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Fictions of the original. Exploring practices and discourses of the arts of Africa

Project Director

Dr. phil. habil Paola Ivanov

Prof. Dr. Tobias Wendl

Research Fellows

Dr. Ursula Helg

Dr. Melanie Klein

Project Description

The research unit investigates discourses on authenticity and originality, their ideological and strategic use in cultural practices and their transformation in selected contact zones of art between Africa, Europe and Afro-America. We thereby start from the premise that authenticity and originality are not intrinsic properties of objects or artworks, but are external attributions that blend aesthetic and ethical perspectives and judgements. As “travelling concepts” (Bal 2002), originality and authenticity assume different concretions in different contexts, with discursive frameworks and artistic reactions in each case specific to their location. These concretions are understood and historically reconstructed as the results of transcultural negotiations.

Focusing upon case studies from different regions (South Africa, Uganda and the African Diaspora) and periods (modern art between 1930 and 1980 and contemporary art since 1980) allows us to compare the respective areas of negotiation together with their constituent actors, networks, practices and discourses. Within the framework of a newly funded subproject on older African art, we shall also be taking a closer look at the period around 1900 in the example of the minkisi power figures from the Congo, with the aim of shedding greater light on the diachronic constitution of areas of transcultural negotiations. The overall focus thereby falls on institutional contexts such as artist training, museum collections and the writing of art history, and upon the areas of scope arising within processes of transcultural negotiation in which fictionalizations and subversive artistic practices develop (Fabian 1998, Peffer 2009). The analysis of these fictional aspects of authenticity and originality attributions, including the ideas inherent within them of uniqueness, originality and subcultural and hence ‘authentic’ experience, allow us to accurately gauge the dynamics of expectation and autonomy, of hegemonies of interpretation and types of local agency counteracting them. Contesting the limits of categories and genres, reconstructing their translations and trajectories, establishing the polyphonies underlying the classifications of self and Other, and the reactive artistic strategies of fake and fiction - these are all fields of study that will enable us to trace outlines of these discourses, including their repetitions and renaissances, from a historical perspective and in terms of their regional differences.

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