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Harn Eminent Scholar Chair in Art History Lecture
Humor and Violence: Seeing Europeans in Central African Art
Zoë Strother, Riggio Professor of African Art, Columbia University
There is a long history of Central Africans depicting Europeans and Americans. Vili ivory sculptors made some of the only surviving portrayals by Africans of the worldwide slave trade. Yaka and Nkanu caricatured Europeans during boys’ initiations in order to provide models of how not to be a man. During the colonial period, Europeans appeared on a wide variety of media, including free-standing sculptures, engraved gourds, house murals, sculpted chairs. It is a paradox that some of the most light-hearted images of Europeans were produced during the periods of the worse violence, often in the form of diplomatic gifts. The talk ends with reflections by artists on the role of humor in making visible the mechanics and ethics of power in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and in the global economy.