Visual Arts of Africa and the African Diaspora From Ancient Egyptian Art to Contemporary Times
Thutmosis III wearing the Atef crown.
From the Temple of Amun at Deir el-Bahri (mid-15th c. B.C.)
Toussaint l’Overture Series 1937 by Jacob Lawrence
From Rhapsodies in Black)
First, in response to the questions concerning the rules of creating a Works Cited list and its function in academic writing, as well as what an Annotated Bibliography and its value is:
What is an Annotated Bibliography and what is its value in academic writing?
Annotated Bibliography is a list of citations to books, articles, and documents. Each citation is followed by a brief (usually about 150 words) descriptive and evaluative paragraph, the annotation. The purpose of the annotation is to inform the reader of the relevance, accuracy, and quality of the sources cited (Olin 1).
For MLA, the list is alphabetical by last names of authors. Each reference is in this order: the name of the author, last name first, is followed by a period. The article name is in quotation marks, with only the first word capitalized. The name of the book or journal is then underlined, followed by the volume and number of the journal with the date in parentheses, followed by a colon and the page numbers. A period follows.
What are the basic rules for creating a Works Cited list and what is its function in academic writing?
The function of the Works Cited list is to give all the information a person reading the paper might need to find the work cited in the text. Within the text only the name of the author and the page (with perhaps a date, if there are more than one works by one author) are found within a parentheses. To not credit a writer for their work is to plagiarize or to intentionally or unintentionally take the words of someone else as one’s own, so whenever one paraphrases, summarizes, quotes or refers to someone else’s work, that source should be credited with a citation and a reference at the end of the paper.
Not only does the continent of Africa put forth African Art, the continents to which the African people were taken or immigrated to, also produce African Art, including Brazil, the Caribbean and the United States. These non-African continental artists are called the African diaspora and their art is African diaspora art. African art takes as its subject mainly the human figure, though animals also are treated. Although observers tend to generalize when they speak of traditional African art, the continent of Africa and its people are made up of many people and civilizations and the art that developed within each of these is unique.
There are a multitude of articles that date before 1995, including some famous books and articles, such as Arna Bontemps’ Drums at Dusk, (1939) but this research shall limit itself to those publications that date since 1995. The following are some recent articles and books that have been written on the subject:
Sasser’s book, the World of Spirits and Ancestors: In the Art of Western SubSaharan Africa, talks first about the lands and people of Western Sub-Saharan Africa, from the landscape to the religions. The place of the people in this land and how their art describes this is well put in this book about the Dogon and the Senafo. In Chapter Three Sasser discusses the craftsmen, materials, techniques and aesthetics of the artisans. The masks of the Dogon are finally discussed, as are the carved and metal cast figures. There are notes on the Elliot Howard Collection of African Art written by Ethelene Bucy added to the end of the book.
This source relates to the topic of Ancient Egyptian Art in that the collections are about ancient art done on the north part of the continent of Africa, which includes Egypt, therefore the collections include Egyptian art. It has good illustrations and descriptions of what was included in the exhibits, which contained photos of some of the pieces. There was information available about the connections between this ancient art and contemporary African-American art in the notes at the end of the book. The social climate when the art was created is discussed in the book and was described in connection with contemporary art.
Sasser discusses the mythological bases of the Nigerian art, with descriptions of the masks, the writings and the rituals that are found among the various peoples who live the northern desert steppe, the southern savannas, and the cultivated agricultural lands in the deeper south, which were colonized by the French. Within the Senafo culture are the lands of Mali, the Ivory Coast and Ghana. Once rich with vegetation, with the land providing prosperously, the people created wood-carving and metalworking that was carefully cultivated by the cultures through training of apprentices and by honoring master craftsmen. The work that came out of this land was unique to it and rich in heritage, so that now they are much in demand.
