Material Cultures of Trans-Atlantic West Africa

The Afro-Brazilian anthropologist and Candomblé babalorixá Julio Braga said, “Religion was for the African for some hundred of years in Brazil, the great sentimental refuge of saudade [nostalgic longing], of memory, and from there, African nature.” His statement holds true not just for Brazil, but throughout the African diaspora of the Americas, where religion has served as a primary means of resistance and resilience in maintaining the roots of African culture. This course will attempt to trace African inheritances from colonial slavery to contemporary culture today, from primarily West Africa to the US, Cuba, and in particular Brazil, the country that received the greatest number of enslaved peoples and the last to abolish slavery. Through this comparative lens, we will examine African and African-descended women’s costume, amulets, and jewelry; eighteenth- and nineteenth-century Portuguese and African jewelry; the religious practices and affiliated architecture, objects, and iconography of Candomblé, Santería, and Voudun; Brazilian Carnaval; artists as diverse as Aleijadinho, Pierre Verger, Carybé, Vinicius de Moraes, Mario Cravo Neto, Nadia Taquary, Ayerson Heraclito, Sonya Clark, and Beyoncé, as well as many contemporary jewelers and fashion designers drawing inspiration from African sources. We will read both black and white authors including Melville Herskovits, Oba Efuntola Oseijeman Adelabu Adefunmi, Ruth Landes, Robert Farris Thomas, and Kimbwandende Kia Bunseki Fu-Kiau. Course work will include weekly presentations, object analyses and case study, and curation of a mini-exhibition with texts, which may become part of a forthcoming exhibition. 3 credits. Depending on final research project, this course may satisfy the non-Western requirement.