Materials for teaching:
I remember well at least one intense discussion re: a ‘textbook’. Like Chika, I was very uncomfortable with this notion for all sorts of reasons. I still am. My experience has been that there is valuable work in our field but it tends to be scattered and submerged. I recognised the difficulty of getting material, and would think one solution is a single data base which archives the material (visual and written) which we know about in our different locations. The technology for this is certainly not an obstacle. Ideally some of this material could be collected and published in anthologies, with good introductions to sections (one kind of structure) and perhaps summing up (after each section) which will help those of us who teach and want to learn.
The TAXI books published here by David Krut often include an ‘educational’ supplement. While these are uneven to be sure, many work exceptionally well as introductions to first year students, and later. And indeed to us who lecture. Some form of this kind of supplement, duly concise, for anthologised essays, presentations etc seems one option. I am not sure of the resource implications, but I would prefer something like this to a ‘textbook’. The Reading the Contemporary edited by Okwui and Olu has proved invaluable in our teaching here. As has the Third Text reader which came out sometime after. That said I want to acknowledge the value of Sydney Kasfir’s book here, which attempts a more ‘global’ view of the field. Quasi-‘national’ studies are also important, and in some measure counter excessive fragmentation in our field. The best of these though also counter false homogeneity which bedevils perceptions of Africa and African art within Africa as well as without.
As to the field, for me it certainly exists, albeit with struggles around what its boundaried are and how it might be structured. This is understandable, and these struggles are in any event the consequences of delimiting anything. As far as my knowledge of ‘field’ goes (mainly through Bourdieu), our ‘object’ does constitute one. Roughly, and rather dumbly, that object is continental Africa (a high differentiated geo-political space, and ‘imaginary’ location), its art histories and currency now, for its many selves and worlds its counts as ‘outside’ its many selves. At key points, in key moments, its shape and direction has and will change, and it is no more or less stable than any other geo-political imaginary. I am reminded here of (as I recall) Okwui’s comment about being at ‘home in the world’. This is a provocative idea, and certainly an aspiration I could identify with. Yet being homeless in the world is - for me at any rate - a more familiar feeling and one which seems to animate much of what we do. The twin pressures (to simplify) in response to being at home / homeless seem to lay between excessive inwardness / insularity and excessive outwardness / assimilation, something we have to constantly grapple with and reimagine at every turn. How to continue?
I find it impossible to conceive a sense of now (the contemporary) that does not include what has been – however subject to change. Put in the form of the question Chika poses “can the classical and the contemporary belong in the same discursive space”, I cannot imagine no for an answer. Of course we can choose our focus within this, but the other is always already there. I am not very familiar with the situation Chika describes re: partisans for the classical or the contemporary. I would imagine though there are (as ever) methodological continuities in as well as differences determined by the focus in a field in which past and present is always already figured. And perhaps intensely so in ours? I would think being ‘critically bilingual’ would really be the ideal – even though we suffer inevitable limitations in achieving this ideal. But in pragmatic terms, I could not teach contemporary African Art without a fairly secure sense not only of history per se, but the history of approaches to historical object / events which fall within the ambit of our field. There is – in my home institution at least – a tension between teaching the contemporary and teaching the historical – but my sense is this is an artefact of disciplinary histories rather than anything more. At any rate I find myself stating the obvious here, and find this question quite elusive.
-Colin Richards, University of the Witwatersrand