SOAS University of London

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

Art, Performance and The Body in Africa

Module Code:
Module Not Running 2019/2020
FHEQ Level:
Year of study:
Year 2, Year 3 or Year 4
Taught in:
Term 1

Euro-american connoisseurs, collectors and curators have historically appropriated things from Africa and placed them seemingly in aesthetic fields peculiar to that part of the world conceptualised as the “West”. Such appropriations need to be critically deconstructed in understanding African arts. The module then considers local aesthetic, social and signifying contexts and trajectories of art that are indigenous to Africa (ie in the sense of this or that place in Africa: this is not suggesting an essentialised African aesthetic), and the theoretical approaches that enable understanding of these contexts. These are considered in terms of a variety of concerns through the focus (or starting point) of the human body and person in terms of artist, performance and local audiences. This focus provides the means to examine African arts through the ideas and practices that enable their making and presentations, including their variable articulations of identity, gender, power, and play.

Objectives and learning outcomes of the module

On successful completion of this module a student will be able :

  • To have gained knowledge and understanding of the themes, issues and debates of African art relating to their social contexts, the processes of representation and the ways in which meaning is constituted in these local contexts through in depth examples of African art.
  •  To be able identify and compare different approaches to understanding art traditions in Africa.
  • To be able to assess critically the materials and themes explored in the course through the use of particular examples from Africa.
  • To have been introduced to the range of skills used in art history and developed independent study and research skills.
  • 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.


  • One hour Lecture, one hour Seminar

Method of assessment

  • One 750 words book review (worth 20%)
  • One 3 000 words essay (worth 40%)
  • One exam (worth 40%)

Suggested reading

  • Appiah K A, 1992: In My Father's House
  • Forge A [ed], 1973: Primitive Art & Society
  • Hiller S, 1991: The Myth of Primitivism
  • Okoye I S, 1996: Tribes and art history, Art Bulletin
  • J Coote & A Shelton (eds), Anthropology, Art and Aesthetics
  • Arnoldi, M J, 1995: Playing With Time: art and performance in central Mali
  • Strother Z, 1998: Inventing Masks
  • Lawal B, 1996: The Gelede Spectacle
  • Phillips R, 1995: Representing Woman
  • Nunley, J.W., 1987, Moving with the Face of the Devil: Art and Politics in Urban West Africa


Important notice regarding changes to programmes and modules