Monday, December 5, 2011

Looking at Contemporary African Artists: Kathleen Walsh

watercolor sketch

This week our blog is supposed to reflect on a contemporary African artist.  I felt very overwhelmed at first trying to decide which artist to choose because there are so many different artists with different techniques and styles.  Some artists have a very modern look to their artwork, while others continue to use a technique that makes their artwork look like it was made back earlier African times.  The one thing that all of these artists have in common is that they all have African influences to their artwork.
I chose to research Kathleen Walsh.  Kathleen has a very distinct style, she bases her artwork off of African landscapes.  At first I questioned if I was searching under African Artists on the Art in Embassies website because her work doesn’t look like “traditional” African artwork.  I actually didn’t realize she was an African artists until I read her biography.
She was raised in New England and originally she didn’t turn to artwork during her studies, she studied Nursing and Psychotheraphy.  She didn’t get into art until the 70’s.  She thought of art as a means of powerful expression, a way that she could voice herself to others.  After being in the US and studying at the Art League School of Alexandria in Virginia she opened a studio where she painted for 3 out of the 4 season painting landscapes.  In 2008 she went to Africa where she had lived for 7 years raising a family.  She learned many techniques such as texture, shape and symbols from local African artists.  She met with these artists in the village of Safane, Burkina Faso.
Even though Kathleen isn’t originally from Africa I find it very interesting that she moved herself from a different country to go study and learn the ways of other artists.  The idea behind landscape artwork may seem boring to some, but I feel as though landscape is a very interesting choice of work because two places are never the same.  Our perspective on the landscape may be completely different from another observer, which is why I think it is so interesting that Kathleen chose to move to Africa to study and depict those landscapes and share her work with us.  I have not seen any other kinds of landscape artwork in class thus far, however this does not mean that there isn’t any other there.  This is another reason why I found Kathleen’s work so interesting.
Kathleen said, “I came to Africa to paint landscapes, but the figure caught my eye; the grace of the women, the flow of their garments.  The figure became my landscape.”  Although I couldn’t find much about Kathleen as a person, I learned a lot about her through her artwork.  Her view of how she saw things in Africa really told a lot about her.  She focused more on their clothing than she did the actual people, she showed the importance of color in their garments.  Some of her work seems abstracted, while others seem more sketch-like showing the importance of the colors through watercolor.
If you want to learn more about Kathleen Walsh her website is where you can learn more about her as well as view some of her works of art.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Learning Cultures, Not Assuming

This week in class we were required to read 3 different articles.  The one I responded to was the article dealing with Yinka Shonibare: Hendonism, masquerade, carnivalesque and power.  To be honest I didn’t quite make a connection with the other readings, partly because I found myself re-reading the material to try and understand it.  However, in class today during our group discussion I was guided into thinking in a new direction.
My group’s quote that we discussed was “I’ve never actually been to an African village.  I’ve only seen one on tv.”  In my group we discussed that there are many assumptions that peoples make about others.  Shamefully people make assumptions by looking at the skin tone of others, the sound of their voice or accent, and maybe even the kind of clothes they wear.  In this article Shonibare answers the question of what he thinks and African village looks like.  He says he assumes as a Western point of view because he has never actually seen one for himself, so he is forced to make an assumption or his own idea of what he thinks it would look like--which is probably not what it is in reality.
We can only assume what we think about a culture unless we take the time to learn about that culture and understand their ways and their history.  One thing we discussed in our group is how in America specifically and in Iowa even more locally, people from bigger cities in the United States think that we are all farmers and drive tractors to school.  When in all reality the majority of us that live in Iowa are not farmers.  The misconception of this idea is the same thing that is happening to Shonibare.  People misinterpret his works as being “traditional African art” when in all reality he was born in London and moved to Lagos, Nigeria.  Most people just assume because of the color of his skin that he is African, however he spend most of is time in Britain.  Shonibare’s works mostly include issues of race and class through different media that is anything from sculpture to painting or from photography to installation art.
The most important thing we should take from this article and our knowledge of Shonibare’s work is that keeping an open mind about art can open the doors to many things.  The fact that he revolves his work around the issues of race shows me that many people think of him as a “traditional African artist”, which in a way I suppose you could consider him that, but the way he grew up he is much more than that.  His influence with European cultures helps morph him into the person that he is and the art that he makes.  By taking both cultures Shonibare creates pieces that are eye-catching and make you want to understand the person behind the artwork and not just make assumptions on who he is as an artist.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Importance of Integration of Cultures

