African art has played a role in the practices of studio-trained African American artists since the Harlem Renaissance. As knowledge about African art has grown and changed, so too have the ways in which artists have appropriated such art and imagined their relationship to the continent. This article explores the meeting of African American art and the knowledge about Africa that is spread through African art history. African American artists such as Houston Conwill, David Hammons, Alison Saar, and Renee Stout have drawn on art historical writings about African art in order to explore new possibilities in their own artistic practices. Not only did such writings allow artists to explore (and re-create) new structures of meaning for their works, but also African art history provided viewers and intellectuals in the arts community with a guide for reading these complex works. I propose that this collusion between African art history and American art can be conceived of as feedback: a resonant discursive loop that connects American art and African art, diasporic art production and its interpretation, and identity production and recognition. By exploring the work of contemporary African American artists and their relationship to African art history, this article examines the ways that resonance and dissonance in diasporic feedback give context to the controversies around the appropriation of African art in the diaspora. Feedback may help to frame the processes of making and interpreting art by diasporic communities and, ultimately, expose the complicated nature of expressing and recognizing racial difference in American identity.
Tobias Wofford; Feedback: Between American Art and African Art History. Nka 1 November 2017; 2017 (41): 154–164. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/10757163-4271707
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