Powell and Bailey’s book, Rhapsodies in Black: Art of the Harlem Renaissance, (San Francisco: University of California Press, published 30 Sep 1997). is one about how the Harlem Renaissance brought literature, music, theater, sculpture, photography, graphic design, dance, painting and film into the limelight, showing not only New York black artists, but artists from the Caribbean, Europe and other parts of the United States were masters of Modernism. They describe “The New Negro,” Blues, Jazz and the Performative Paradigm, Africa, the Cult of the Primitive and Lawrence’s Toussaint L’Ouverture series, which arose from 1919 to 1938 to bedazzle the world with the brightness of these talents. Harlem became the center of the art world for such kinds of art, bringing the world attention to the reawakening and creating an historic moment in art history.
This book shows how the art of the Africans was very similar in style and colors to the ancient art from Africa, including Egypt. This was a book that was rich in literature and illustrations and was an excellent source of the topic chosen. This brought new information into the picture of similarities of the two cultures. See the first page of this paper for an example of an illustration from this book and how similar it is to the picture of Thutmosis III from ancient Egypt.
The Sasser book may be an important source for a study such as this, in that it truly treats the art of the modern Black artist that lived during the 1930’s, during the important era called the Renaissance of Black Art. In their book, Powell and Bailey look at how Harlem helped a “Re/Birth of a Nation.” They also treat the subjects of “Voodoo MacBeth (an article by Simon Callow), Josephine Baker (an article by Andrea Barnwell), Paul Robeson and the problem of “modernism,” (an article by Jeffrey Stewart), modern tones (an article by Paul Gilroy) and other subjects having to do with the arts and the Harlem Renaissance.
Powell and Bailey give a history of the era, showing how the migration of the blacks into the Northern cities after the First World War brought not only new hope to those who came, but also brought talented writers, musicians, artists and sculptors and gave them an environment to thrive in. They show that the Renaissance did not just happen in Harlem, but wherever black artists were during those years, including Chicago and the deep South. With a selection of readings and descriptions, they show how this phenomenon reached into every art and still influences them today. The author relates how the project initially grew from an interest in Lawrence’s “The Migration Series” relating how during 1940 and 1941, Lawrence created a series of sixty paintings in tempera chronicling the twentieth century exodus of African-Americans from the South to the North (Powell 11).
This book relates very well to the topic chosen in that it treats both the past history and the present state of the arts of African-Americans, though it does not refer to Ancient Egypt. It has graphic illustrations, photographs and descriptions of African-American art that are in color and describe how it is related to the past and the modern culture that was in vogue during the 1930s. It described new art pieces that were developed during that era and demonstrated how they related to the past and the current culture of the day. It was a wonderful source of description for the social climate of the 1930s.
Jacob H. Carruthers gave a talk at London’s Karnak House in 1995, and excerpts from this speech are now available as an article on the internet. In this presentation, Carruthers has read “The Instructions of Ptahhotep” and talks about the life of the Pharaoh who wrote it. It was the teachings of this Pharaoh that had inspired Carruthers to bring this ancient literature and the implications of the culture and art it depicted, into the present. He said that the ruler had several characteristics which modern man might live by and instructs us in how to practice politics, religion and practical every day life. He admonishes contemporary African-Americans to look into the teachings and culture of the ancient Egyptians for inspiration.
Carruthers goes into “The Instructions of Ptahhotep” which contained maxims to instruct in the correct values, modes of behavior and attitudes appropriate to those who would become civil servants from Prime Minister on down. The pharaohs, he speculates, received this teaching alongside children from all walks of life to instruct them on how to deal with all of the people they were to rule over. Even though the Pharoah was expected to be born wise, he also becomes wise through resources, advisors and by studying the records from the past. They were taught to be a good official and what was expected of them as such. The qualities of wisdom and knowledge about their country and the people in it was stressed, while being taught to listen and learn from everyone, even the uneducated. Listening was considered the major source of acquiring knowledge, with the understanding that Maat (Truth and Justice) is the f “oundation of all existence and must be adhered to in all actions” (Chapter 1). Maat is also considered the “Trough of Justice” which is the object of attaining and maintaining education. Listening was so important that Carruthers elaborates on this subject. The good official, he says, is silent and only speaks when there is something worthy of saying. Listening, showing respect and maintaining this discipline is the goal.