This week our task was to read two essays; Mami Wata Shrines: exotica and the Construction of Self by Henry Drewal and Imaging Otherness in Ivory: African Portrayals of the Portugese by Suzanne Blier.  While reading these essays I felt overwhelmed because of the content that the essays included, but after the discussion in class that we had on Thursday I feel more confident in the material that I had read and the meaning behind them.
The Imaging Otherness in Ivory essay explains the process of the definition of culture in a way.  We need other cultures to influence our own to continually develop our own culture.  The essay mainly focuses on the Kongo, Benin, and the Sapi peoples.  The explanation of their art and its purpose helps us to wrap our head around the idea of how we are influenced by their art and how we as artists use some of the same techniques, ideas, and thought process to make our own art.  In the Mami Wata essay Drewal talks about how Mami wata devotees are concerned with alien things because of their water spirit is perceived to be “foreign”.  Without the influence of other cultures our art would seem less intriguing.  The importance of “foreign” peoples or anyone else’s ideas besides our own for that matter influence in our own cultures helps us to create more meaningful and interesting pieces of work.  An example of this kind of integration of cultures and ideas is Pablo Picasso adopting the African visual techniques in his own works.  Picasso was fascinated by the simplicity of the African art he was exposed to in the Paris museums because of the expansion of the French empire into Africa.  His first piece of cubist work, Les Demoiselles, was influenced by African art.  Without the integration and inspiration of these cultures the new technique of “cubism” wouldn’t have been applied.
As some may see it; the Europeans coming into Africa to take over and take the peoples back as slaves may be a bad thing.  Although, yes I must admit I think this sounds like a horrible thing to do, but we must look on the positive side and see all of the beautiful things that have come out these horrible happenings.  If the Europeans wouldn’t have invaded African and taken their belongings who knows how long it would have taken for other peoples to discover their pieces of work and become inspired to create our own pieces of work.
Another important aspect to think about with cultures is how we actually “see” this art.  When we go to a museum and see a piece of work we might think, “This is an interesting piece of work.”  However, do we fully understand the meaning and thoughts that were put into the work by the artist unless we take the time to learn about the artist and their piece of work?  I’m just as guilty of this as everyone else is, when looking through a museum I look for the things that catch my eye first, look at it, think about it for a few seconds, try to figure out the meaning behind it, then walk away.  As Drewal stated in Mami Wata, “Museums may be windows on other worlds, but they are also mirrors reflecting their creators… they influence what we see, how we see, and therefore, what we understand.”  We need to take the time to understand the background that comes from the art and know that there is a meaning behind each piece of work.
One thing I took from reading these essays and writing my blog this week is understand that everything and everyone we come into contact with has an impact on who we are as people and what we make as artists.  Having these interactions and integrations with different peoples helps us to further develop or knowledge and outlook on life.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Accepting Cultures

Black in Latin America clarified many things for me this week.  Henry Louis Gates’ documentary on African influence and slavery in Haiti and the Dominican Republic made me have a deeper understanding and background history on African’s religions, thoughts, and how they see themselves.
The Dominican Republic was the 1st place that imported slaves.  Nowadays the people of the Dominican Republic gather every Saturday to sing and dance for the remembrance of their past history.  Ninety percent of the make up of the Dominican Republic are Africans.  Although, many people in the Dominican Republic do not think they are “African” or “Black”.  One of the men that Gates interviewed spoke about how Africans had to learn how to be black.  The way that this particular person learned his heritage or his background on his race and culture was by visiting museums and learned ways from people outside of the Dominican Republic.  This seems very upsetting to me that peoples do not know where they came from or how their cultures live their life.  The fact that they are influenced to be someone else, forced to learn their way of life or how their culture thrives seems completely unethical in my opinion.  It made me question how someone could forget where they came from and how much their cultures have an impact on them.  The DVD brought up a strikingly strong word to help me wrap my head this question; acceptance.
            The Dominicans portray their thoughts or the way they see Africans in a way in which they probably don’t think anything of it, however to the people of the African cultures it is highly offensive.  One example that the DVD talked about was depictions of dolls to represent the African peoples.  The doll focused on features such as dark skin tone, nose, and lips.  Dominicans portray these dolls in way that the Africans don’t want to even consider themselves Africans because the dolls are depicted in an incorrect way.  An article that I read on line stated(link posted below); ”Dominicans are a mix of the Spanish, African slaves, and the Taino Indians, but that Dominicans are Indios and not black.”  Indio peoples think of Spain as their homeland, not Africa.  This makes me question why anyone would want to be associated with peoples that make them (the Africans) be ashamed of where they come from.
            Across the river is the homeland of Haiti; here they accept the Africans and the cultures that come with them.  Haiti was the first independent black nation in the world.  Many peoples of Haiti are Roman Catholics and practice the religion, but they also practice Voudo.  Voudo is a complex belief system that allows the peoples who practice to have strength, courage, organization, and leadership.   Our textbook says, “Voudo is organized around a graphic emblem called a vèvè.” The crossroads where the spiritual and the physical worlds meet and where the spirit arrives when invoked through ritual” (533).   One of the most amazing things about the Voudo religion is how everyone comes together for the deviation, much like any other religion does when they practice.  However, Voudo seems like a much more complex process involving chanting, sacrificing of animals, and the belief that their ancestors possess their bodies to fix problems in their lives while they are possessed.
            Even though the Dominican Republicans, the Haitians, and the Africans seem like they don’t fit, they all have key factors that tie all of these together; religion, culture, and influences.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Connecting Cultures

