Rowland O. Abiodun
John C. Newton Professor of the History of Art and Black StudiesAmherst College
Professional and Biographical Information
M.A. (Art History), University of Toronto (1969)
B.A. (Fine Arts), First Class Honors, Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, Nigeria (1965)
A.M. (honorary), Amherst College (1992)
I grew up in Yorubaland, immersed in the culture and language of that place. I graduated in studio, majoring in painting before I went to study art history. As Professor of Fine Arts at the University of Ife, Nigeria, I taught both studio and art history. These experiences fundamentally inform the way I teach and understand art history. In the classroom, I take precise aim at the problem of fairly and accurately revealing the artistic impulse of the traditionally non-writing people of Africa. Recommended readings and class assignments are designed to push against the limiting boundaries of a literary bias in the foundation of the arts. I use oral recitations of living proverbs, idioms and chants to recover that contact with the complex human source of art that other approaches often lose.
While I am clearly not unaware of the dangers of fragmentary, misunderstood, or transformed realities in this approach, I am alert to the new possibilities of re-animating the artistic impulse of many works whose immediate origins have disappeared from view. My efforts to piece together the very fabric, in all its constituent parts, of works of art for which there are no written records or theory, seek to remind us all that the inherent power of any work of art from one culture lies within its unique response to human experience, and that any theory before or after the fact is no more than one piece of extrinsic information which does not necessarily deserve any greater or lesser privilege in our understanding than any other.
To convey this total sense, and meaning, and purpose of art in Africa, I supplement slides and assigned readings with audio-visual materials and regular visits to museums, artists' workshops, and demonstrations, all of which, in varying degrees, prepare students to situate art in the context of life itself. My goal is to empower students to read major scholarly works on African art critically, and question, if need be, artistic concepts and even theoretical frameworks.
Recipient of the Eighth Annual African Art Recognition Award, Detroit Institute of Arts, Detroit, Michigan, 2012
Recipient of the Leadership Award of the Arts Council of the African Studies Association in Recognition of Excellence, Innovative Contributions, and Vision in the Fields of African and Diasporic Arts, 2011
Senior Sabbatical Fellowship, 2007
Named John C. Newton Professor of Fine Arts and Black Studies, 1997
Benjamin West Lecturer, Swarthmore College, Swarthmore, PA. 1996
Member and Chair, Herskovits Award Committee, African Studies Association, 1996
Honorary Committee Member, Royal Academy of Arts, London, 1996
Board of Directors, African Studies Association, 1995
Delivered the inaugural William Fagg Memorial Lecture, British Museum, London, 1994
President, The Arts Council of the African Studies Association, 1993
Getty Senior Research Grant Recipient for my project, “The Shock of Re-Cognition: Artistic Representation and Cultural Politics in Africa,” 1992
Consultant to, and participant in the Smithsonian World film, Kindred Spirits: Contemporary Nigerian Art, which was nominated for the National Emmy Award in Prime Time Informational Film Series, 1989-90
Senior Fulbright Fellow in African Art, Cleveland State University, Cleveland, OH, 1980
Scholar-in-Residence, Museum of African Art, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, DC, 1981