Anne Lafont will deliver the 2022 Iris Lecture on Tuesday, April 26 at 6 pm. Her talk is entitled “Making Ornamental Africa: An Enlightenment Process.”

Could it be that in the geographical conception of art developed in Enlightenment Europe, the primary role and the function of the so-called Black Continent was one of ornament? Or, on the contrary, did the aesthetic conception elaborated by the European Enlightenment deprive Africa of artistic potentiality? These two opposing hypotheses coexist in eighteenth-century artworks and texts. The talk will focus on some objects whose material, form, argument, use and reception invite us not only to historicize the notion of African art, but also to identify the registers of categorization specific to this pivotal eighteenth-century moment, when both anthropology and aesthetics were invented. African objects, as well as European objects inspired by the African presence in Europe, rub up against the emergence of these two disciplines, which intersected around the importance of the senses and sight, in particular.


Anne Lafont is an art historian and professor at the École des hautes études en sciences sociales. She is interested in the art, images, and material culture of France and its colonial empire in the modern era, as well as in historiographical questions related to the notion of African art. She has published on art and knowledge in an imperial context, on gender issues in the discourse on art in the 18th and 19th centuries, and her most recent book is entitled Art and Race. The African against the Eye of the Enlightenment. It was awarded the 2019 Fetkann Maryse Condé Literary Prize and the 2020 Vitale and Arnold Blokh Prize. Anne Lafont participated, as a member of the scientific committee, in the Musée d’Orsay exhibition The Black Model (2019). In 2021, she was awarded a residential fellowship from the cultural services of the French Embassy in the United States, the Villa Albertine, and she serves, for the academic year 2021-2022, as the Robert Sterling Clark Visiting Professor of Art History at Williams College (Massachusetts).


This event will be held via Zoom. A link will be circulated to registrants by 4 pm on the day of the event. This event will be live with automatic captions.