In Memoriam: Marilyn Eiseman Heldman (1935-2019)

The loss of Marilyn Eiseman Heldman (June 12, 1935 – July 15, 2019) marks the passing of a brilliant scholar and generous colleague who pioneered the study of Ethiopian art. Her work on the illustrated manuscripts and devotional icons of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church examined issues of patronage, spirituality and inspiration.

Her 1972 PhD thesis on the Miniatures of the Gospels of Princess Zir Gānēlā, an Ethiopic Manuscript Dated A.D. 1400/01, is, to this day, the only work which provides an overview of all the illustrated features of medieval Ethiopic Gospel books. Covering a wide range of visual evidence, the study traces the pictorial sources and religious practices which shaped the work of Ethiopian illuminators active towards the turn of the fifteenth century.  She was among the first art historians to study historical devotional Ethiopian artworks with this kind of depth.

In her book, The Marian Icons of the Painter Frē Ṣeyon: A Study in Fifteenth-century Ethiopian Art, Patronage, and Spirituality, Heldman begins with a single work of art as a window into the religious paintings traditions of the mid 1400’s. Frē Ṣeyon, a monk from the monastery of Dabra Gwegweben, signed only one painting, but by comparing stylistic and iconographical characteristics to other mural and panel paintings, Heldman was able to assign an entire oeuvre of painting to this monk and to identify the Byzantine and Italian prototypes. 

Heldman was also much involved in the organization and catalogue of the exhibition African Zion: The Sacred Art of Ethiopia (1993). This landmark exhibition, which brought Ethiopian art to the attention of the American public, remains unsurpassed. The art historical essays in the catalogue, written by Heldman, combine clarity with academic rigour. It is also worth remembering that Heldman, in the second of her five essays in this volume, was the first scholar to suggest, on stylistic grounds, that the Garima Gospels were produced during late antiquity, a hypothesis that would be later confirmed by C-14 dating.

-Jacopo Gnisci and Peri Klemm

Call for projects: Dak’Art – Biennial of Contemporary African Art

DAK’ART – Biennial of Contemporary African Art will be held from 28 May to 28 June 2020 in Dakar, under the high patronage of the President of the Republic of Senegal. This fourteenth edition, which marks the biennial’s 30th anniversary, will have the general theme Ĩ’Ndaffa / Out of the fire.

Ĩ’Ndaffa, in Serer language, means to forge. It is a verb that denotes the dynamics and the action of creating, recreating and kneading. This general theme refers to the creation of a new and autonomous world, which nourishes the diversity of contemporary African creativities, while projecting new ways of telling and approaching Africa, in a constant dialogue and interaction with the rest of the world.

The call for applications to the biennial’s International Exhibition is open from 1 July to 15 September 2019. It is open to all artists from Africa and the Diaspora, working across all aesthetic mediums and contemporary art forms.

Applications are to be sent by email to candidature2020@biennaledakar.org and by post before 15 September 2019 to Secrétariat général de la Biennale de Dakar, 19 avenue Hassan II, 1er Etage, BP: 3865 Dakar, SENEGAL.

The concept note and the application form are available on DAK’ART website.

African Critical Inquiry Programme Announces 2019 Ivan Karp Doctoral Research Awards

The African Critical Inquiry Programme has named Bronwyn Kotzen and Ngozi May Okafor as recipients of the 2019 Ivan Karp Doctoral Research Awards. Kotzen is a South African student pursuing her PhD in Human Geography at the University of Cape Town. Okafor is a Nigerian student doing her degree at the Centre for Visual Art at University of KwaZulu-Natal. Support from ACIP’s Ivan Karp Awards will allow each to do significant research for their dissertations. Kotzen will do research in Johannesburg, South Africa and Lagos, Nigeria for her project, Abstracting the Concrete: Tracing the Political Economy of Infrastructure in Africa Through a Study of Cement. Okafor’s research for her project Firing: Exploring the Ceramic Process as Rite of Passage will include work with Zulu potters in South Africa and Ushafa potters in Nigeria, as well as her own creative ceramic work. Founded in 2012, the African Critical Inquiry Programme (ACIP) is a partnership between the Centre for Humanities Research at University of the Western Cape in Cape Town and the Laney Graduate School of Emory University in Atlanta. Supported by donations to the Ivan Karp and Corinne Kratz Fund, the ACIP fosters thinking and working across public cultural institutions, across disciplines and fields, and across generations. It seeks to advance inquiry and debate about the roles and practice of public culture, public cultural institutions, and public scholarship in shaping identities and society in Africa through an annual ACIP Workshop and through the Ivan Karp Doctoral Research Awards, which support African doctoral students in the humanities and humanistic social sciences enrolled at South African universities.

