SOAS University of London

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

Arts and Society in Africa

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

This is a 0.5 module that considers the arts in their local contexts in communities, regions and global flows within Africa. It also complements my 0.5 BA art, performance and the body Africa. It focuses on some major traditions of art in Africa that are often taken as iconic of Africa itself and highlights various approaches, especially the local, to understand their contexts and modes of  representation. Much of the extensive literature on the arts of Africa does not have a critical purchase and much reifies implicitly or explicitly the various stereotypes of African art and “Africa” itself within an often unitary reductionist spatial and conceptual framings. This course highlights the conceptual and visual sophistications of particular African art tradition in terms of their ideas and practices as well as linking to current art historical debates on art, aesthetics and mediums of practice.The particular selected case studies are utilised to interrogate the differnet theoretical approaches deployed in art history as a discipline.

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

  • Gell A, 1998: Art and Agency: an anthropological theory
  • (ed.) Plankensteiner, Barbara, 2007, Benin Kings and Rituals: Court Arts from Nigeria
  • Horton R, 1965: Kalabari Sculpture,
  • Ross D et al, 1998: Wrapped in Pride: Ghanaian Kente and African American Identity
  • Williamson S, 1989: Resistance Art in South Africa
  • Chappel T, 1977: Decorated Gourds from Northeastern Nigeria
  • W MacGaffrey & M Harris, 1993, Astonishment and Power,
  • Biebuyck D, 1973: Lega Culture
  • Loughran K S, et al [eds], 1986: Somalia in Word and Image
  • Cole H and D Ross, 1977: The Arts of Ghana


Important notice regarding changes to programmes and modules