Approaches to Modern and Contemporary Arts in Africa

Key information

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Module code
FHEQ Level

Module overview

Much of the literature on the modern and contemporary arts of Africa tends to contextualise it within Western categories of art that validate its framings as supposedly “universalist”. It needs to be borne in mind that albeit there have effluorescences of African modernist art in the 20th century, they have been often elided or subordinated in terms of importance to Western and global trajectories of art until the last decade of the twentieth century. Modernist and contemporary arts in Africa engage and appropriate from other contemporary and past visual traditions within local and regional modes within Africa (as well as the rest of the world) and this needs to be considered in understanding modern and contemporary arts. The colonial period saw the introduction of teaching in the new modernist forms of art. The period of independence was important in acting as an incentive to constitute new art movements that address the citizens of the new nation states in Africa and provided a means of cultural decolonisation. From the 1990’s there have been a resurgence of globalised flows of art that perhaps are shaped by a mobile post-fordism capitalism, seemingly more mobile artists from Africa, and modes of consumption linked to the often dominant role of the mobile curator. This raises interesting questions of how this situates and articulates with local trajectories of production, consumption and patronage within Africa.

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 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 able to 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.
  • 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 word book review (worth 20%)
  • One 1,500 word essay (worth 40%)
  • One two hour exam (worth 40%)


  • One 750 word book review (worth 20%)
  • One 1,750 word essay (worth 40%)
  • One two hour exam (worth 40%)

Suggested reading

  • Okoye, S., 1996, Tribe and Art History, Art Bulletin, 4, 610-15
  • Gell A, 1998: Art and Agency: an anthropological theory
  • Woets, R., 2011, What is This? Framing Ghanaian Art from the Colonial Encounter to the Present, Vrije Universiteit: Wohrmann
  • The EY Exhibition, 2017, Wilfredo Lam, Tate
  • Elliot D et al, 1990: Art From South Africa  Museum of Modern Art, Oxford
  • Hassan, S., 2012, Rethinking Cosmopolitanism: Is Afropolitan the Answer?, Reflections, 5, 3-32
  • Pfeiffer, J., and Cameron E., Portraiture and Photography in Africa
  • Fabian, J., 1996, Remembering the Present: Painting and Popular History in Zaire, University of California Press
  • Enwenzor, O., and Okeke-Agulu, C., 2009, Contemporary African Art since 1980


Important notice regarding changes to programmes and modules