Sharif Bey in Peace, Power, & Prestige: Metal Arts in Africa

Bard Graduate Center, New York, NY

In September 2023, the Bard Graduate Center Gallery will host “Peace, Power, & Prestige: Metal Arts in Africa.” The exhibition will be the first of its kind at the Gallery exclusively dedicated to African history and material culture. It occurs at a time when the communities that museums inhabit and seek to serve are calling into question institutional practices of collecting and exhibiting objects especially from the African continent. Students will explore the history of collecting and exhibiting African material culture and decorative arts in Western museum institutions from the late nineteenth century through recent times. Of interest are the following exhibitions: the “British Empire Exhibition” in London (1924), the “Exposition Colonial Paris” (1931), “African Negro Art at the Museum of Modern Art” (1935), and “The Art of Metal in Africa” (1982). We will also address collecting and exhibiting practices of African-based institutions, including the Festival Mondial des Arts Nègres in Dakar, Senegal (1966) and Lagos, Nigeria (1977) as well as global attempts by curators from the African continent and/or of African descent to grapple with the historical (mis-)representation of African material culture through shows like “Short Century: Independence and Liberation Movements in Africa, 1945-1994” (2002), “Africa Remix” (2005), and “Flow” (2008). We will juxtapose study of museum collecting and exhibiting practices with the original ways that the makers produced and used studied works on the continent and in varying Diasporic contexts. Course materials will question institutional framing of objects as “African art,” and introduce new spaces to understand seemingly recent debates around the restitution and repatriation of cultural objects from the African continent as part of a historical continuum. As preparations for the “PPP” exhibition will be underway, students will interact closely with the curatorial team and participate actively in research, specifically with regards to the provenance of different displayed works and the drafting of text labels. Students will also visit collections and exhibitions related to the presented course materials. 3 credits. Satisfies the non-Western requirement.

September 1, 2023