206 Chapters
Medium 9780253348920

Introduction: Colonial Power and Aesthetic Practice

Sidney Littlefield Kasfir Indiana University Press ePub

Introduction

COLONIAL POWER AND AESTHETIC PRACTICE

A Masai warrior is a fine sight. Those young men have, to the utmost extent, that particular form of intelligence that we call chic:—daring, and wildly fantastical as they seem, they are still unswervingly true to their own nature … and their weapons and finery are as much a part of their being as are a stag’s antlers.

—ISAK DINESEN, Out of Africa (1937)

The South was, for the most part, held in thrall by Fetish worship and the hideous ordeals of witchcraft, human sacrifice and twin murder. The great Ibo race to the East of the Niger… and their cognate tribes had not developed beyond the stage of primitive savagery.

—FREDERICK LUGARD, “Report on the Amalgamation of Northern and Southern Nigeria” (1919/1968)

Where does the new come from in an artist’s practice? In this book, I explore an unexpected source, colonial authority, and trace the ways widely different late-nineteenth- and early-twentieth-century European impressions of Kenya and Nigeria and the subsequent British colonizing policies toward their imperfectly understood subject peoples intervened in and transformed the objects and practices of two groups of African artists. Equally, this book is about the ways those artists—sculptors and smiths—reinvented these objects and created a new artisanal practice. Because the two cultures, Idoma in Nigeria (one of Lugard’s “cognate tribes”) and Maa-speaking Samburu in Kenya, are geographically remote and superficially very different, the common thread of the institution of warriorhood helps weave the comparison. At a more immediate level, this book is also about real people—the warriors, the artists, and the blacksmiths—and how they strategized and made choices to circumvent the authority of colonial rule and to create new forms.

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Medium 9780253353801

14 LebowskIcons: The Rug, The Iron Lung, The Tiki Bar, and Busby Berkeley

Edward P Comentale Indiana University Press ePub

Dennis Hall & Susan Grove Hall

The Big Lebowski is full of the kinds of images that are popularly called icons. The film not only places these in our view, but also shows them in dimensions and relationships that are new to us. What are these icons? The term is now used so commonly, especially for celebrities, that it might seem without meaning. In several years of studying icons in popular culture, though, we have found the term difficult to define because it has deep and pervasive influences beyond our usual perceptions. In preparing American Icons: An Encyclopedia of the People, Places, and Things That Have Shaped Our Culture, we identified several common features of icons.

An icon often generates strong responses; people identify with it, or against it; and the differences often reflect generational differences. Marilyn Monroe, for instance, carries meanings distinctly different for people who are in their teens and twenties than for people in their sixties and older. An icon stands for a group of related things and values. John Wayne, for example, images the cowboy and traditional masculinity, among many other associations, including conservative politics. An icon commonly has roots in historical sources, as various as folk culture, science, and commerce, often changing over time and reflecting present events or forces. The log cabin, for example, has endured as an influential American icon, with meanings and associations evolving from our colonial past through the present.

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Medium 9780253353801

5 The Dude and the New Left

Edward P Comentale Indiana University Press ePub

Stacy Thompson

The Coen brothers are not, to my knowledge, communists. Yet they have maintained an interesting relationship with communism, the “Old Left,” throughout their work. It runs beneath the surface of their films as a counterpoint, sometimes referenced directly, sometimes obliquely. In the first five minutes of their 1984 film Blood Simple, private detective Loren Visser meditates on the differences between the Soviet Union and Texas, musing, in voice over, “Now, in Russia, they got it mapped out so that everyone pulls for everyone else . . . that’s the theory, anyway. But what I know about is Texas. An’ down here . . . you’re on your own.” Later he contemplates how much someone will pay him to murder two people and comments wistfully, “In Russia they make only fifty cents a day.” A few years later, in Raising Arizona, H. I. McDonough, an ex-con and factory worker, thinks about how he and his wife can’t have children. He compares his situation with that of an Arizona millionaire’s wife who was treated for infertility and gave birth to quintuplets. He comments, “It seems unfair that some should have so many when others have so few.” There’s a whisper of Marx’s “From each according to his abilities to each according to his needs” in this maxim, and, in fact, the film eventually implies, not unlike Brecht’s The Caucasian Chalk Circle, that the woman who most capably loves a child—who demonstrates that “ability”—deserves to be its parent more than a neglectful birth mother. But while Blood Simple invokes communism as a sadly unimaginable otherness, and Raising Arizona thinks of children as the product of socialized labor, and therefore the property of society and not the individual, in The Big Lebowski the Coens take a different tack in relation to communism.

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Medium 9781603444668

1. Early Spring on the High Plains: Headwaters

Margie Crisp Texas A&M University Press ePub

HEADWATERS

EARLY SPRING ON THE HIGH PLAINS in the Texas Panhandle is gray and brown. Dull clouds press down on the unrelenting span of plowed cotton fields. Gusts of wind blow yellow dust clouds that dissipate on the iron-gray horizon. Occasional farmhouses disrupt the monotony with brief flashes of trees, fences, yards, and the accumulated detritus of life scattered and revealed in the open. There is no place to hide.

I feel particularly small in this great expanse, the tail end of the Great Plains. Even though I am barreling along at ridiculously high speeds, this breadth of space gives me the hallucinatory effect of being stationary.

I am in search of a river. The first Spanish explorers named this area the Llano Estacado, or Staked Plains; early Anglo explorers called it the Great American Desert or the Sahara of North America. In the midst of this arid terrain, I hope to find the headwaters of the Colorado River, more than 850 miles of wholly Texas waterway. Reportedly, it begins in the hidden canyons and seeps on the edge of the Llano Estacado just below the Caprock Escarpment.1

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Medium 9780253007414

8. Navigating Nairobi: Artists in a Workshop System, Kenya

Edited by Sidney Littlefield Kasfir and Indiana University Press ePub

Jessica Gerschultz

Governing Nairobi’s contemporary art scene is a complex web of relationships among artists. These relationships are formulated and sustained through the dynamic workshop system underlying production and exhibition. In this system, multiple levels of workshops act as the key unifier, bringing various individuals together to share materials, create, critique, and exhibit. Although individual workshops in Kenya have been discussed (Picton et al. 2002; Kasfir 1999; Burnet et al. 1999:15–18; Nyachae 1995), no attempt has been made to present Nairobi’s workshop network as a fluid system that allows artists to develop and sustain relationships beyond a particular studio space or moment in time. This system fosters relationships among artists and between artists and other social actors, such as children participating in artist-led workshops in community spaces. The oversight in the literature occurs because of the term’s limited connotations. In order to better understand the social networking at the heart of Nairobi’s art infrastructure, it is first necessary to reexamine what the term “workshop” implies and to whom. It is then constructive to outline the configuration of this system in order to consider how it shapes and is shaped by artists’ relationships. I will also discuss its relevance to artists’ conceptions of how knowledge, specifically technical and organizational knowledge, is disseminated. By reevaluating the workshop in this particular context, I will show that workshops comprise a navigable system in which artists develop professionally, relying on each other for training and support. I will demonstrate the centrality of this system and its impact on artists’ modes of working by tracing the career paths of several Nairobi artists who are representative of the wider grouping of workshop-affiliated artists. I will also underline how the workshop system intersects with wider audiences in Nairobi.

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