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2021/22 Undergraduate Module Catalogue

ARTF2074 African Art I: Context Representation Signification

20 creditsClass Size: 25

Module manager: Will Rea

Taught: Semester 2 (Jan to Jun) View Timetable

Year running 2021/22

Pre-requisite qualifications

At least 20 credits of level 1 ARTF modules

This module is not approved as a discovery module

Module summary

This course is designed to help us understand that there are continuities as well as discontinuities between "western" preoccupations and [ii] aesthetic, social and signifying fields that are indigenous to Africa (i.e. in the sense of this or that place in Africa: I am not suggesting an essentialised African aesthetic). These questions can be considered in terms of a variety of concerns which are often contemporary with the present time, or at any rate available for study within the present century (even though, and this is another of the difficulties to contend with, most of the writing about art in Africa is constituted via ethnographic fieldwork). The human body and person are easily identifiable as the locus of these concerns and fields, e.g. through marking and masking, as also with the substance of masquerade and its variable articulations of identity, gender, power and play. The human body and person is also the subject matter of so much of the sculpture of sub-Saharan Africa, and here too we find ourselves considering signification, aesthetic assessment, contrasts between political and metaphysical powers and their legitimation; and with art as a means of addressing political circumstances. The course then concludes with the differing contextual implications and articulations within and beyond the work of art itself.At this point we review the manner in which so much of the literature is working with the taken-for-granted notion of the work of art as a sign, and this turns out to be problematic:- First, there is the danger of assuming simple one-to-one "meanings" whereas woks of art bear the possibilities of receiving multiple interpretations. - Second, the iconographic model can be seen to condemn the work of art to be forever subordinate to that which it is not (its "meaning"); for works of art are things with the world as well as, and prior to their capacity to be regarded as signs of other things. - Third, we have to ask just where does a semiotic decoding get up, even when using social practice ('culture') as the dictionary with which to "decode" art seems a useful initial strategy. "Meaning" turns out to be a problematic concept, at least as far as art is concerned; and this recognition then leads on to theoretical implications and problems of taken-for-granted analogies between 'art' and 'language' considered from points of view within Africa as mediated in the work of art.


On completion of this module students will have gained an insight and understanding to and will be able to complete a critical assessment of African art. They will have knowledge of some of the major issues confronting an African art history and will have knowledge of some of the key aspects of African visual cultures. They will be able to recognise at a determined level key works of African art.

Skills outcomes
- Verbal and written fluency in constructing a logical and coherent argument
- Identifying key issues
- Participation in group discussions
- Co-ordination and dissemination of a range of historical, contextual and visual information
- Locating material cited in module bibliographies
- Develop initiative in constructing bibliographies


In this course students will follow a syllabus that looks like this:
- Introduction to Africa
- Understanding objects
- Cloth and textiles
- Masquerade I
- Masquerade II
- Woodcarving
- Royal Art
- Object and acts
- Meaning

Teaching methods

Delivery typeNumberLength hoursStudent hours
Private study hours180.00
Total Contact hours20.00
Total hours (100hr per 10 credits)200.00

Private study

180 hours comprised of weekly reading, seminar presentation preparation, researching and writing essay, researching for examination

Opportunities for Formative Feedback

- non-assessed reading week assignment
- attendance and participation at weekly seminars

Methods of assessment

Assessment typeNotes% of formal assessment
Essay1 x 3,000 word essay60.00
Assignment1 x 500 word visual analysis40.00
Total percentage (Assessment Coursework)100.00

Normally resits will be assessed by the same methodology as the first attempt, unless otherwise stated

Reading list

The reading list is available from the Library website

Last updated: 30/06/2021 16:04:48


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