African Art and Agency in the Workshop

African Art and Agency in the Workshop

Edited by Sidney Littlefield Kasfir and Till Forster
Distribution: Global
Publication date: 04/01/2013
Format: Paperback 65 b&w illus., 8 color illus.
ISBN: 978-0-253-00749-0
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The role of the workshop in the creation of African art is the subject of this revelatory book. In the group setting of the workshop, innovation and imitation collide, artists share ideas and techniques, and creative expression flourishes. African Art and Agency in the Workshop examines the variety of workshops, from those which are politically driven or tourist oriented, to those based on historical patronage or allied to current artistic trends. Fifteen lively essays explore the impact of the workshop on the production of artists such as Zimbabwean stone sculptors, master potters from Cameroon, wood carvers from Nigeria, and others from across the continent.

Author Bio

Sidney Littlefield Kasfir is Professor Emerita of Art History at Emory University. She is author of African Art and the Colonial Encounter (IUP, 2007).

Till Förster is Professor of Social Anthropology at the University of Basel.


“African Art and Agency from the Workshop examines the variety of workshops, from those which are politically driven or tourist oriented, to those based on historical patronage or allied to current artistic trends”

“Mozambican freedom fighters direct artistic cooperatives to anti-colonial ends. An entrepreneurial Zambian king “brands” his people through patronage of distinctive visual and performance arts. These and equally compelling case studies demonstrate how African workshops have long mediated collective expression and individual imagination. In their nuanced contextualization of “the workshop” across cultural, geographical, and temporal diversities, the editors frame apprenticeship, cultural constructions of creativity, pragmatic materiality, and phenomenologies of production as no Africanist art historians have before, and in ways applicable anywhere in the world. ”
 — Allen F. Roberts,, University of California, Los Angeles

“A closer examination of the workshop provides important insights into art histories and cultural politics. We may think we know what we mean when we use the term 'workshop,' but in fact the organization of groups of artists takes on vastly different forms and encourages the production of diverse styles of art within larger social structures and power dynamics.”
 — Victoria Rovine, University of Florida

“African Art and Agency in the Workshop is a major contribution to African art history. It ushers in new canonical knowledge and a vital, wide-ranging discussion of the history of workshops within a thoughtful analytical frame.”
 — Anthropology of Work

“This is a very good book, and however involved the process of putting it together has been, the end result should inform students of African art history for some time to come.”
 — African Studies Bulletin

“This worthy addition to Indiana University Press’ African Expressive Cultures series contains a broad array of data derived from archival research and fieldwork, as well as artists’ observations drawn from direct workshop participation.”
 — International Journal of African Historical Studies

“Anthropologists and aficionados alike will undoubtedly be stimulated by many of the ideas put forth in this work, which deal with all the most current contemporary issues in the fields of African anthropology and art history. And since the workshop theory is universal in scope, it deserves the attention it is given here and further investigations by others.”
 — African Arts

“African Art and Agency in the Workshop offers a valuable contribution to scholarship in anthropology and art history dealing especially with African cultural production. . . . While the book's focus is geographically specific, its analysis of cultural production, creativity, and power will resonate for those of us concerned with these issues in Africa and beyond.Feb 2015”
 — American Ethnologist

“Taken as a whole, the case studies provide a wide window into the very diverse structural and functional characteristics of workshops. They also clearly describe how African workshops have served both contemporary political and cultural needs and have responded to patronage, whether it be traditional or stimulated by tourism. Equally important, some of the case studies demonstrate that diversity of forms can thrive within workshop organizations propelled by individual creativity and a desire to self-differentiate.”
 — African Studies Review

“[These] essays are augmented with data from fieldwork done by the editors in Côte d’Ivoire, Cameroon, Nigeria, Kenya, and Tanzania. To make the volume as formidable as it stands, chapters have been added by the coeditors’ intellectual colleagues who have conducted fieldwork in the above-named countries, as well as in Uganda, Mozambique, Zambia, and South Africa. Spring 2014”
 — Africa Today

“This interesting volume is highly recommended, especially for institutions that have collections covering artistic practice, African studies, postcolonial studies, and art history.”
 — ARLIS/NA Reviews

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Table of Contents


Introduction: Rethinking the Workshop \ Till Förster and Sidney Littlefield Kasfir
The Contributions to This Book \ Sidney Littlefield Kasfir and Till Förster
Part 1. Production, Education, and Learning
1. Grace Dieu Mission in South Africa: Defining the Modern Art Workshop in Africa \ Elizabeth Morton
2. Follow the Wood: Carving and Political Cosmology in Oku, Cameroon \ Nicolas Argenti
3. Masters, Trend-makers, and Producers: The Village of Nsei, Cameroon, as a Multisited Pottery Workshop \ Silvia Forni
4. An Artist's Notes on the Triangle Workshops, Zambia and South Africa \ Namubiru Rose Kirumira and Sidney Littlefield Kasfir

Part 2. Audience and Encounters
5. Stitched-up Women, Pinned-down Men: Gender Politics in Weya and Mapula Needlework, Zimbabwe and South Africa \ Brenda Schmahmann
6. Rethinking Mbari Mbayo: Osogbo Workshops in the 1960s, Nigeria \ Chika Okeke-Agulu
7. Working on the Small Difference: Notes on the Making of Sculpture in Tengenenge, Zimbabwe \ Christine Scherer
8. Navigating Nairobi: Artists in a Workshop System, Kenya \ Jessica Gerschultz

Part 3. Patronage and Domination
9. Lewanika's Workshop and the Vision of Lozi Arts, Zambia \ Karen E. Milbourne
10. Artesaos da Nossa Pátria: Makonde Blackwood Sculptors, Cooperatives, and the Art of Socialist Revolution in Postcolonial Mozambique \ Alexander Bortolot
11. Frank McEwen and Joram Mariga: Patron and Artist in the Rhodesian Workshop School Setting, Zimbabwe \ Elizabeth Morton
12. "A Matter of Must": Continuities and Change in the Adugbologe Woodcarving Workshop in Abeokuta, Nigeria \ Norma H. Wolff

Part 4. Comparative Aspects
13. Work and Workshop: The Iteration of Style and Genre in Two Workshop Settings, Côte d'Ivoire and Cameroon \ Till Förster
14. Apprentices and Entrepreneurs: The Workshop and Style Uniformity in Sub-Saharan Africa \ Sidney Littlefield Kasfir

Coda: Apprentices

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