Monthly Archives: January 2011

ONLINE VIDEOS: Art and Life in Africa

Christopher D. Roy, Professor of Art History at the University of Iowa has started a Youtube channel at CDROYburkina which presents videos he and his colleagues have produced over the last decade while researching Art in West Africa. Currently these include:

African Art: Mask Performance in the Bwa Village of Boni
African art: The performance of a Mossi Bagba Diviner 2010
Art and Life in an African Village
African Art: Mask Performances in the Winiama Village of Ouri
African art : Masks Perform at a Funeral in a Mossi Village
African Art: Fulani Men Dance at the Gerewal Celebration in Niger

Professor Roy says of these resources: “I make these videos in the course of my research in West Africa. I travel with a driver and my friend and cameraman Abdoulaye Bamogo, or his uncle Jacob, through countries I have been visiting since 1970. I do not travel with a film crew, so I do not have a sound pole and separate audio recorder, nor do I have any of the other luxuries the videographers from National Geographic enjoy. If I traveled with a crew these videos would cost $249.50 each, instead of $24.95. I do not use a script, but I film what I see, as it happens, without any interference from me. Nothing is staged, no Africans are told how to act or what to wear. If an artist is stamping adinkra patterns on cloth next to a busy highway in Kumasi, you will hear the sound of passing traffic. I take pride in being able to find spectacular, authentic, traditional African art that is used or made in the same ways it has been for decades. I enjoy mask performances in Burkina Faso, royal funerals in Ghana, and beauty competitions in Niger. I am fascinated by potters in Burkina Faso, Ghana, and Nigeria. I have been interested in African technology ever since I served as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Ouagadougou from 1970-72, at the National Art Center. I enjoy seeing the innovative ways Africans make art.

“I believe strongly that the improvements in video technology in the past decade make it possible for scholars to make excellent videos that are very useful in their own classes, and are of interest to teachers, collectors, and students. For many years we were forced to depend on independent film makers or National Geographic to create films and videos we could use in our classes. These often did not present the ideas we wanted to communicate to our students. 16 mm. was excellent, but very expensive, you had to have a separate sound system and, if you wanted to do it right, a full camera crew. In the mid-1970s I had a Kodak super-8 film camera with sound that was useful but very limited, especially because the Kodak film cassettes were only eight minutes long. Then I had a VHS-C video camera, better quality, but still vastly inferior to 16 mm. film. Now we have digital video, and even high-definition digital. The quality of image and sound is outstanding, it is possible for a young scholar or a teacher to carry a small camera and make excellent images, and to do all the post-production editing on a personal computer. A high-quality professional camera is only marginally more expensive, still very portable, and the results are excellent.

“I also enjoy video footage my colleagues Abdoulaye Bamogo and Jacob Bamogo have made for me in Africa while I am at home in Iowa. Since 2001 I have left very good digital video cameras in Burkina for the Bamogos to use, and for Yacouba Bonde to use in Boni. If I am not there, they film on their own and mail me the tapes. I pay them very well indeed. I have trained them carefully, and they have learned very quickly. They are skilled at getting permission to film from people who might be reluctant were I there, and they are skilled with cameras. They are African, so they film what they find interesting, and they ask questions that they feel are important. I hope that to some extent this gives my videos an African voice.

“Finally, as you watch these videos, you will be seeing performances that took place a month ago, a year ago, or at the earliest in 2001. These videos make it abundantly clear that “Contemporary African Art” includes the superb masks and figures, music, pottery, textiles, and other media that we have enjoyed for decades, and which you see in my videos. Art is still very much alive and important in the lives of many Africans, and it is still very possible for scholars, as well as casual visitors to Africa, to see and enjoy traditional art in the communities for which it was created.

“If you subscribe to my channel CDROYburkina you will be notified when I add new videos:

“I would love a bit of feedback from those of you who look at these: are they useful, do I need something else, are they too short or too long, should I add more, should I add voice over narration…?”

More related resources can be viewed on the pages of the Art and Life in Africa Project:


New Online Archive: Images of African Art


Image originally published in Harry Alis, Nos Africains; la Mission Mizon, 1894. Original Caption translation: "Lower Niger Fetishes (Engraving by Krakow, based on a photograph by Mr. Mizon)"

A new and exciting website of published images of African art, the James J. Ross Archive of African Images, 1590-1920 (RAAI), has been launched at Yale University, in New Haven, Connecticut. This unique archive, accessible at, significantly enriches the broad range of resources available to students and researchers of African art at Yale, including the significant collection of African art held by the Yale University Art Gallery.


RAAI contains approximately 5,000 illustrations of African art published before 1921. It is the result of an eight-year collaboration between the project’s codirectors, James J. Ross, b.a. 1960, African art collector and member of the Gallery’s Governing Board, and Susan Vogel, filmmaker and former director of the Museum for African Art, who were assisted by an editor, researchers, a software developer, and others. RAAI is a work in progress, aspiring to include every African object that has appeared in a book, periodical, catalogue, newspaper, or other source published in or before 1920. The majority of entries date between 1800 and 1920, a period of heightened international presence in Africa. As trade increased between Africa and the West in the early 19th century, voyagers from the West began intensively recording and collecting the material culture of the African coastline. After 1920, an enormous profusion of collecting, exhibiting, and publishing created a flood of images and a whole new regard for African art. The archive does not include postcards or pamphlets of limited distribution and focuses exclusively on figurative art. It is based mainly on the personal library of James J. Ross, augmented by publications from the libraries of Yale University and a few other institutions.

RAAI is a collection of rich historical data and extensively catalogued and annotated images. Images include prints, drawings, paintings, and photographs of objects from a range of contexts: in situ in the original performance context, in exhibitions, in casual snapshots, and in studio photography. Its historical sources afford exceptional insight into early European and American views-both literal and figurative-of Africa’s art. Foreign texts appear in English translation followed by the original language. Many of the images include numerous objects. All of the individual objects from these 5,000 “parent” images are catalogued separately for ease of use and many such objects appear separately in approximately 2,500 “subimages.” Eventually most of the multiobject parent images will be divided into a subimage for each object.

Current scholarship appears separately in the comments, keywords, and collections fields, making the site informative and easily searchable with contemporary terminology. Images or objects appearing more than once in the database are flagged for comparison. Tools for viewing details in high resolution, searching by multiple specific variables, and comparing images side by side are built into the site, along with the ability to record user comments.

Using the “Add a Comment” option, the sponsors urge informed users to suggest images that they may have overlooked and to augment and/or correct the information presented. As of January 2011, data from publications on the Kingdom of Benin have not been fully vetted, and images and data on South African art are just beginning to enter the archive; these areas, therefore, may be in particular need of supplementation. Users’ comments may include provenance and collection history, current location, attribution, and additional information on the image or object portrayed. Corrections of erroneous information, as well as opposing viewpoints and debate, are encouraged. Additional noteworthy items, references, or anecdotes are also welcome.

The James J. Ross Archive of African Images is an indispensable research tool for students and scholars of African art and history. It is the hope of its creators that RAAI will remain dynamic and, with the assistance of its users, continue to be enriched and updated.

via: H-Net Network for African Expressive Culture

pub: 6 January 2011