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CHAPTER 4. INFLUENCES: African art and mythology, 1957–2001

Olive Jensen Theisen University of North Texas Press PDF


Influences: African art and mythology, 1957–2001

John Biggers’s trip to Africa transformed his art in unimaginable ways. Many knew of Biggers’s earlier work and had categorized him as a regional painter who painted images of suffering people. As it turns out, that was only half the story. In this chapter we will talk about some factors that influenced him on his pioneering journey into the creation of new images and ideas. (fig. 4.1)

Following the 1996 publication of The Murals of John Thomas Biggers, Biggers gave me a little paperback book and suggested that I should read it sometime. I wasn’t familiar with the author and had much else to do, so that book sat untouched in my bookcase for over ten years. But recently, as I was looking for answers to some questions I still had about John Biggers’s work, I picked up Echoes of the Old

Darkland and leafed through it. As I read, I found glimpses of ideas that Biggers had embedded in his murals. I returned to that little paperback many times to study some of the images in later murals. And I did understand one thing: Biggers had found a source for his “great heroic images.” (See Chapter 5)

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4 In Praise of the Alphabet

Edited by Frieda Ekotto and Kenneth W H Indiana University Press ePub

Patrice Nganang

There has never been a better time for criticism than today. And critics of African literature in particular should be in a state of rapture. The reason for such a thrill is simple: the talk of “post” (as in, say, the postcolonial) marks the end of criticism of African literature as we know it—not the beginning but the end, since it would be ludicrous to expect the post-postcolonial, and then the post-post-postcolonial, to arrive one day. And yet the task of criticism is still so young! The void that criticism faces today is what puts me into a state of perpetual intellectual trance, since after all, nothingness is the land of all possibilities. Ex nihilo omne ens qua ens fit.1 Critics should therefore hasten the dying of the dead and bury the rotten corpse without any sense of remorse. Facing the void left by the buried dead, we contemporary critics should be rubbing our hands happily. Most notably, we should avoid rushing to new materials—popular cultures, digital cultures, sexual orientation studies, masculinity studies, transnationalism, ecocriticism, animal studies, trash studies, star studies, and whatnot—with old questions. More than a call to look for new objects of study, the crisis2 that criticism faces today should prompt a call to return to the basics. Thus, if there is a phrase I would like to transform into a call today, it would be “Back to the basics!”

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6. Making Jewelry

Pravina Shukla Indiana University Press ePub

INDIAN WOMEN GENERALLY view their jewelry as the central component of their personal adornment; something to hold, possess, and treasure as well as to wear, it is more important than their clothing. Clothes are used daily to convey multiple messages; they are changed and bought with frequency, but a woman’s jewelry is special for many reasons. Its cost is higher, its materials are precious, and its permanence provides a powerful sense of ownership and enables it to be passed down as an heirloom, building connections between the generations. Items of jewelry—like the brocaded saris of Banaras—are carefully chosen by the wearers for their beauty and symbolic value, and, like the saris, jewelry embodies the aesthetic choices made by a series of men—the suppliers of materials, the talented craftsmen, and the wily merchants. The production of jewelry involves complex negotiations of the kind found in the production of cloth. In both cases, the artists, the middlemen, and the sellers are men of different castes, ethnic groups, and religions. In both cases, the products—woven cloth or gold jewelry—can be imported from elsewhere in India or locally produced by desi artisans.

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Olive Jensen Theisen University of North Texas Press PDF

Chapter 5


FUTURE: 1974–1983

u  u  u

Houston, Texas

How does one introduce the positive African

American image? One has to like oneself— one can reject the old images, but without a new image, one is lost, in chaos.

— John Biggers, telephone interview with author, Houston, July 29, 1993.

During a nearly decade-long hiatus from mural painting, John Biggers continued to draw, paint, teach, and build the art department at Texas

Southern University. Most significantly, he continued his artistic struggle to integrate African,

European, and Regionalist influences into his own visual language.

Throughout his career, one of Biggers’s goals had been to create heroic visual images—archetypes—that would provide a sense of identification for people of African descent. (fig.

5.1) Biggers noted that his mentor at Hampton

Institute, Viktor Lowenfeld, had studied with psychologist Carl Jung, and had infused his teaching with Jungian archetypal concepts. (In a primer of

Jungian Psychology, an archetype is defined as “an original model after which other things are patterned, such as birth ... hero … earth mother … trees, the sun, the moon … Archetypes are universal.” 1)

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11. Neelam Chaturvedi

Pravina Shukla Indiana University Press ePub

WHEN I FIRST TALKED to Neelam Chaturvedi in the spring of 1996, she was an art teacher in the Sunbeam private school in Banaras. Unlike Nina, a Sindhi living in a Sindhi household, Neelam is a Punjabi married into a Brahmin family from Banaras. Being born in India to Punjabi parents who were displaced from their native Pakistan, Neelam has developed an adaptive personal style. Constant adjustment to different contexts is a main theme of her choices in life and adornment, a pattern evident in our interviews. My main tape-recorded conversations with her, which lasted several hours, took place in Neelam’s bedroom, upstairs in her mother-in-law’s house a few blocks from the vast red temple dedicated to Durga in Banaras.1

When she was growing up in Banaras, Neelam spoke Punjabi at home with her parents, yet she was exposed to Hindi at school and to the local Bhojpuri dialect of the servants. Neelam learned Hindi and Bhojpuri, and, though she was scolded for speaking these ill-regarded languages in the presence of her parents, she grew up speaking what she calls a “mix” of languages. Her shifting between Punjabi and Hindi, choosing one or the other in different contexts, is like the double-coding used by immigrant children who grow up in America, adapting and conforming to two cultures simultaneously.

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