African thought also produced the great civilizations and cultures of Africa. This includes Kemet, Kush, Axum, Ghana, Mali, Songhai, Zimbabwe, and several other extensive civilizations. It also includes remarkable cultures that represent an advance stage of society which requires no formal governmental structure and yet in which millions of human beings live together in relative peace, with profound theological wisdom These cultures guided and protected millions of Africans for hundreds of years and assimilated most foreign intruders as well as cultural intrusions. It was only in the modern era that these cultures were virtually arrested due to the most aggressive campaign of oppression in history (Carruthers “Afterword: African Deep Thought in the 21st Century and Beyond,” p. 24).
Carruthers is an important voice in the study of Afrocentrism and its relationship to the Ancient Egyptians, thus it is annoted in this study. This resource relates only to the historical and philosophical aspects of the topic of the relationship of African-Americans to ancient Egypt. It addresses the art, but has no illustrations. Again, this article is an example of the attempt to relate the literature and art of the ancient Egyptians to contemporary African-American arts without any visual representation of that concept. It did reveal relevant concepts from the ancients that may be used today. This is an on-going process and, as Carruthers quotes Ptahhotep: “The limits of art are never achieved. The skills of the artist are never perfected” (Carruthers 16).
Aldokkan’s website article about Ancient Egyptian Art one finds a good reference to what kind of art flourished in which period, including a chart of the various kingdoms with links to their subchapters to click on. If one clicks on the names for the art, such as “pottery” one finds illustrations of that kind of art and comparisons of it with more contemporary or parallel art from another culture. This is very useful when looking up the connections of any of the ancient art with African-American art. Not only are there surprising links and comparisons, but there is information about the Egyptian art that is unusual, such as finding that the tools that helped create the great Pyramid of Cheops at Giza were made of steel. The fact that the Egyptians created steel as early as 2900 B.C. is then discussed. The comparisons with contemporary tools are obvious. Gold was also used to create artistic objects, as was copper and iron. The secrets of origins and the creating of these metals was a carefully guarded secret by the State.
This source shows the architecture, the crafts and sculpture, the paintings, the literature and the music of the Egyptian people. The history of each era was included in a concise, well-described way, such as the Early Dynastic period when a cultural identity was formed. There are stone artifacts and pottery vases and bowls remaining from this era, but no architecture, as buildings were made of brick, which did not survive. The explanation of the arts during this period is very informative, showing how the artisans and servants working for the government developed the tradition of combining arts and learning that continued throughout the pharaonic civilizations that followed. Funerary offerings make up the large part of this artistic period, as some of it remained in the graves untouched. This was largely painted pottery, stone bowls and vases done with particularly fine craftsmanship, ivory carvings, figurines and slate cosmetic palettes. There were also weapons made of flint. Paintings were done on pottery in a “monumental treatment,” which means that the figures were formal and stiff, giving a profile view of the face. They were done in red, a tradition which continued from that era on. Towards the end of that period, sculptors began to make monolithic figures of the gods in huge limestone rocks at the mine in Coptos. This led to the next era of the pyramid makers.
This resource is a good one with which to relate to the topic of this paper. The graphics, illustrations, photos and descriptions of the art are excellent. It revealed new information and gave insight into the culture from which these art objects came. Much research could be done through the links of this article into the relationship to Egyptian art to the subject of how the Visual Arts of Africa and the African Diaspora.