About Bronwyn Kotzen’s project: For the first time since post-WWII industrial modernization, the significance of infrastructure has emerged as a point of broad consensus for critiques of untenable models of current economic growth. This has marked a radical global policy shift to development at the urban-scale, which Africa has only recently begun to mirror. Yet, the complex and interconnected geo-political and economic forces that drive Africa’s urban development and produce its infrastructures remain largely obscured. This project seeks to read contemporary processes of infrastructural development in Africa through the material lens of cement in order to formulate a much- needed post-neoliberal interrogation of African urban development. Second only to water, concrete is the most widely consumed substance on earth. As concrete’s raw material, cement is the foundation of modern development and is therefore the project’s primary site of investigation. The research moves beyond individual localised sites and cases to draw out generalisable patterns of development at a regional level, outside of the particularities of place and time. Pan-African cement flows are traced as a ‘matter’ of the political economy of infrastructure. This offers a reading of the continent not as a bounded geographical location but rather as series of spatio-temporal interconnections that make visible the myriad of global influences, relations, and shifting formations of development hierarchies. Combining politics and economics with geography and materiality reveals the far-reaching and connected places and powers of which Africa is composed. Working across disciplines and registers, Abstracting the Concrete attempts to advance the theory, method, and critique of infrastructure in the postcolonial world, toward recalibrating a meaningful African urban studies agenda.

About Ngozi May Okafor’s project: In many societies, the practices of pottery-making and initiation rites seem to be in decline. Researchers of both rites of passage and pottery (together with its broader category, ceramics), therefore, continually seek new ways of interpreting the practices in order to sustain and enliven them. My interest in the processes of pottery making among indigenous potters has led me to go beyond the finished product to reconsider the performative ‘art’ and ‘act’ of creating potteries. In several native cultures, the process of creating pottery is likened to childbirth; it can also suggest a people’s state of being. Furthermore, pottery wares are seen as having humanoid qualities. What relationships exist between pottery and rites of passage? With the growing need to creatively design rites that mark individual and group transitions from one state of being to another, how can those relationships inform creativity in passage rituals? Moreover, what creative ideas might those relationships stimulate for self-expressions through installation and performance? Combining my practice as a ceramic artist and research with Zulu potters in South Africa and Ushafa potters in Nigeria (both of whom also practice initiation rites), this study will explore possible parallels between pottery/ceramics and rites of passage, with a focus on their transitional phases – firing and liminality, respectively. Contextual and documentary reviews, fieldwork, and studio experiments will be the methods of data collection. Deploying rites of passage theories, Firing: Exploring the Ceramic Process as Rite of Passage shall bring fresh perspectives to the ways in which ceramics practice can be viewed, re-interpreted, and also present broader narratives for self-expressions. The project will result in both a written dissertation as well as an exhibition and catalogue of visual art works resulting from the study’s creative explorations.
Information about the 2020 Ivan Karp Doctoral Research Awards for African students enrolled in South African Ph.D. programmes will be available in November 2019. The application deadline is 1 May 2020.

For further information, see http://www.gs.emory.edu/about/special/acip.html and https://www.facebook.com/ivan.karp.corinne.kratz.fund.

In Memoriam: Marshall Ward Mount (1927-2018)

