2019-2020 promises to be a great year for African art in Tappan Hall. This Fall two postdoctoral research fellows have joined us. Ashley Miller, our first Forsyth Postdoctoral Research Fellow, is a global modernist whose work focuses on the art and visual cultures of northern Africa. She completed her PhD here at Michigan. Our visiting lecturer
Okechukwu (Okey) Nwafor, is visiting from Nigeria, where he is on the faculty of Nnamdi Azikiwe University in Awka. He earned his PhD at the University of the Western Cape, in Cape Town, South Africa, and works on a range of topics, but is primarily interested in the history of photography in Nigeria. In addition to pursuing their own writing projects, Okey and Ashley will each offer courses drawn from their research interests, and the two will team-teach Introduction to Art and Visual Cultures of Africa this Winter.
It is particularly exciting that Okey and Ashley are joining a collaborative research team lead by Ray Silverman, a scholar of African art and visual culture here at Michigan, and Laura De Becker, Helmut and Candace Stern Associate Curator of African Art at the UM Museum of Art. The team is exploring art making in Africa during the 1960s and 70s. In 1957, Ghana became the first African country to declare independence from its colonizers, spearheading a wave of political uprisings across the continent. By 1970, forty-five of today's fifty-four African states had regained their independence. The autonomy of these nations coincided with artistic revolutions. Everywhere, artists began rethinking their relationship to the new nation state, to the African continent and to a world fractured by the Cold War. The project, “Making African Art, 1957-77,” seeks to position modern African artists at the forefront of critical conversations about making art that were taking place in Africa, the United States and the Soviet Union at this critical moment in the continent’s history. Funded by a generous grant from the Michigan Humanities Collaboratory, the team’s work will culminate in a major traveling exhibition and companion book. Information about the project can be found at https://sites.lsa.umich.edu/maa/.
This past year the team pursued an ambitious research agenda. It began with Silverman and De Becker offering a course, “Inventing African Art: A Continent on Display,” that provided an opportunity to lay the foundation for the project. Last Winter, work was undertaken at museums, galleries, archives and libraries at a number of historically black college and universities, institutions that hosted African artists during their government-sponsored visits to the United States in the 1960s and 70s. During the summer, Silverman traveled to Uganda, Ethiopia and Ghana where he visited museums, galleries and schools of art to identify artwork for the exhibition. He was joined in Ghana by History of Art undergrad, Evan Binkley, who had earlier in the year conducted archival research for the project at the National Archives in College Park, MD. Miller and another member of the team, Kelly Askew (Anthropology and DAAS), pursued similar research agendas in Algeria and Tanzania. History of Art grad student, James Denison, worked with the team last Fall, and is joining it again this Fall, to investigate the Cold War and its impact on art making in Africa. “Making African Art” has brought together a dynamic interdisciplinary and multigenerational group of scholars to interrogate an important set of issues concerning the role the visual arts played in shaping post-independence Africa. Next semester, the team plans to present a half-day colloquium at which it will workshop the project to seek feedback from colleagues in the department and beyond.