Please join us to discuss work-in-progress next Friday, April 20th from 12:30-2pm at 24 East 8th St. (at the corner of University Place). Lunch will be provided.
Our two presenters are Joshua Cohen, Assistant Professor of African Art History at CCNY, and Emily Hyde, Assistant Professor of English at Rowan University, who will be discussing interdisciplinary approaches to African art.
The titles and abstracts of their work are below. Please let Lori Cole at email@example.com or Kelly Sullivan at firstname.lastname@example.org know if you are planning to attend so that we can circulate the materials to you.
Emily Hyde, “African Art and the Camera Eye: Eliot Elisofon’s Experimental Photography” In 1952, LIFE magazine photographer Eliot Elisofon exhibited experimental photographs of African art objects at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. These images were also used in his 1958 scholarly book The Sculpture of Africa. According to MOMA, Elisofon’s “camera studies” and “photographic analyses” were meant to teach viewers about the relationship between modern art and African sculpture. Under the rubric of “primitivism” many scholars have traced the links between the artistic movement of early 20th century modernism in the visual arts and the circulation of African masks and sculpture. Elisofon’s photographs do something different. He made photography the explicit link between European modernism and African art: to see these African art objects in relation to modernism is to see them through a camera lens. This paper brings together archival research, theories of modernism, and the history of photography to reexamine early 20th-century cultural appropriation as a form of technological appropriation and to explore the resulting legacies for the globalization of art history today.
Joshua Cohen, "African Sculpture in the Harlem Renaissance: Modernism and Diaspora." The New Negro or Harlem Renaissance of the 1920s and ‘30s inaugurated new modernist art and literature imbricated with new modes of grappling with Africa as a locus of black kinship. Often conflated with pan-Africanism or debated as contradictory versions of avant-garde “primitivism,” New Negro engagements with African sculpture demand to be freshly examined for their keen-eyed and self-conscious reflections on what we now term “diaspora” consciousness. The movement’s artists and writers notably shifted away from unity-seeking pan-Africanism in order to explore African sculpture in ways that doubted empiricism and storytelling as well as any clearly defined meaning or moral message. The African continent retained associations with high culture and past civilizations, but practices of seeking out sculptural examples necessitated a leap from the conjectural to the concrete, and from the trans-historical to the more immediate. Didactic Ethiopianist narratives recounted by allegorical characters gave way to ambiguous confrontations with objects that do not speak. Prompted by Alain Locke’s famous statements on African art, a handful of painters and printmakers working mostly in New York and Paris—Hale Woodruff, James Lesesne Wells, Palmer Hayden, Malvin Gray Johnson, Norman Lewis, and Loïs Mailou Jones—followed Locke and others in privileging African sculpture as a reputed site of origins, yet ended up interpreting African sculptural works through an embrace of stylization, irremediable dislocation, and contingency of meaning.