 Egungun masquerade garment
African Quilt

Is there any relation?

One question that came to mind during our lecture on the Egungun Masquerades this week was if there was a connection between the Egungun dance garment that the Yoruba peoples dance and quilting.  Looking at the fabrics, I made the visible connection because of the different patterns and colors, which reminded me of quilts that I’ve seen in my family.   As I was researching more on the Internet and in my textbook to see if there was any connection at all between these two historically, I didn’t find much information.  However, I did find some similarities and differences that have to do with these beautifully put together pieces.
The Yoruba peoples create the Egungun for performances that include costumes, dance, music, poetry and interaction between the dancers and the crowd.  The Egungun helps the Yoruba peoples communicate with the spirit world, while they entertain the living.  Our textbook tells us that the Egungun first appeared among the Oyo Yoruba and may have been developed in response to ancestral celebrations of the Nupe peoples (252).  The Yoruba peoples ancestors are believed to help the living community if they are shown honor through the Egungun.  Our textbook also mentions the The Egungun, like the ancestors they are associated with, are identified with specific families.  They play a regulating role in the family and serve as a link between the living and the dead (252).  The Egungun dancers are possessed with the spirits of their ancestors.
African quilting doesn’t have much documentation on it, however it has been traced back to the Yoruba peoples.  Quilts were made for trading purposes.  The characteristics that were sometimes incorporated in quilting were weaving, large shapes and colors, asymmetry, improvisation, patterning, applique and record keeping, religious symbols, and protective charms.
Some of the similarities that I came up with, although there isn’t much connection between the two besides their bright colors and patterns that are applied are; family influence and trading purposes.  In the American culture those who make quilts (those who make them in my family anyways) make them to help their family members remember them.  They can achieve this by using cloth with sentimental value to the quilts or by personalizing them.  Not all quilt makers make quilts for the purpose of ancestral remembrances, sometimes they make them for a hobby or to sell them to others much like the African quilters made their quilts for trading purposes.  There are many more differences than there are similarities, however in a way I can see a connection.  The Yoruba peoples dance their Egungun and the focus is mainly on the spiritual possession that their ancestors take control of is one difference.  Another difference is that although they share the influence of the ancestral makeup behind these objects the Egungun is done in a much more powerful way than quilting is done.  Egungun is danced to cover the face and sometimes they even use masks or other costumes to cover themselves, while the quilt is just used to keep warm or to be put on display.
Although these two objects have more differences than similarities the most important thing that they have in common is the visual connection between them.  Both are made in a way to catch peoples attention and make you think about your ancestors and in my opinion, that’s important enough to compare.

Friday, September 30, 2011

Comparing Cultures

This week in class we talked about the importance of comparison.  We compared several different objects in class and tried to find the similarities and differences in each.  This week my blog is focusing on trying to find more comparisons and the importance of each object and what their functions are as a piece of art.  Some objects that I found interesting during my readings were the Standing Figure of the Mossi and the Pair of Figures of the Baule.  The reason I chose to compare these two objects was because of their simplicity and their similarities to each other, yet they are from completely different cultures.

