African Art: History, Style, and Aesthetics
My current book project, “Reclaiming African Aesthetic Concepts,” has a polemical edge. While it may have been useful to employ only Western theoretical paradigms in the study of African art and aesthetics early in the twentieth century, and while scholarship modeled on Western tropes has continued to yield interesting fruit in the present, I also believe that we must privilege the aesthetic concepts of those who made and used the art. We must search carefully within the specific African cultures from which the art forms originate, and, I believe, use internally derived conceptual frameworks in the critical analysis of African art.
The importance of African languages, names, terms and aesthetic concepts, which embody specific African world pictures, cannot be overemphasized. To marginalize them, for whatever reason is to contribute to the systematic purging of “African” from “African Art.” For example, the Yoruba term, ase, a complex verbal-visual aesthetic phenomenon demonstrates the inadequacy of essentially formalist, self-referential, and Western modernist approaches to the study of African art. Ase fundamentally informs Yoruba aesthetics. It is affective and triggers a response in the audience, even when ase may not be fully comprehended. Ase imbues sound, space, and matter with energy to restructure existence, to transform and control the physical world. Such an approach would reclaim a fundamental, much forgotten dimension of African art.