Moses’ book on Afrotopia, entitled Afrotopia: The Roots of African-American Popular History, delves into the origins of the African-American fixation with their culture and whether or not it came from Egypt. It discusses Afrocentrism, and how the history cannot be separated from the stereotypes dealing with the history of African culture. In the 1980s there was a frenzy of activity surrounding this subject and the topic was dubbed “Afrotopia.” Divorcing it from the racial overtones that many black writers cling to with the fervor of a religion, Moses takes the subject seriously and treats it with a historian’s objectiveness. He discusses its history, its origins and the differences between the branches of thought within Afrocentrisms and Egyptocentrics, who link black Americans with the ancient men of Egypt. He discusses the artists, such as Alain Locke, Langston Houghes and others in the Harlem Renaissance, who embraced primitivism with those who had come before them, who could not find the link. Moses states “[T]here is a strong possibility that Hyksos princes of Egypto-Semitic culture and language actually established colonies in Greece and set up long-lasting dynasties in the 18th and 17th centuries BC” (p. 313).
This book relates to the subject in that it is about the subject, its history and arguments for and against the concept that contemporary African-Americans are descended from the kings of Egypt. It had no illustrations, except for verbal ones, nor photographs. It did put the subject into context, in that it is difficult to find a direct historic link between contemporary African-Americans and the inhabitants, in spite of all the writings, references and other links that past researchers have created in order to prove this point. It did discuss the African-American art and how it related to the subject. Evidently much of the art by African-Americans during the 1930s was deliberately linked to Egyptian art and in this rich source the artists found inspiration. The book also discussed the social climate of the age in which Afrocentrists lived and wrote, right on up to today.
In H.E. Newsum’s article, “A Passage to Afrotopia,” published in Research in African Literatures, Vol. 32(4) in 2001, he reviewed essays on the subject of Afrotopia. Afrotopia claims that the Egyptian culture, which included literature and visual arts, was passed down directly to the black population of Africa and thence to other lands when the African Diaspora took place. In his review of Martin Bernal’s “Black Athena II,” which points out “The Persians under Darius the Great took over, and their domination of Egypt lasted from 525 to 404 B.C. with the assistance of Greek mercenaries…. Toward the end of Greek domination, the expansion of the Roman Empire had transferred the real center of power to Rome. Assyria, Persia, Greece, Rome — the continuing process of transforming a black civilization into a near-white civilization long before the Christian era” (179). Also in this book, he reviewed Chancellor Williams’ “The Destruction of Black Civilization,” which claims “Princes shall come out of Egypt; Ethiopia shall soon stretch forth her hands unto God. –Psalms 68:31.” (182). Quoting the author, “The Afrocentric intellectual tradition, both learned and popular, responsible for the historiographies of grandeur, decline, and redemption that have surfaced in the African-American consciousness has been dedicated to the human task of promoting ‘a sense of collective worth'” (186)
This article promotes the historical concept of the spreading of the African culture directly from the Egyptians down through the Persians, through Darius, down through the “Egyptan Princes” mentioned in the Bible. In this way, the article relates to the topic. The source was scarce with its illustrations and graphics, but gave much information about the history of the peoples throughout the ages, who descended from the Ancient Egyptians, which is the other side of the discussion herein treated.
There was a lot of new information about the history for me, in that the Romans took the land from the original inhabitants and through them, the cultures were strained and scattered. However, the Black African culture retained its own identity and passed its culture down throughout the eras of Egyptian, Roman, Alexander the Great and other dominations that overran it. African-American art was brought (see the next rwo reviews) thus by slavers into the “New World” and was passed directly into the hands of modern-day artists. The social climate was the subject of the reviewed book and the arts that were propagated by the African people passed through many cultures in order to come down to us today.
