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Topical course Art and the Fabric of Life: The Visual Arts of Africa


Admission requirements

Same as admission requirements for the BA Art History.


This course provides an introductory survey of the visual arts of Africa, including the African diaspora. The lecture series is diachronically and contextually oriented, focusing on art as an integral part of African cultures throughout history. We will be considering the role of African art and aesthetics in local religions, politics, and social structures, highlighting the diversity of forms and contexts of use of African visual arts.

Human art production began in Africa some 100,000 years ago. We will start the series by analysing the oldest known forms of art that have come to light on the continent during the last decade or so. Next, we consider the art of several major precolonial cultures, including the terracottas of Nok and the bronzes of Ife and Benin in West Africa. A substantial part of the lecture series is dedicated to analysing African art in its sociocultural context by means of case studies that are based on intense local research carried out by anthropologists and art historians in the last few decades. The course will conclude by addressing the art of the African diaspora, especially in the Caribbean, and by considering the contemporary art produced by Africans on the continent and elsewhere in the world.

Course objectives

  • Students become familiar with the major forms and technical and physical aspects of visual art in Africa from prehistory to the present;

  • Students learn to relate artistic expressions in African art to key concepts from the field of World Art Studies;

  • Students develop awareness of the continuity of African artistic expression in the African diaspora;

  • Students learn to identify and understand the sociocultural contexts of the production and use of African art;

  • Students acquire elementary knowledge of why, how, when, and where African art was collected and became available to various audiences;

  • Students learn to identify and understand crucial historical and contemporary museum practices and debates related to African art;

  • Students learn to understand different scholarly perspectives on African art and criticise these with valid arguments.


Visit MyTimetable.

Mode of instruction

  • Lecture

  • Research

Assessment method

  • Midterm assignment (40%): research paper).

  • Final exam (60%): written examination with short open questions and essay questions.


The weighted average of the (constituent) examinations must be at least 6.0 (= a pass). For both the mid-term exam and the final exam a mark below 5.0 is not allowed.


One re-sit per insufficient grade.

Inspection and feedback

How and when an exam review will take place will be disclosed together with the publication of the exam results at the latest. If a student requests a review within 30 days after publication of the exam results, an exam review will have to be organised.

Reading list

Literature will be announced on Brightspace prior to the start of the course.


Enrollment through uSis is mandatory.

Registration Studeren à la carte and Contractonderwijs

Registration Contractonderwijs


Dhr. Dr. W.J.L.M. (Wilfried) van Damme (docent)