Humor and Violence

Humor and Violence

Seeing Europeans in Central African Art
Z. S. Strother
Distribution: Global
Publication date: 12/26/2016
Format: Paperback 118 color illus.
ISBN: 978-0-253-02267-7
Bookmark and Share
Buy from Amazon


Humor and Violence examines the rich history of portraying Europeans in Central African art in images ranging from heart-wrenching scenes of human trafficking to playful parodies of colonialists. Z. S. Strother contends that the dialectic of humor and violence reveals deep insights into the psychology of power and resistance that continues to operate in the region today. Her argument is built on a set of works of art and demonstrates the important role that patronage and political and social history played in their creation. Strother conveys Central African ideas about how the therapeutic power of humor can initiate social change and upset power relations between oppressors and oppressed. This analysis plunges seemingly benign figures into a maelstrom of violence and crime–rape, murder, torture, and forced labor on a massive scale. By restoring the dialectic of humor, it reveals the complicated psychological codependency of Africans and Europeans over a long period of history and maintains that art plays a mediating function in the mechanics and ethics of power.

Author Bio

Z. S. Strother is Riggio Professor of African Art at Columbia University. She is author of Inventing Masks: Agency and History in the Art of the Central Pende, winner of the Arnold Rubin Outstanding Publication Award.


“Z. S. Strother does not shy away from difficult and controversial topics, whether European or Congolese. In the complicated story that covers issues of colonialism, greed, multiple cultures, and over 100 years of history, she produces a remarkably readable and accessible volume.”
 — Elisabeth Cameron, editor of Portraiture and Photography in Africa

“Original and provocative, it offers a revealing and compelling analysis and interpretation of representations of humor and violence--two cultural forms of expression that are almost impossible to put into words. A rich and rewarding work that will sustain thoughtful reflection.”
 — Henry John Drewal, editor of Sacred Waters

“Perceptive, nuanced, and sensitive to change over time and place, Zoe Strother’s Humor and Violence is laugh-out-loud funny. In this dazzling array of art, Europeans constitute a cultural category—people who perform an identity of yappy little dogs and drunkenness—but, most fundamentally, of violence. Here are rape, murder, torture, and forced labor; here is the humor of tragic parody, defiance, and healing. Strother’s superb close reading of the art together with her careful dating for historical context and unblinking truth-telling make this an extraordinarily valuable work, an essential contribution to cultural history as well as art history.”
 — Nell Irvin Painter, author of The History of White People

“This well-written, meticulously researched study will be valuable to all who are interested in African arts.”
 — Choice

Humor and Violence is an excellent book of art historical scholarship and a pleasure to read. ”
 — African Studies Review

“Strother’s expertise, notably, the “reading” of objects as texts is both highly compelling and thought-provoking, and ultimately, herein lies the book’s strength.  It is well written in accessible narrative style lavishly accompanied by color and black-and-white photographs, together with hand-drawn sketches.  This book will no doubt find itself on the bookshelves of those interested in African art.  ”
 — African Studies Quarterly

Humor and Violence’s depth of research and radical interdisciplinarity is breathtaking.”
 — The Art Bulletin

Customer Reviews

There are currently no reviews
Write a review on this title.

Table of Contents

1. Introduction
2. Warning! What do you see? A white man? Or an over-dressed one?
3. New Commodities on the Loango Coast (1840-1880)
4. Depictions of Human Trafficking on Loango Ivories in the 1880s
5. Humor in the Hygiene of Power (ca. 1885-1915)
6. By Congolese, for Congolese (1910s-40s)
7. The African Victim in the Congolese Imaginary (1950s-1997)
Coda: Congolese Perspectives on Humor and Redemption

Related Titles