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Kongo Seminar to Coincide with Exhibition

July 28, 2014

Professor Chika Okeke-Agulu’s fall 2014 seminar “Kongo Art” will examine the role of art in the social life of the Kongo Kingdom and related peoples of Central Africa, from the arrival of Spanish explorers and missionaries in the 15th century through the era of Belgian colonization between the late 19th to the mid-20th century and the period since political independence in 1960. Kongo sculpture, textiles, and ritual design—easily recognized as among the most important examples of canonical African art—are famous for their conceptual density, stylistic variety, and rigorous abstraction. The course also tracks and examines the impact of the arts of the Kongo on the art and visual cultures of the Americas, and on early-20th-century European modernism. It provides the space for sustained analysis and rethinking of the fraught relationships between art, religion, and politics, between tradition and modernity, fine art, and visual cultures, as well as notions of authenticity and hybridity.

The seminar will be enriched by two parallel programs: the first, sponsored by the Program in African Studies, is a semester-long lecture series, “Kongo Arts in Africa and the World,” featuring four leading scholars whose research spans 500 years of Kongo and Kongo-influenced arts in Africa, the Americas, and Europe. The second is a major exhibition, Kongo across the Waters, which will be on view at the Princeton University Art Museum from October 25, 2014, to January 25, 2015. The museum’s most ambitious project to date involving African artistic production and culture, this exhibition features some of the finest works of African art in the world. The exhibition examines 500 years of cultural exchange between the Kongo, Europe, and the United States, showing the rise of Kongo as a major Atlantic presence and the transmission of Kongo culture through the transatlantic slave trade into the art and visual cultures of the Americas. Drawing from the incomparable collections of the Royal Museum for Central Africa in Tervuren, Belgium, Kongo across the Waters includes masterpieces that have never before been seen in the United States, art objects from the Caribbean and the American South, as well as major works by well-known contemporary artists such as Radcliffe Bailey and Renee Stout.