Symposium: Imagining Histories, Performing Identities

Symposium February 25, 2017

Post-Colonial African Art in Context

Saturday, February 25, 2017 | 1 – 4:30 pm

Organized with the Frederick Douglass Institute for African & African-American Studies and the Department of Art & Art History at the University of Rochester, this symposium will contextualize the MAG’s exhibition of Meleko Mokgosi’s Pax Kaffraria within the current discourse on African art and culture. This program is included with museum admission and is free for University of Rochester students, faculty and staff.

1 – 2:30 pm

When is Africa? History and Contemporaneity in the Encyclopedic Art Museum
Amanda GalvinAmanda Gilvin, Assistant Curator of Collections at the Davis Museum at Wellesley College
African art uniquely exposes paradoxes in the portrayal of time in the encyclopedic art museum, as can be demonstrated by this analysis of the African art collection of the Davis Museum at Wellesley College. In 1953, sixty-four years after its museum was founded, Wellesley College purchased its first work of African art, a Bete or Wee mask that the museum’s director found valuable because of similar objects’ influence on European modernism. The collection of African art, which has grown over the course of another sixty-four years to include both historical and contemporary artworks, now refuses easy categorization within standard art historical geographic and chronological categories. Gilvin will conclude with proposals for developing encyclopedic art museums and the African collections that they hold.

The State of Things: Contemporary African Art in the Museum
Ugochukwu-Smooth Nzewi, Curator of African Art at the Hood Museum of Art at Dartmouth College
Nzewi’s presentation discusses the place of contemporary African art in encyclopedic museums. It considers the challenges and prospects of interpreting and displaying it alongside the historical canon which most (North American) audiences are familiar with and easily identify as African art.

Jessica MartenModerator:
Jessica Marten, Curator in Charge/Curator of American Art, Memorial Art Gallery

2:30 – 3 pm: Break

3 – 4:30 pm

Sarah Van BeurdenMobutist Modernism: Art and the Construction of Postcolonial National Identity
Sarah Van Beurden, Associate Professor of African American and African Studies at Ohio State University
This talk will address the role of the Mobutu regime’s cultural politics of authenticité (authenticity) in the shaping of a post-colonial modernism in Zaire during the late 1960’s and 1970’s. In particular, Van Beurden will focus on the work of a group of artists who organized themselves under the name “Zairian Avant-Gardistes,’ and consider their efforts to develop a modern Zairian art.

Youth Protest, Art, and Post-revolution Iconoclasm in South Africa circa 2015
John Peffer, Associate Professor of Contemporary and Nonwestern Art History at Ramapo College of New Jersey
Over the past three years numerous acts of art sabotage and defacement of monuments on campuses have occurred across South Africa, as part of a larger effort to democratize and “Africanize” these spaces. There has been a progression in the “hashtags” of the movement, from (the statue of Cecil) #RhodesMustFall, to (university) #FeesMustFall, to (president) #ZumaMustFall. This talk examines these recent iconoclastic acts of protest on college campuses and at art museums in South Africa, in light of the history of attacks against images of apartheid during the 1980s. Where before the enemy was the state and the aims of protesters were clear, today new forms of post-revolutionary anxiety and contradiction cloud the violent popular actions against monuments and works of art. On college campuses and in public squares, symbols of the old regime remain and are being contested, but so are the “struggle credentials” of the ruling African National Congress.

Rachel HaiduModerator:
Rachel Haidu, Associate Professor of Art History and Director of the Graduate Program in Visual and Cultural Studies at the University of Rochester

Support for these events has been provided by The Humanities Project, a program of the University of Rochester Humanities Center; The Frederick Douglass Institute for African & African-American Studies; and The Department of Art & Art History.

For further information, please contact Andrew Cappetta at or 585.276.8964.
shown above: Meleko Mokgosi: Pax Kaffraria, Fully Belly II, 2010-14 (detail). Collection of Tracey and Phillip Riese, New York.