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date: 22 November 2019

Exploring Present Pasts: Popular Arts as Historical Sources

Summary and Keywords

To incorporate sub-Saharan senses of artistic production and practice into scholarly reconstruction of African pasts, distance must be sought from deeply embedded positivist notions of Art, History, and Art History. As Rowland Abiodun exhorts, the “African” must be returned to “African art.” Following African ways of knowing, how do works of art from earlier as well as contemporary times make pasts present to help people cope with current circumstances as inspired by ancestral wisdom? Cases from urban Senegal and the Democratic Republic of the Congo demonstrate the dynamism of such social processes.

Keywords: popular arts, nonverbal epistemologies, episodic memory, semantic memory, agency of visual and performance arts, artifacts as lieux de mémoire

[Among Luba people of the Democratic Republic of the Congo,]

memory devices provide a framework for history,

while permitting multiple interpretations of the past.1

Between Convention and Creativity

In sub-Saharan African societies, artistic productions often conflate past and present, not as a lesson of European-style metahistory, but rather as collective performance of culturally determined forms of historical consciousness and political identity.2 Both people and works of art stimulate—even instigate—reconstructions of the past that community members deem relevant to meeting felt needs of the present. In this way, artifacts of visual and performance art are historical sources as well as implements of quotidian problem-solving.

Encounters between historical reconstitution of pasts and artworks considered as sources of historical information are relatively rare in African Studies. Already in 1980, Robert Brain stressed the necessity of leaving aside current Western concepts of art to accept “everything which is visually relevant” when considering temporally determined aesthetics of given African communities; yet scholars, and especially historians, have been slow to escape Eurocentric, positivist paradigms.3 Until African epistemologies are understood and appreciated and, as Rowland Abiodun would have it, until we “seek the African in African art,” “art” itself will remain an exclusively Western concept.4

Even late in the 20th century, most Western specialists’ studies neglected to identify when works were produced or performed, as well as historical and memory-driven moments of the cultural constructions in which such arts participated. Nonhistoricized, orphaned from context, reduced to form, the work of art was not permitted to reveal episodic, individual memories or semantic, collective memories of the artist’s community as shared by his or her audiences. Scholars too often privileged metaphorical readings of works rather than the histories enacted by their agentive presence in assemblages and accumulations.5 In this way, creative tensions between singular memories borne by each object or image have been lost, as have semantic memories of ensembles.

A brief example: The vast complex of Kongo peoples inhabiting Atlantic-coast lands north and south of the Congo River in Congo-Brazzaville, Congo-Kinshasa, and Angola, have produced many notable art forms. None is more renowned than the monumental iron-studded spirit figures called Nkisi Nkondi that have provoked phantasmagorical imaginations in the West for well more than a century, and that are now found in major European and American museums (Fig. 1). Rather than the timeless—and nightmarish—“nail fetishes” they have been dreamed to be by many expatriates, however, recent studies have contextualized such figures in fraught histories of the late 19th century when they were created, empowered, and deployed in ultimately futile efforts to defend and promote local political-economic interests on the eve of colonial conquest.6 As Alfred Gell wrote, “an instructed person” of Kongo society approaching an Nkisi Nkondi “does not see a mere thing, a form, to which he may or may not respond aesthetically. Instead, what is seen is the visible knot which ties together an invisible skein of relations, fanning out across space and social time.” Furthermore, “these relations have produced this particular thing in its concrete, factual presence.”7 This was largely because Minkisi Minkondi (plural) were sites of votive practice, and the iron shards thrust into them and the cloth strips with which they were sometimes festooned were material pleas for spiritual intervention to assist, protect, and promote individuals and community factions. As such, the works were archives of intentionality. Not only must the aesthetics of each particular Nkisi Nkondi be understood as a means to control and benefit from supernatural and all-too-human forces, then; instead, such sculptures must be restored to their particular contexts, hence their competing personal, local-level political, and colonial histories. Contemporary Congolese artists are making such pasts present.

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Figure 1. Nkisi Nkondi, Kongo Peoples, Democratic Republic of the Congo; 18th–19th century. Wood, metal, nails, mirrors, cloth, cordage, beads, cowrie shells.

Photo courtesy of Fowler Museum of Cultural History at UCLA; photograph by Don Cole, 2014.