I learned of Marshall Ward Mount’s November 25, 2018 passing from my aunt this past January. A Jersey City native, like Marshall, she had been thrilled by my first visit to the storied Mount home more than twelve years ago. The opportunity to view the African art collection he had amassed over decades of research travel to the continent made a lasting impression. While enrolled in Professor Mount’s Arts of Africa course as an undergraduate at New York University, I, along with hundreds of students from Marshall’s six decades of teaching, was exposed to the history of African art for the first time. His passion and enthusiasm for the subject impressed me. His personal attachments to the objects, to their lives and stories intrigued me. The box of Paul Wingert’s African art prints that I purchased for the class still sits on my bookshelf – a reminder of my introduction to a canon of objects that I’ve since learned to deconstruct, complicate and expand. Some of that crucial work began by later reading Marshall’s own book, African Art: The Years Since 1920 (1973), the research for which he received a Rockefeller Foundation Fellowship as a student of Paul Wingert’s at Columbia University. This book is integral to the historiography of modern and contemporary African art history. With a generous and encouraging spirit, Marshall eagerly supported me in the early stages of my career. He introduced me to individuals whose own generosity made the pursuit of a life in art history seem possible. As I look back through my correspondence with Marshall, I am reminded of just how significant his support was to my own growth in this field. I visited Marshall and his wife Caroline’s Jersey City home for a second time while research assistant for the Arts of Africa collection at the Newark Museum. Beyond the thrill of viewing his collection with more discerning eyes, I remember Marshall’s stories. In one, he joyfully recounted his return from one of his first trips to the African continent. With a twinkle of mischief in his eye, he recalled the moth infestation that took hold in his mother’s home when he opened the crates of art and textiles he brought back from his trip, an inevitable inconvenience of the journey. Through his collecting and teaching, Marshall allowed me, and so many others, to witness firsthand the ways African objects and narratives have been mobilized to take root in the cultural imagination, both far and very near. He brought African art “home” for me as a fellow New Jerseyan and opened my eyes to the world right outside my door. Donations may be made in Marshall Ward Mount’s memory to the African Wildlife Fund.

By Perrin Lathrop, PhD Candidate, Princeton University

Tribute to Professor Christopher Damon Roy (1947-2019)

A great tree has fallen.
Akan proverb

Picture taken by Nora Leonard Roy at Ouri, Burkina Faso, ca. 1985.

Today we mourn the loss of an extraordinary man. Professor Christopher Damon Roy passed away early on the morning of Sunday, February 10 in Iowa City, surrounded by his immediate family. Chris was born September 30, 1947, in Ogdensburg, New York, to Margaret Adam Snow and George Robert Roy. He and his wife, Nora Leonard Roy, were married at the Hôtel de Ville, Ouagadougou, Upper Volta, on September 26, 1970. He leaves his beloved wife, Nora; his son, Nicholas Spencer Roy (Jill Scott); his daughter, Megan Deirdre Roy (John Dolci), and granddaughter, Sylvia Elizabeth Dolci; his sister, Robin Roy Katz (Michael Katz) and nephew Teddy Katz; his brother, Matthew Roy (Caroline Darlington Roy); nieces Katelin and Emily, and nephews Robby and Chris. Those close to Chris will remember him well for his sincere warmth, delightful wit, and bold sense of humor. Always approaching life with a sense of adventure, his robust energy and fascination with the world was contagious during his forty-one years at the University of Iowa.

Throughout his career, Chris devoted much of his attention to the arts of Burkina Faso and the Max and Betty Stanley Collection of African art. His writing on the Thomas G.B. Wheelock Collection is well known, and many will remember him for his catalog on the Bareiss Family Collection. Over the years, he contributed regularly to African Arts, where he published on his research in Burkina, reviewed exhibitions, and engaged in current debates. His 1980 review of Traditional Sculpture from Upper Volta remains one of the sharpest critiques in the field. In 2015, he published his most recent book, Mossi: Diversity in the Art of a West African People,as well as an essay, “The Art Market in Burkina Faso: A Personal Recollection,” included in Silvia Forni and Christopher Steiner’s Africa in the Market: Twentieth-Century Art from the Amrad Collection. His Art of the Upper Volta Rivers (1987) remains a standard text on the subject.

In addition to this, Chris produced over twenty self-narrated video recordings on the arts of Africa, and all are freely accessibly online. He and Linda McIntyre released Art & Life in Africa (ALA) as a CD-ROM in 1997 and sold thousands of copies throughout North America. In 2014, he worked with Dr. Catherine Hale and Cory Gundlach to redevelop ALA as a website, which has had nearly 500,000 users. As a leader in his field, Chris founded and directed the UI Project for Advanced Study of Art and Life in Africa (PASALA), which provided scholarships for graduate course work and research in Africa, as well as conferences and publications on African art.

Chris’s impact as a professor was no less remarkable. Every fall semester, twice a week, nearly 300 students packed the largest lecture hall at Art Building West to attend his survey course on African art. High enrollment was common for his all courses, as he was a gifted storyteller and he understood the power of keeping his students entertained with occasional humor. A long history of work with the Stanley Museum of Art supported his object-oriented approach to teaching, which he complemented with a social history of art. He oversaw the completion of fifteen doctoral dissertations, and many of his former students are now employed in major institutions throughout the country.

