstances and dates of independence. Linguistic and cultural connections with specific European countries remain in many African nations to this day.

    Terms of Use: Please respect the copyright and terms of use displayed on the webpage above.

  • Web Media: WorldAtlas.com: “Map of Africa” Link: WorldAtlas.com: “Map of Africa” (HTML)

    Instructions: Use these maps, which have interactive features for close-ups, to familiarize yourself with the African nations of today. Keep this site accessible and refer to these maps as we explore each region. By the end of Unit 4, you should be able to fill in a blank map of Africa.

    Terms of Use: Please respect the copyright and terms of use displayed on the webpage above.

  • Web Media: National Geographic: “Africa Geophysical Map” Link: National Geographic: “Africa Geophysical Map” (HTML)

    Instructions: Use this map to familiarize yourself with Africa’s geophysical features. Keep this site accessible and refer to this as we explore each region.

    Terms of Use: Please respect the copyright and terms of use displayed on the webpage above.

  • Reading: Wikipedia’s “Ethnic Groups in Africa” Link: Wikipedia’s “Ethnic Groups in Africa” (PDF)

    Instructions: Read this article for an overview of Africa’s major ethnic groups. Also note that as we proceed, you will see how larger ethnic groups are frequently subdivided into clans and/or by status and occupational associations into a proliferation of distinct identities that can be confusing and difficult to grasp. Try to get a feel for these extended kinship ties and other kinds of basic social structures.

    Terms of Use: The article above is released under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share-Alike 3.0 License. The original version of this article can be found here.

1.2 Aesthetics   - Web Media: University of Virginia, Bayly Art Museum: “African Art: Aesthetics and Meaning – Exhibition Catalog”

Link: University of Virginia, Bayly Art Museum: [“African Art:
Aesthetics and Meaning – Exhibition
Catalog”](http://www2.lib.virginia.edu/artsandmedia/artmuseum/africanart/index.html)
(HTML)  

 Instructions: Please click on the link above and read each section
under the “Contents” heading. This exhibit introduces some of the
plastic qualities of African works of art, along with a basic
orientation regarding the artworks’ function and significance in
their culture. When you have finished reading, return to the
homepage and click on the “Art of the African Mask” link at the
bottom of the page to view the collection. This exhibit will
introduce you to a few different types of traditional African masks.
Please note that the term *mask* refers to the entire costume, and
what most students traditionally consider the mask – which is
actually the headpiece – often sits atop the head rather than on the
face.  

 Terms of Use: Please respect the copyright and terms of use
displayed on the webpage above.
  • Web Media: Minnesota Institute of Art: “5 Facts about African Masks and Masquerades” Link: Minnesota Institute of Art: “5 Facts about African Masks and Masquerades” (HTML)

    Instructions: Read through these facts for another basic introduction to African masking.

    Terms of Use: Please respect the copyright and terms of use displayed on the webpage above.

  • Web Media: The British Museum: “What Is African Art?” Link: The British Museum: “What Is African Art?” (PPT, PDF)

    Instructions: On this page, view the presentations on each of the links on the left-hand side of the page, beginning with “Africa: Art and Design.” Note that while these lessons are prepared for younger learners, they are an excellent overview and compilation of some of the major issues in studying art across cultures.

    Terms of Use: Please respect the copyright and terms of use displayed on the webpage above.

  • Activity: The Saylor Foundation’s “African Art: Aesthetics and Meaning” Link: University of Virginia, Bayly Art Museum: “African Art: Aesthetics and Meaning” (HTML)

    Instructions: Answer the following questions in essay format.

    Reflection Questions:

    Review the Elements of the African Aesthetic. Choose four works of art from the African Art: Aesthetics and Meaning exhibition and discuss which elements you recognize in each of these objects.

1.  Compare and contrast the works and note similarities and
    differences in these aesthetic elements.
2.  Do these similarities have ties to a common meaning between all
    of them? Why or why not? 

Writing this essay should take approximately 1 hour.