African Art at the conference in Johannesburg

Although the program today was the most loaded with Nubiological activities, the title of the post betrays that other things attracted more attention!

So, the morning session was build up by papers on the Acts of Gregentius and the Red Sea (Vicky Savvidou, secretary of the Institute of Greco-Oriental and African Studies), on Written Sources about Medieval Sudan (Mohamed Adam Abdelrahman Hamid, University of Khartoum), on the formation of Nobadia and the role of the Roman Empire (Effie Zacharopoulou, University of Johannesburg), on Literary Manuscripts from Christian Nubia (Alexandros Tsakos, University of Bergen) and on a project aiming at compiling a catalogue of royal documents from Christian Nubia (Benjamin Hendrickx, University of Johannesburg). Starting from the last presentation a workshop has been organized for tomorrow, so perhaps there will be more things to say then.

More things relating to Nubia and Sudan were presented in the first part of the afternoon session. The daughter of professor Benjamin Hendrickx and Thekla Sansaridou-Hendrickx, Raita Steyn, presented a very interesting chapter from her recently defended doctoral dissertation on protection scenes involving Afro-Byzantine Emperors, that is Ethiopian and Nubian Christian kings.

Then, associate professor at the University of Khartoum, Amel Suiman Badi, gave a well-thought paper on The Greek Influence in Meroitic Art. It was the first time since my cooperation with the late Salah Omer al Sadig and his paper “Relations between the Meroitic Kingdom and the Mediterranean World” (KUSH 1998-2002, pp. 109-129) that I heard a Sudanese researcher attempting an analysis of what followed the transformation of the Meroitic king Arqamaniqo to Ergamenis.

Those two papers were related to art through archaeology, but the third paper of the afternoon session was about art per se. African art that is, and more precisely South African Art: Jonas Nkadimeng (Senior Education Specialist at Tshwane South District) discussed South African Rural Art within the spiritual realm. He explained that art in South Africa should not be understood and appreciated with the esthetic criteria of the urban West because it is conceptual and symbolic and functions always inside a ritual framework. To my question whether there are esthetic categories for the South Africans he replied that “Esthetics are Exaggerations of those Visions that invite artists to create their works”. In order to substantiate his argument he showed to us the inspired creations of Ima Stem, David Koloane, Noria Mabase, Jackson Hlungwani, Nelson Mukhuba, Phutuma Saoka and Bonnie Ntshalishali, all of whom ‘received a calling’ to start working with art.

It was an excellent surprise when I found a brochure of Hlungwani’s latest exhibition at the UJ Art Gallery where we went after the afternoon sessions to visit the currently displayed photographic exhibition by Robert Hamblin. A very fine and meaningful display of an original photographic work with a critical eye on socio-economic problems of our (post-)modern world.

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Last but not least, I should mention that the famous South African actor Mpho Molepo honored the participants of the Byzantinoafrican and Grecoafrican Congress by bringing to the conference his theatrical group (consisting of Ntsoaki Mathiba, Regina Mary Dlovu, Kelly Mtshali and Alistair Dule) who staged snippets from a drama project commenting upon Albinism, which has groundbreaking significance for the understanding of issues of racial discrimination in (South) Africa.

It is really praiseworthy that the organizers of the conference added this different note to our academic venue and I feel that Raita Steyn has played an important role there and she should be particularly thanked!

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One Response to African Art at the conference in Johannesburg

  1. Pingback: Around the Archaeology Blog-o-sphere Digest #9 | Doug's Archaeology

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