In his talk, Ogbechie rethinks African art history by evaluating how the photoarchive and text of Carl Einstein’s “Negerplastik” invented a problematic canon of African art that persists to this day. The book played an important role in the global reception of African art by bringing it into ongoing conversations about significant form and numinous imagery in the context of modernism. However, Einstein literally conjured up the category “African Art” through the systematic presentation of a doctored and highly selective group of images. Most of the sculptures illustrated in the publication were actually products of the colonial encounter, which rather than representing a “timeless Africa” testified to the vitality of contemporary African art at the turn of the century. Ogbechie will frame a reading of Negerplastik against analysis of the Yoruba artist Olowe of Ise (c. 1873-1938) to show how Einstein failed to account for changing African protocols of visual representation in that era.
Sylvester Okwunodu Ogbechie is Professor of Art History and Visual Cultures of Global Africa at the University of California Santa Barbara. His publications include Ben Enwonwu: The Making of an African Modernist (2008) and Making History: The Femi Akinsanya African Art Collection (2011). He is editor of Artists of Nigeria (2012) and founder of Critical Interventions: Journal of African Art History and Visual Culture. Ogbechie has received fellowships, grants, and awards for his research from the Rockefeller Foundation, Getty Research Institute, and the Institute for International Education. His research focuses on contemporary art, cultural informatics, and the cultural patrimony of Africa and the African diaspora in the age of globalization.
Part of the conference Deep Time and Crisis, c. 1930