The study of “liberated Africans,” and their culture, entitled “The Trouvadore Project: The Legacy of a Sunken Slave Ship” by Nigel Sadler, was published in the September 2007 issue of African Diaspora Archaeology Network Newsletter. In it, the author discusses the political situation that had a British Royal Navy anti-slavery squadron chasing down slave traders on the high seas and freeing the potentially bound slaves onto the Caribbean islands and the Bahamas and Trinidad, to become indentured rather than enslaved people. As Britain controlled much of Africa, in 1807 the government passed legislation outlawing the trade of enslaved persons from Africa. In 1834 slavery was fully outlawed in British territories, but other countries, such as Portugal and Spain delayed prohibiting slave trade and even when they did, did not enforce those laws vigorously. It is a little-known fact that between 1811 and 1880 the anti-slavery squadron captured around 1,600 ships and freed over 150,000 Africans from potential slavery.
While many ships were captured, many vessels sank at sea or near land, due to the risks that the captains took in escaping navy patrols after being sighted. One of the ships was the Trouvadore, in 1841. The author did an archeological study of the sunken ship, which ran up on a reef called Breezy Point on the Caico Islands. The ship was found to be 120 feet long and held 20 crew and 193 enslaved Africans, all of which, except for one African who was shot running into the brush, survived. The author had found an entry in a “letter book” from George Judson Gibbs about some artifacts he was trying to sell in 1878 (4):
Two African idols, found on board the last Spanish slaver, of wood with glass eyes [schr “Esperenza”] wrecked in the year 1841 at Breezy Point on the Caicos Islands. The slaves from this vessel were taken possession of by the Government and brought to the Grand Turk Island. — the captain of the slaver, escaped the penalty, (by being a Spaniard), of being hung according to the British laws. The slaves were apprenticed for the space of one year and they and their descendants form at the present time, viz the year 1878 the pith of our present labouring population. (Gibbs 1878, p. 216)
When a slaver was caught, the Africans on board were freed and the ship was seized and condemned. The freed slaves, called “liberated Africans” were originally given 14-year apprenticeships, were taught a trade, the English language and Christianity. But officials and those who took them in with this agreement soon found that the funding of these people was expensive and that the workers were little better off than slaves for 14 years. Eventually, the apprenticeships went to one year and then to six months, enough so that the essential training could be learned. Towns were set up in the Bahamas for the liberated Africans by the government, and they were kept separate from the slave communities, which housed people with few rights and no freedom.
They study then goes on to discuss the trades that these liberated Africans took up, such as salt raking and bagging, as well as imported crafts and arts brought over from their African heritage. The basket makers still ply their trade today in Middle and North Caicos. As development has not overrun these islands, the skills and crafts with origins in African society, have survived. Caicos Island residents are closely related to the first generation Africans in that the crafts have been passed down and there has always been a need for their resulting thatching, basket-making, hat-making and broom-making. The author says “an1891 observation by James Stark in the Bahamas that ‘some of the Africans rescued from slave ships brought with them from Africa the secret of making the genuine African thatch for roofing houses.'” (14).
This article sheds significant light on the Africans who were transported to South America and the risks their enslavers took in getting them there. The people who were brought to South America and the islands off the coast, brought their skills in the arts and crafts and plied them for a living even up to today. The photographs included with this article show a basketmaker and the goods in her shop, taken in 2001. This article was interesting, well-written and had good descriptions of the history and the arts brought to South America and the Caicos Islands. This was new information that is little known about African Art. The article gave the best (of all the articles here reviewed) insight into the social climate of the original people who came from Africa with their arts and crafts, in that some are still living and relate their personal history of their ancestors’ culture and skills.
This study also explores the music of the local inhabitants, which they say come directly from Africa; the current music is now called Ripsaw or Junkanoo.