From 1985 to 1995 at the Stanley Museum of Art, Chris served as curator of the arts of Africa, the Pacific, and Pre-Columbian America. He curated fourteen exhibitions during his university career among museums in Iowa, China, Austria, and Germany. Scholars reviewed his exhibitions at the Stanley Museum positively for the way in which artistic quality drove his motivations for selection and display, and for the way in which he treated attribution carefully.

Beyond his scholarship, teaching, multi-media projects and exhibitions, Chris’s YouTube videos on art and life in Africa have reached perhaps the widest audience, with more than 10,000 subscribers and over four million viewers worldwide. It is encouraging to think that the world is a better place because of Chris and all of those touched by his warmth and brilliance.

To contribute to the Christopher D. Roy Memorial Fund, go to www.givetoiowa.org/2019la98. This fund will give UI art history students the opportunity to gain valuable intern experience at the Stanley Museum of Art.

by Cory Gundlach
UI Stanley Museum of Art

In Memoriam: Bisi Silva (1962-2019)

Picture by by Ayo Adewunmi

It is difficult to speak about Bisi in the past tense! Bisi Silva was born in Lagos in 1962 and died on the 12 of February, 2019. She was the founder and artistic director of the Centre for Contemporary Arts, Lagos established in 2007. In the 11 years of its existence, her Centre became ‘the’ Centre of art in Nigeria. Bisi centred the discourse on contemporary African art on the continent and brought several international scholars, artists and curators to Nigeria. Her Centre became a gateway for establishing connections between local artists and international audiences. It brought joy, laughter and professional fulfilment to many. Bisi lived a short but purposeful life. She brought to the art scene a high-level of professionalism and impacted both young and old artists through her unique exhibitions and artists talks/programmes. She was a scholar and curator extraordinaire and internationally recognised for her immense contribution to art scholarship. She developed the art of photography, video art and other aspects of new media which were largely underserved in Nigeria at the time.

She transformed the careers of a good number of artists and curators from all over the world.  She will be fondly remembered for the Asiko curatorial school. At home, Bisi made it possible for young art graduates to think of establishing careers as curators. She supported several art programmes in different parts of Nigeria and endowed prizes for the best entries in the arts at national competitions. She made donations to many art programmes and projects. Bisi curated several local and international exhibitions and biennales, too numerous to mention here.

Bisi was simple, kind hearted and generous.  She was beautiful, well spoken, talented, focused, bold and fearless.  She spoke strongly against mediocrity and disrespect for women and expressed her views freely.
She was a lover of books. She developed the most comprehensive library of art books in the country. The Centre and library located in Yaba, Lagos was in close proximity to the major art schools in Lagos which made it accessible to many college students. Indeed, the Centre benefited from this pool of students who served in different capacities in administering it. Despite her busy schedule, she found time to give lectures in schools, carry out portfolio reviews and visit exhibition and talks. Here was a scholar who gave her all to the development of art in Nigeria.

What a life full of achievements! She will be missed by the global community of artists. Asiko, the name of her curatorial project means time. Her time is up, but her legacy continues!

Olabisi Silva, Odigba, Sun re o. Rest in peace.

By Peju Layiwola, ACASA Board President Elect / VP

ACASA Tribute to Polly Nooter Roberts

Friends, by now you may have heard the very sad news: Polly Nooter Roberts has passed. She went peacefully in her sleep the night of September 11-12 after living with stage four metastatic breast cancer (MBC) for more than eight years. She is mother to three and grandmother, daughter of Nancy and Robert H. Nooter, and the loving wife of Dr. Allen Roberts, with whom she regularly forged new research. We extend our deep sympathies to the Nooter and Roberts families.

A recipient of ACASA’s 2017 Leadership Award, Dr. Mary (Polly) Nooter Roberts was a giant in the field of African Arts. She was Professor of World Arts and Cultures at UCLA and Consulting Curator for African Arts at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA). She brought a deep appreciation for artistic achievement to her work and great sensitivity to the weight of history on people’s lives. Her brilliant research spanned the continent and its diasporas, but she is best known for concentrated studies of Luba art in the DRC and Sufi arts in Senegal. Institutions and even nations awarded Polly’s ability to translate philosophy, history, and art; strikingly, in 2007 she was decorated as a Knight in the Order of Arts and Letters by the Republic of France for her promotion of francophone African art. She served ACASA as President and brought our Triennial to the island of St. Thomas, our first venue outside of North America, in 2001. The volume and value of her work is so great that it is impossible to summarize here. Her legacy to critical curatorial practice is profound.

