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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 started in Africa, some 100,000 years ago. We will start the series by analyzing 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 analyzing 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

  • Being familiar with the major forms and technical and physical aspects of visual art in Africa from prehistory to the present.

  • Being able to relate artistic expressions in African art to key concepts from the field of World Art Studies.

  • Being aware of the continuity of African artistic expression in the African diaspora.

  • Being able to identify and understand the sociocultural contexts of the production and use of African art.

  • Having elementary knowledge of why, how, when and where African art was collected and became available to various audiences.

  • Being able to identify and understand crucial historical and contemporary museum practices and debates related to African art.

  • Being sufficiently prepared to understand different scholarly perspectives on African art and criticize these with valid arguments.


Please note: for the final schedule refer to Collegeroosters / Timetable BA Art History on the Art History website.

Mode of instruction

  • Lecture series

Course Load

Course load in summary: 5 ects (140 hrs)

24 hrs: Attending lectures (2 hrs weekly x 12 weeks)
24 hrs: Lecture preparations (reading texts)
90 hrs: Studying the literature (450 pp à 5 pp/hr)
02 hrs: Exam
140 hrs

Assessment method

  • Midterm assignment (20%).

  • Written examination with essay questions (80%).

Compensation: not applicable.
Re-sit: one re-sit per insufficient mark.


Blackboard will provide course materials. Both powerpoints with illustrations and reading materials will be made available.

Reading list

To be announced; readings will be made available on Blackboard.


Enrollment through uSis is mandatory.

Registration Studeren à la carte and Contractonderwijs

Registration Studeren à la carte
Registration Contractonderwijs


Dhr. Dr. W.J.L.M. van Damme (docent)
Dhr. Drs. G.J. (Gerhard Jan) Nauta (studiecoördinator)