Certain historians, and the late Jan Vansina in particular, have deployed diverse dating techniques to historicize works of art in order to establish correspondences between such objects and oral traditions. Nonetheless, the famous “Is Elegance Proof?” controversy of 1983 between Vansina and Luc de Heusch illustrates the limitations of such an initiative when the goal is to hierarchize relevance for the reconstruction of “truth” as “factual” historical information vis-à-vis aesthetic presentations to people concerned by the past events in question.8 Without doubt, aesthetic considerations are not the only “proof” of any given event, circumstance, or relationship; but limiting ourselves to arbitrarily determined “factual proofs” (from whose perspectives?) deprives us of access to past human experience and the imaginaries informing people then and now. Again, following the Nigerian art historian Rowland Abiodun, we must seek “the African in African art” through culturally determined historiologies and the epistemologies from which they are derived.9

Seizing such potential for historical enlightenment along local terms necessitates a broadening of the usual comprehension that academic scholars have of art, histories, and art histories. Even as historians frequently qualify the oral to be the communications regime of African societies, we feel it more appropriate to speak of broader performative regimes.10 Speech and gesture, images and sounds are produced and received in chains of exchange. One may understand as much of those who communicate with ancestors, spirits, forces of nature, and other supernatural beings. As a messenger, the artist, often working with diviner-healers and spirit mediums, is the delegated witness of spiritual agencies, standing as the replacement for those who cannot be materially present. A spirit expresses itself through an entranced medium, a mask that dances, or a figural sculpture placed in situations of communication. And an ancestor expresses her or himself through the vivid words of a historian (as such a role is understood through local epistemology) to confirm or invalidate the legitimacy of a successor or to see to some other important need of a given moment.11 Memories of preceding performances similarly influence the progression and the understanding of a performance underway.12 Emotions so sparked are at play as much as information is presented, since such forms influence participants’ experiences.

Most often, local production and consumption of the arts are not commodified, yet such purposeful, economic relationships are not absent from the rapport people have with these same arts, and are of growing importance. Exterior demand, whether for Afro-Portuguese ivories or later for sub-Saharan figural sculptures, masks, and handwoven textiles, has long influenced production and circulation, but does not necessarily denature the arts with regard to African societies.13 Reciprocal transformations between local and expatriate audiences operate among performances for which continuity depends upon the work of memory sharing such settings as visual, narrative, and choreographed arts, even as aspects of these same expressive forms are modified to attract tourist dollars.14 Practices of writing and inscription are also important to such circumstances, for they can distance messages from those emitting them; and so is the appropriation of “mechanical reproduction” to seize narrative, sound, and image for transmission and circulation. Global sources for new modalities of artistic production and modification of cognitive processes implied by their reception do not make these practices any less “African.”15

Works of art are destined and awaited through performative relationships. To speculate about how they have informed social experiences of the past, earlier artifacts may be understood via contemporary performances. As one interrogates material or remembered traces of these events, it is of fundamental importance to respect the plurality of implicated temporalities as well as the modes of constructing social senses and messages through accumulation of particular cases. A performance—image, choreography, and music included—brings together temporal regimes without hierarchizing them. Historical analysis should reconstitute the temporalities in question as regimes of historicity, even as evident cognitive steps are taken through which locally constituted theories of reality are mobilized. Because they are often inconsistent by design—that is, ambiguity is an appreciated feature rather than something eschewed—their plurality helps participants to approach the heterogeneity of the world. “The great skill in managing our cognitive lives is figuring out which pictures to use for which purposes,” Kwame Anthony Appiah has written, for different works of art will trigger different responses by anyone seeing them.16

In order to accede to their information about relationships between the pasts and the presents of particular African communities, one must approach artistic productions as living witnesses to the construction of social and individual purposes. For example, recourse to images permits one to seize current events as mirrors of those of the past that may even announce circumstances to come. Such an image is an “idealized model . . . helping us not so much to predict or control the world as to understand it.”17 In general, performance renders earlier events or persons in the present, activating episodic memories.18 Their generalization (“idealization,” writes Appiah) emerges from repetition. Semantic (collective) memory is not imposed as though it were a conclusion, for the variation of degrees of adhesion of participants of this memory respects not only the specificity of episodic memories, but the variability of interests and identities at play.19 Replacing an artifact for an archival document mentally as the need presents itself must be endorsed by some sort of an institutional authority. Even a genealogy recited publicly does not suggest to all those present that only one legitimacy is acceptable.20 The specialist (historian) offers names that individuals then refer to beings or relationships significant to themselves. Memories behind these names diverge, and so the genealogy as recited does not always suggest its particular political effects.

