The art of migration: visual cultures of travel in West Africa
(University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill)
Paper short abstract:
Distinctive artistic styles are produced through people's movements across cultural boundaries. Using two forms of personal adornment from West Africa, I explore the roles of visual culture in histories of migration, serving as a source of inspiration for movement and as a marker of experience.
Paper long abstract:
This paper applies an art historical lens to the cultural impact of migration, addressing the distinctive artistic expressions that are produced through people's movements across cultural boundaries for work, trade, and adventure. I focus on a single West African region that has for centuries been the origin point for migrants: the Inland Niger Delta region of Mali. From this savannah and semi-desert landscape, migrants have long set out across the Sahara, to coastal cities in Ghana and Côte d'Ivoire, and beyond. Using two forms of personal adornment as case studies, one a form of embroidery and the other a type of jewelry, I explore the roles of visual culture in histories of migration, serving as a source of inspiration for movement and as a marker of experience. The embroidery, a style called "Ghana Boy," offers a particularly vivid illustration of the aspirations and the experiences of migrants; my research is the first to thoroughly explore this artistic innovation. In addition, this paper will address contemporary migration through the work of a Malian artist who has created large, textile-based assemblages that assess the toll of forced movements, driven by warfare or economic exigency. In each of these cases, visual expressions of migration illuminate Mali's multiple cultures of travel, past and present. We can read into these textiles, ornaments, and works of studio art elements of the motivations that drive migrants, the rewards and the sacrifices they make, as well as the social meanings that accrue to those who leave.
Staying, moving and settling in Africa and its diaspora [EASA Africanists' Network]