SOAS University of London

Department of the History of Art and Archaeology, School of Arts

African Art II: West Africa & the Atlantic World; History, Historiography and the Visual Arts.

Module Code:
Module Not Running 2016/2017
Unit value:
Year of study:
Year 2 or Year 3
Taught in:
Full Year

This course considers the developments of art found in the nexus of Africa and the Atlantic world. The course begins with the early evidence of developed sculptural traditions south of the Sahara and ends with the visual arts of the present century and across the Atlantic. Inevitably, given the condition of the data available to us, the course will be concerned as much with the historiography of the visual arts as with their history, and will exhibit a bias towards the period since the 16th century and especially towards 19th, 20th and 21st century material.

Objectives and learning outcomes of the module

Course Objectives:
  • To enable students to develop an understanding of methods, practices and key issues in art history in relation to Africa and the Atlantic world.
  • To provide a supportive context for a critical appraisal by the students of the various approaches and issues developed in African art history that relate to Africa and the Atlantic world within this course.
  • To enable students to develop a range of skills relevant to an understanding of African art and to general research and study skills through participation in the course.
  • To enable students to develop their own professional and personal interests through participation in the course.
  • To enable an appreciation of the variety of cultural values and their implications for equality issues such as class, "race", gender, sexual orientation, age and disability.
Course learning outcomes:
  • To have gained knowledge and understanding of the themes, issues and debates of African and diasporic art traditions relating to the trajectories of their development within and outside Africa and to understanding the ways in which they are constituted in their local, regional and inter-continental circumstances through in depth examples of particular art traditions within and outside Africa.
  • To be able identify and compare different approaches to understanding art traditions within and outside Africa.
  • To be able to assess critically the materials and themes explored in the course through the use of particular examples from within and outside Africa.
  • To have been introduced to the range of skills used in art history and developed independent study and research skills.

Scope and syllabus

Wherever possible emphasis will be placed upon:

  • local agency in the shaping of relationships between West Africa and the trans-Saharan and Atlantic worlds;
  • the place of the visual arts in the emergence of contemporary senses of ethnic and national identity in West Africa and the 'Black Atlantic',
  • the relationships between Islam and local traditions of visual and ritual practice throughout the region,
  • the historical and social implications of the masking associations of the western forests,
  • the particular characteristics of Akan arts in regard to the rise of the Asante confederacy,
  • the complex histories of Yoruba, Edo and Igbo art traditions will be themes of particular interest.

Method of assessment

  • One 750 words book review (worth 10%)
  • Two 2 500 words essays (worth 20% each)
  • One weekly learning log (worth 10%)
  • One exam (worth 40%)

Suggested reading

  • Appiah K.A., 1992, In My Father's House.
  • Araeen R., 1989, The Other Story.
  • Bassani E. and Fagg W., 1988, Africa and the Renaissance.
  • Cole H. and Ross D., 1977, The Arts of Ghana.
  • Cole H. and Aniakor C., 1988, Igbo Arts: Community and Cosmos.
  • Fischer E. and Himmelheber, 1984, The Arts of the Dan.
  • Gilroy P., 1993, The Black Atlantic: Modernity and Double Consciousness.
  • Rozelle R.V., Wardlaw A. and McKenna M.A., 1989, Black Art, Ancestral Legacy: the African impulse in African-American art.


Important notice regarding changes to programmes and modules