Director of Media Relations
AMHERST, Mass.— In his preface to the groundbreaking and recently released A History of Art in Africa ($85, 544 pp., Prentice-Hall/Abrams, New York 2001), Professor Rowland Abiodun, John C. Newton Professor of Fine Arts and Black Studies at Amherst College, argues that the field of African art studies has been vexed by the problem of cross-cultural translation.
African art scholars, Abiodun writes, must consider the African perspective as well as the formerly dominant Western view. This will enable them to deal with the challenges presented by the visual art traditions of the pre-colonial peoples of Africa, who did not write. Scholars must also avoid the error of thinking that if an idea about art in another culture does not take the form we are familiar with in the West, it must be absent.
As an illustration, Abiodun points out that the biases of early researchers led them to assume that authorship of art works was unimportant among African people, preventing scholars from diligently probing for the artists' full given names—names which were referred to in abundance, if one knew where to look. Abiodun notes the irony that the myth of African anonymity has been so highly valued by art historians who, conversely, celebrate heroic geniuses such as Picasso who were inspired by African forms.
Rowland Abiodun has been a member of the Amherst faculty since 1988. His scholarly interests are in aesthetics and interrelationships of verbal and visual arts in Africa, and he is the co-author and co-editor of several books on Yoruba art and aesthetics.