The Art History Department and the Black Student Union joined together Feb 23. to sponsor a brown bag lecture series concerning visual culture with a focus on the arts of Africa and the African Diaspora. The guest speaker, Andrew Skabelund, presented on the history of Western Africa and its influence on the visual culture and art of Africa.
Largely focusing on the Kingdom of Kajoor, now Senegal, and the Island of Gorée off the coast of Senegal, Skabelund explained how the history of the slave trade in these areas of Africa had a large influence on the art that was found and can still be found in these areas today.
Much of Senegal’s art typically included portrayals of Lat Dior, a king of Kajoor who has since been held to an almost mythical standard as a resistance hero; he has commonly been used as a symbol for the founding of Senegal. Lat Dior’s horse, Malaw, is also famous in West African art and can be found in postage stamps with Dior riding on his back, or alone like the statue of Malaw in Senegal’s capital, Dakar.
Throughout his presentation, Skabelund carefully went through the history and influence of the African Slave Trade and how it affected the people of West Africa as well as how their art has developed over time to be what it is today, even including the traditional type clothing that can often be found in African inspired fashion shows.
Seth Dryer, information technology major and attendee, has long had an interest in Africa and African history, especially after he spent two years in South Africa serving an LDS mission.
“I think what he did a very good job of was taking a very over-simplified thing, when we talk about the slave trade it’s very ‘this is how it is’ and it’s way more complicated than that, and he didn’t make it too complicated,” Seth said. “He did simplify it, but I appreciated how he broke it down into a way that we could understand the greater depth of the situation.”
Art major Amanda Loader also said, “It piqued my interest because I don’t like being ignorant and I want to know specifics and what’s going on in West Africa and Africa. I can’t even name all the countries there to be honest, so I’m interested in learning about it more.”
Travis Clark, art history professor and personal friend to Skabelund explained his beliefs as to why learning about African history and African Art was important for students to learn about.
“There’s just zero exposure to almost anything non-western. So I teach the non-western course here, and I noticed that especially there’s even less on Africa, and Africa is enormous,” Clark said. “I knew that Black Panther was coming, so I knew that there would probably be a lot of interest in it, and I decided we’ve got to get ahold of that. We’ve got to get some more exposure to Africa because it is so vastly understudied compared to western art, or even other areas of non-western art.”