SOAS University of London

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

Africans in the Americas: Identities and Representation

Module Code:
Module Not Running 2017/2018
Taught in:
Term 1

This course will question the concept of Diaspora in relation to the many groups of enslaved Africans that were taken to the Americas between the sixteenth and the nineteenth centuries, by examining their conditions of mobility, exile and displacement and the material and visual environment they created. The course will also assess how these experiences influenced the formation of different visual cultures across the Americas, with the construction of distinctive Afro-American and Afro-Latin American identities and their unique forms of visual expression. Finally, it will look at the ways this visual production has begun to function within wider globalized and trans-national contexts, such as the Venice Biennale.

Objectives and learning outcomes of the module

Objectives of the course:

  • To situate the African slave trade to the Americas, survey some of the important hybrid cultural contexts that emerged in North and South America as a result, and analyse their particular forms of visual production.
  • To look at the role and function of these visual products over the centuries, considering how different media – paintings, film, photography, performance – have conveyed the violence involved in these processes and contributed to the identity-building process in the region.
  • To help students understand issues of methodology; develop skills in assessing and using various kinds of source material, both visual and literary

At the end of the course, a student should:

  • have achieved an understanding of the themes, issues and debates relating to the African diaspora, slavery and the resulting construction of hybrid identities in the Americas
  • be able to engage with the different art historical and archaeological approaches to these processes
  • be able to derive historical information from documentary and/or literary source material
  • be able to recognize and correctly identify the visual material and forms of representation relating to the regions and periods studied
  • be able to discuss methodological issues and develop a critical vocabulary concerning both the theoretical and the visual issues tackled in the course
  • be able to engage with the contemporary philosophical dialogue about violence, slavery, race, hybridity, cross-culturalism, globalization and trans-national art
  • present acceptable pieces of writing concerning the issues covered in the course and deploy critical skills.


One 1 500 words essay (worth 30%);one 3 5000 words essay (worth 70%)

Scope and syllabus

A range of verbal-visual examples from different regions and periods will be examined and the strategies employed in their construction will be compared in order to address a range of issues.

  • The different American political, social and cultural contexts into which slaves and their descendants were absorbed;
  • the role played by memory in the process of interaction between dominant and diasporic cultures and in the selective adoption and/or rejection of new ways of being and new cultural patterns;
  • notions of acculturation, inculturation, syncretism, identity and cultural resistance;
  • the role played by power, the body, religion and gender in these processes;
  • contemporary perceptions and representations of the African-American experience, and the important contribution made by these representations within the wider national and transnational artistic contexts;
  • the possibilities for dialogism in visual culture;
  • the aesthetic implications of these rituals for the music, literature, visual arts and performance created in the Americas.

Suggested reading

Please note that the books with Portuguese and English titles are bi-lingual editions, in Portuguese and English

  • Ades, Dawn (ed.), Art in Latin America: The Modern Era, 1820-1980, London, Yale University Press/The Hayward Gallery, 1989
  • Aguilar, Nelson (ed.), Arte Afro-Brasileira / Afro-Brazilian Art, São Paulo, Fundação Bienal de São Paulo/Associação Brasil 500 Anos Artes Visuais, 2000
  • Aguilar, Nelson (ed.), Arte Contemporânea / Contemporary Art, São Paulo, Fundação Bienal de São Paulo/Associação Brasil 500 Anos Artes Visuais, 2000
  • Aguilar, Nelson (ed.), Arte do Século XIX / 19th-Century Art, São Paulo, Fundação Bienal de São Paulo/Associação Brasil 500 Anos Artes Visuais,
  • Aguilar, Nelson (ed.), Arte Moderna / Modern Art, São Paulo, Fundação Bienal de São Paulo/Associação Brasil 500 Anos Artes Visuais, 2000
  • Aguilar, Nelson (ed.), Imagens do Inconsciente/Images of the Unconscious, São Paulo, Fundação Bienal de São Paulo/Associação Brasil 500 Anos Artes Visuais, 2000
  • Baddeley, Oriana and Fraser, Valerie, Drawing the Line: Art and Cultural identity in Contemporary Latin America, London and new York, Verso, 1989
  • Baker, Jr., Houston A., Modernism and the Harlem Renaissance, 1987
  • Barnes, Sandra T. (ed.), Africa's Ogun: Old World and New, 1989
  • Boime, Albert, The Art of Exclusion: Representing Blacks in the Nineteenth Century, 1990
  • Burke, Peter and Pallares-Burke, Maria Lucia, Gilberto Freyre: Social Theory in the Tropics
  • Freyre, Gilberto, The Masters and the Slaves (A Study in the Development of Brazilian Civilization), 1986
  • Genovese, Eugene, Roll, Jordan, Roll, 1974
  • Grusinski, Serge, Painting the Conquest: The Mexican Indians and the European Renaissance
  • Hanchard, M. G., Orpheus and Power: the Movimento Negro of Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo, 1945-1988, Princeton, N.J., Princeton University Press, 1994
  • Honig Fine, Elsa, The Afro-American Artist
  • Katzew, Ilona, Casta Painting: Images of Race in Eighteenth-Century Mexico
  • Kirschke, Amy Helene, Aaron Douglas: Art, Race, & the Harlem Renaissance, 1995
  • Lindsay, Arturo (ed.), Santería Aesthetics in contemporary Latin American Art. Washington and London: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1996
  • Mac Gaffey, Wyatt, Astonishment and Power
  • Mosquera, Gerardo and Baddeley, Oriana (eds) Beyond the Fantastic: Contemporary Art criticism from Latin America, London, Institute of International Visual Arts (inIVA), 1995 pp. 121-144
  • Patterson, Sharon F., African-American Art
  • Schwarcz, Lilia Moritz, The Emperor’s Beard: Dom Pedro II and the Tropical Monarchy of Brazil
  • Thompson, Robert Farris, Flash of the Spirit
  • Thompson, Robert Farris, The Four Moments of the Sun
  • Thornton, John Kelly, Africa and Africans in the making of the Atlantic world, 1400-1800
  • Todorov, Tzevetan, Conquest of America: the Question of the Other (1984, trans by Richard Howard)
  • Tribe, Tania C. (ed.), Heroes and Artists: Popular Art and the Brazilian Imagination


Important notice regarding changes to programmes and modules