Polly lived a life of purpose and was widely known for her generosity. She described her illness as a “detour” in life and saw it as an opportunity for growth. A leader by nature, Polly embraced the opportunity to advance the research of Simms/Mann UCLA Center for Oncology and aid the community of women living with MBC in Los Angeles. She brought the same positive energy to those endeavors that she brought to our wide community.

Polly radiated warmth. She gave each person her undivided attention, respecting the moment that an encounter offers, and she brought out the best in each of us. She was a woman of grace, poise, and elegance. We will miss her.

Shannen Hill
ACASA Board Past President

Statement from the ACASA Board of Directors

On behalf of our members and in the strongest possible terms, the Board of the Arts Council of the African Studies Association (ACASA) denounces President Donald J. Trump as a racist. His recent profanity directed at Africans and Haitians, well publicized and too grotesque to repeat, is the latest in a long string of racist remarks and actions to which we are vehemently opposed. Our members know well the vast, invaluable contribution that African men and women have made, in the arts and well beyond, throughout human history and the world over. Although we are not surprised that President Trump denigrates Africans – he has fomented racism since he first entered the public eye in the 1970s – this week’s characterization of Africans and Haitians is deeply offensive and needs to be called out. So, too, do we condemn those US elected officials who do not publicly stand opposed to racism and do not denounce President Trump as racist. Silence is compliance. We speak against racism and to those who remain silent since both contradict our mission, which is to facilitate communication about African history and expressive cultures and to promote greater understanding of these worldwide. Finally, this: The global economy from which Americans benefit was built by immigrants including millions violently enslaved and displaced to the Americas, whose forced labor ensured wealth for others. The United States owes much to their indomitable creative spirit since many of its most celebrated forms of artistic expression descend from Africans. We call on all American ACASA members and friends to vote next November 6 for candidates who respect the lives of every person. If you are interested in ACASA but have not yet joined us, please do!

 

Statement from the ACASA Board of Directors

According to recent reports, the Trump administration is planning to completely eliminate the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) and the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) (See “Trump Team Prepares Dramatic Cuts”).   As ACASA members in the US know, many of our exhibitions and research projects could have happened only through funding by the NEA and the NEH.  Relatively few people in the US are passionately concerned with the arts and humanities; relatively few understand the essential role of the arts and humanities in preserving a robust democracy and bridging cultural differences.  Therefore the NEA and NEH could be easily eliminated if people do not speak out in their support, and as members of an African arts organization, you could make a big difference.  

The Board of Directors of ACASA asks you to join us in contacting your elected representatives in the Senate and Congress.  You can find the names and addresses of your senators here, and of your congressional representative here.  When you contact your representatives, please let them know you are a member of ACASA, and that we are working with other organizations to advocate for continued public funding for the arts and humanities. 

Networks to support artistic and scholarly freedom are now expanding.  To join with this growing community of active artists, curators, teachers and researchers, please visit  the National Humanities Alliance and Americans for the Arts.  Only through collective action can we ensure continued public funds for creating and researching art in a free and open society. 

Statement from the ACASA Board of Directors

The Arts Council of the African Studies Association is a non-political organization that exists to exchange ideas and proficiencies across borders.

As an organization we denounce the Trump administration’s executive order banning all refugees from entering the United States for 120 days on the grounds that it is racist and xenophobic, and thus stands in direct opposition to our mission. It blocks Syrian refugees from any access to the US for an indefinite period, and denies passport-holders from seven, predominantly Muslim nations – Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, Yemen – entry into the country. This ban blatantly discriminates against individuals from Africa, the Maghreb, and the Middle East, affecting many members of our community. ACASA joins other academic associations in calling on the President and Congress to lift the ban and calls on all elected officials, regardless of party affiliation, to work urgently and vigorously to overturn this discriminatory order that limits collaborations with researchers and scholars from the nations listed in the executive order and violates US and international law as well as human rights on a global scale.