Standing Figure

            The first image I chose was the Standing Figure.  The Mossi people of Burkina Faso make this piece of artwork.  Mossi arts are broke down into two types of art; one is owned and used ritually by nakomse rulers while the other are smaller representations of females that are owned by women or children.  The Standing Figure is a full figure that is meant to represent the secular political power of chiefs.  They are carved progressively in a simplified naturalistic way.  They are always carved in active poses.  This piece of art has bent legs, arms, and has dramatic hand gestures to represent the movements of dance.  Our textbook explains that the peoples of the Mossi believe that their ancestors are believed to reward proper behavior with human and agricultural fertility and productivity, or, alternatively, to punish transgressors with disease or misfortune.  The ownership of these figures affirms a king’s right to rule.  Some other characteristics of this image is the cylindrical body, prominent breasts (representing motherhood).

Pair Figures

The other image I chose was the Pair of Figures made by the Baule peoples.  These images are very similar, although one is male and one is female.  The faces of these two objects are very similar, almost to the point of not being able to tell which is which.  At one time these objects use was unknown, but with careful studying of the face some believe they have represented nature spirits or diviner’s spirits from the sacrificial libations.  Other beliefs of these objects are that they have some contact with the Other World.  The Baule peoples maintain contact with these spirits on a daily basis.  The Earth spirits are called the asie usu.  The asie usu can be associated with numerous things such as; sky or earth, water, sickness, infertility, crop failure and other misfortunes.  The Baule believe that all adults have a mate of the opposite sex living in the Other World and that his or her activities and thoughts affect the person of this world.  The diviner can be thought to be a “person of wood” and must be honored.  The image is consecrated through sacrifice and prayer and the owner must offer the image food and follow procedures to keep it happy.

The similarities between these two objects are that they are both carved for a specific meaning; although the meanings of the carvings are completely different they both serve a purpose.  The Standing Figure is made to assure rulers right to rule or for women and children to show how the body is supposed to be perceived during motherhood.  They are both carved simply, however giving detail or emphasis on the body parts that they are trying to send a message through.  The standing image has emphasis on the legs, breasts, and arms, while the pair of figures gives detail throughout the whole piece depending on what the spouse needs help with in their currant marriage or in their life such as fertility issues.

While comparing these two objects I noticed that they both seem to look similar and unless you learned about the different peoples that think highly of these objects they might be hard to distinguish the differences.  However, it made me wonder whose object has more of a realistic theme behind it to outsiders looking in on their culture.  To me, someone who has just learned a pinch about each of these cultures I think I would seem the purpose behind the Standing Figure more, only because of the reasoning to show women and children more about motherhood.  On the other side of the spectrum, I also think that if I was to be more engaged in the Baule cultures and learned more about their backgrounds and spiritual beliefs I could also see myself saying that their object seems more meaningful and significant.  This all goes to show the differences we all have in every culture.  One example we talked about in class a couple weeks ago was the beliefs that we, as Americans have in Halloween and the beliefs that Hispanics have in El dia de los muertos.  I realize this is a stretch for an example from the Mossi and the Baule’s objects, but it just goes to show that we all have different beliefs and interpretations.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

            During our lectures this week we focused on two things; we watched a movie called African Arts as Theater and read an essay called The Mask, Masking, and Masquerade Arts in Africa- I am not myself.
            While watching the movie I was very interested in learning about the different animals and peoples that were made to reflect the different important images or objects in the Bwa culture.  Some of the masks that caught my eye were the crazy man and the chameleon because of there interesting significance.  The crazy man is always angry and he incorporates the audience in his dance by lashing out at the members in the audience.  The crazy man is danced in a way that makes him seem anti social.  Besides the fact that he was anti social and what seemed to be rude I thought it was interesting that he was followed by his wife in the dance.  I questioned why she danced with him at first and it made me wonder if it had anything to do with some of the information I read about in Cole’s essay about the history of women and men behind the masks?
            Cole’s essay talked about how it is thought that men were inferior to woman because of their feminine power by forming secret associations and taking control of cults.  Cole mentioned that this background may have influenced the take over of the masking by men.  The article also talks about the myths that women made mistakes in the dancing of masks and men took over because of that reason.  In theory making men more dominate over women.
            With this knowledge I learned from this essay it made me really question why the crazy man's wife was incorporated in his dance.  The video explained that the wife followed the crazy man to calm him down.  This made me think back to previous lectures where we learned that men are thought to be more powerful than women, but it also makes me think that if the woman had to follow the man around to keep him calm, then who in fact is more “powerful.”