African Art and the Colonial Encounter

African Art and the Colonial Encounter

Inventing a Global Commodity
Sidney Littlefield Kasfir
Distribution: World
Publication date: 10/2/2007
ISBN: 978-0-253-02265-3
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Focusing on the theme of warriorhood, Sidney Littlefield Kasfir weaves a complex history of how colonial influence forever changed artistic practice, objects, and their meaning. Looking at two widely diverse cultures, the Idoma in Nigeria and the Samburu in Kenya, Kasfir makes a bold statement about the links between colonialism, the Europeans’ image of Africans, Africans’ changing self representation, and the impact of global trade on cultural artifacts and the making of art. This intriguing history of the interaction between peoples, aesthetics, morals, artistic objects and practices, and the global trade in African art challenges current ideas about artistic production and representation.

Author Bio

Sidney Littlefield Kasfir is Professor in the Department of Art History at Emory University where she is also Faculty Curator of African Art. She is author of Contemporary African Art and editor of West African Masks and Cultural Systems.


"A provocative and useful addition to postcolonial analysis. Summing Up: Highly recommended. Faculty and specialists." —Choice , January 2009

"A rich and highly informative account of the many factors that impact artistic production in Africa." —
Victoria RovineUniversity of Florida

"A rich and highly informative account of the many factors that impact artistic production in Africa." —Victoria Rovine, University of Florida

". . . there is little doubt that [this book] . . . will be compulsory reading for critical African art history syllabi for years to come. . . This book takes history very seriously, and in doing so, it brings a properly researched post-colonial critical discourse to bear on histories - those of the Samburu, the Idoma and African art history itself. In doing so it shows how art (artefact, material culture, objects . . . whatever) can both make those histories and be a vital part in our understanding of how the world is represented." —Will Rea, University of Leeds,
Leeds African Studies Bulletin , #70 Dec. 2008

". . . well organized, analytically rich, elegantly written and a compelling read." —Mary Jo Arnoldi, Smithsonian Institution,

". . . it is highly recommended with its emphasis on the three Cs—colonialism, commodity, and complexity of representation." —Joseph Nevadomsky,
H-AfrArts , September 2009

". . . persuasively demonstrates the degree to which colonialism reshaped artistic production and meaning, and also how artists were agents of resistance through creative

transformation." —Mary Nooter Roberts, University of California, Los Angeles,
AFRICAN STUDIES REVIEW , Vol. 52.2 Sept. 2009

"Kasfir provides a robust historical account bridging the study of "classic" African art markets—precolonial objects—with contemporary art markets, which still exoticize African artworks." —
International Journal of African Historical Studies , Vol. 43.1, 2010

"Over the course of the past thirty years, Sidney Kasfir has become known as one of the most critical and conceptual minds in African art history. . . Sidney Kasfir, one of the freshest minds of African art history . . . ." —
The Journal of African History

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Table of Contents

Introduction: Colonial Power and Aesthetic Practice
Part 1. Warriors
1. Maa Warriorhood and British Colonial Discourse
2. Idoma Warriorhood and the Pax Britannica
Part 2. Sculptors and Smiths
3. Colonial Rupture and Innovation
4. Samburu Smiths, Idoma Maskmakers: Power at a Distance
Part 3. Masks, Spears, the Body
5. Mask and Spear: Art, Thing, Commodity
6. Warrior Theatre and the Ritualized Body
Part 4. Commodities
7. Idoma Sculpture: Colonialism and the Market for African Art
8. Samburu Encounters with Modernity: Spears as Tourist Souvenirs
9. Samburu Warriors in Hollywood Films: Cinematic Commodities
Reprise: The Three C's: Colonialism, Commodities, and Complex Representations
Coda: From Spears to Guns in the North Rift