Another article in this same issue of African Diaspora Archaeology Network Newsletter is about Pernambuco’s Slave Trade from Costa da Mina and Transatlantic Competitions in the Early Eighteenth Century by Gustavo Acioli Lopes, which brings to the research new estimates concerning numbers of enslaved laborers imported to Pernambuco, Brazil, from West African locations and key features of the transatlantic slave trade during the 18th century is analyzed. The article is divided into three: A revision of the numbers of slaves brought to Pernambuco from 1696 to 1760 from Costa da Mina, West Africa, an area referred to as Africa’s Slave Coast or the Bight of Benin. The author utilizes archival research of primary and published secondary sources. He has a chronology of slave imported within the period named. The figures are compared to how many slaves were imported to Bahia, Brazil from the same place during the period, with the resulting statistics for numbers of slaves imported to the entire of Brazil during that time. In the second section he compares and contrasts the Pernambuco data with the slave trade to Europe from the same region of West Africa, in order to put the Pernambuco trade into a perspective of the context of transatlantic trade. The comparison enabled the author to evaluate how significant Pernambuco’s role was in the market during this period of time.
The third part of this article addresses the conditions and factors shaping the Luso-Brazilian trade in slaves during the years 1696 to 1760. There were business interests in Pernambuco and Bahia which competed well with the influences of Europeans, namely the British and French, who engaged in the transatlantic Bight of Benin slave trade. Businesses in Pernambuco and Bahia interrelated trading of smuggled gold, manufactured goods, tobacco, and slave laborers, in order to compete.
This article adds to the previous information in that it rounds out the history of the slave trade into South America. Brazil was a large consumer of the existing market during the days of slave trade. This article was a good source for the history of the African-Americans who came to South America during the Diaspora and gave insight into the culture in an economic sense, of the times.
Further study might be done into the value of the history of the migration of the Black people onto other continents other than Africa.
Secondly, a study into whether or not the link to Ancient Egyptian Arts might be pursued in trying to decide whether this link between Ancient Egypt and the arts of the modern African-American masters might be superficial or deliberately created by those artists who worked during the 1930s. The link to Ancient Egypt appears to be fragile and in dispute, having largely exhausted its linkage with certain experts in the past and is now looked upon as an interesting sideline into past studies of African-American Art.
Thirdly, it is possible that the subject of whether the visual arts of Africa are brought into the present day is an area that is attainable and may yield a rich history and information through more research.
Acioli-Lopes, Gustavo. “Pernambuco’s Slave Trade from Costa da Mina and Transatlantic Competitions in the Early Eighteenth Century.” African Diaspora Archeology Newsletter, Sep 2007. Website: http://www.diaspora.uiuc.edu/background.html.
Aldokkan. Ancient Egyptian Art. Aldokkan.com 2001. http://www.aldokkan.com/art/art.htm.
Bontemps, Arna Drums at Dusk, New York: MacMillan, 1939.
Carruthers, Jacob H. MDW NTR, Divine Speech, London, Karnak House. 1995: 16-25. Website: http://www.africawithin.com/carruthers/mdwntr.htm.
Gibbs, George Judson. “Letterbook,” 1878, Smithsonian, Washington, D.C.
Moses, Wilson Jeremiah. Afrotopia: The Roots of African-American Popular History. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1998. 313 pp.
Newsum, H.E. “A Passage to Afrotopia” Research in African Literatures, Vol 32(4), Winter 2001, pp. 172-186. http://muse.jhu.edu/login?uri=/journals/research_in_african_literatures/v032/32.4okafor-newsum.html.
Olin & Uris Libraries, How to Prepare an Annotated Bibliography
Cornell University PSA, Ithaca, NY, 6 Mar 2007.
Powell, Richard J. And Bailey, David a. Rhapsodies in Black: Art of the Harlem Renaissance. San Francisco: University of California Press. (30 Sep 1997).
Sadler, Nigel. “The Trouvadore Project: The Legacy of a Sunken Slave Ship.” African Diaspora Archeology Newsletter, ISSN: 1933-8651, Sep 2007. http://www.diaspora.uiuc.edu/news0907/news0907-1.pdf.
Sasser, Elizabeth Skidmore. The World of Spirits and Ancestors: In the Art of Western SubSaharan Africa. Lubbock, TX: Texas Tech University Press. (March ‘1995).
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