I-7. Tradition and Innovation: Insights into African Art

Convener: Anna Siim (Moskvitina) (Peter the Great Museum of Anthropology and Ethnography,
St. Petersburg, Russia); e-mail: anna.siim@gmail.com

African arts have long been in the centre of attention of anthropologists and specialists in religious and fine art studies. The powerful influence of African masks and sculptures on the early 20th-century European artists inspired a number of theoretical works about “Negro Art” which positively changed the attitude to the former “pagan idols and fetishes” and gained them a place in museums and private art collections in Europe and Americas. However, this purely aesthetic and generalizing approach lacked insider’s insight and took the art out of its social context. African art studies based on field researches have been providing a deeper understanding of the role of art in everyday life and religious practices of ethnic groups as well as of their aesthetic concepts, sense of beauty, features of numerous regional styles, innovations in traditional art and the evolution of modern trends – applying Western styles and techniques (e.g. painting on canvas) yet demonstrating a strong link with African identity and spirituality. All these factors led to the development of various criteria of provenance and authenticity and methods of collecting and exhibiting in different museums depending on their specialization, sometimes resulting in dramatic museum reforms and rebrandings. Nowadays, there are more and more projects on African art and spiritual heritage all over the world within the frames of international cultural policies. Russia has its own history of studying, collecting and exhibiting African art. In Moscow and Saint Petersburg, important museum events dedicated to the art of Sub-Saharan Africa have recently taken place and new ones are being organized. The panel focuses on traditions and innovations in African art and its studies, the problems of representing African art and material culture in museums of anthropology, history and fine arts.