Freddy Tsimba’s House of Machetes

Analytical description by Wyatt MacGaffey of the mise en performance of a Kongo Nkisi Nkondi offers an example that permits close comparison to the initiatives of Freddy Tsimba (1967–), a contemporary artist from the Democratic Republic of the Congo.21 As representations, both an Nkisi Nkondi and a sculpture by Tsimba are idealizations of the state of society at a particular moment in time. Minkisi Minkondi are composed of a repetition of objects attached to or inserted into a primary wooden body that is often anthropomorphic or zoomorphic. Such objects serve as witnesses to and vehicles of supernatural presence brought to bear upon singular events. The event at the origin of the performance is reflected in the mirror of past events associated with powerfully active elements constituting the nkisi. To varying degrees, spectators possess episodic memories of events in which the nkisi figured, and the performance further realizes shared semantic memory, giving social sense to a singular moment vis-à-vis past events. Before an audience, the person operating the nkisi suggests outcomes without imposing semantic memory as though the future is fixed.

In the multicultural society of Kinshasa as the sprawling, ever-growing capital of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, an artist of Kongo ethnic origins named Freddy Tsimba uses what we would call “nkisi logic” as he creates works instigated by a troubling incident, gross injustice, or perilous problem for which survival is contingent upon conflict resolution. In so doing, he hopes to assist collective healing through his sculptures and installations that bring past travesties into focus to address present-day urban issues.22

In 2012, Tsimba constructed a building from one thousand machetes as a multireferential event (Fig. 2). The installation spoke to globalization, for machetes are now imported from China when earlier central African blacksmiths had forged these and other ingenious implements from locally smelted iron. The work also bore the double-edged ambiguities of any blade that can serve as a useful tool or a vicious weapon, with the latter all too poignantly recalled from brutal moments of recent Congolese history.23 Tsimba’s “Maison machete” was conceived as an nkisi with reference to well-known material and performance idioms long serving practical and philosophical needs of Kongo and related central African peoples. The work was located in a popular marketplace of Kinshasa, as were nkisi figures in earlier times to promote and protect commerce and promote political dialogue.24 Nkisi objects and practices always foster ambivalence, however, for they help some protagonists to the disadvantage of their adversaries, who may feel righteous about their own activities and wounded by such exchange. So it was with Tsimba’s nkisi of machetes. As he has written, “the house is intimacy, security, procreation. But here the house has become a pathway, it is the violence of the everyday.”25

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Figure 2. Freddy Tsimba, “Maison Machette” (House of Machete), 2012.

Photo courtesy of Cédrick Nzolo Ngambu, reproduced with permission.

Tsimba constructed his house of machetes in full public view and welded the blades together in a sort of ritual process that rendered them harmless, yet they still bore the potential for beneficence or violence as does any blade and, most significantly, as does any nkisi. Reactions by passersby remind one of people awaiting the response of an nkisi to perceived iniquity, and initial surprise and discomfort aroused by Tsimba’s installation as a site of spiritual (nkisi) powers led to a positive sense of presence. Spontaneous performances provoked by this work of art put into dialogue multiple particular memories generated by the horrors of machetes wielded in bloody conflict, and one young man, moved by the work, vowed that machetes should never again mutilate or kill, even as the house made from them should be respected and peace preserved.26 The work became an instant lieu de mémoire.27 As such and again, like other forms of minkisi, the installation served as “a repository of past ‘social effectiveness’ accumulated and contained, while as a spectacle, an exterior,” it projected “the future that these past relationships will produce.”28 That is, to reread the initiative of Tsimba and its local reception in light of performances of the past gives the historian access to a world in which idealizations set in the past encounter aspirations of and for the present.

Freddy Tsimba’s installation piece, like a Senegalese reverse-glass painting, an Afro-Portuguese ivory sculpture, or a highlife, sukus, or rumba tune, is no less authentically African than a Senufo kponungo firespitter mask or an Igbo Mbari shrine.29 Such works offer access to episodic memories reactualized during performances to bring wisdom derived from past events to bear upon present realities. The complexity of African worlds both on the continent and in its diasporas cannot be seized by any unified theory nor reduced to a hegemonic temporality, because “what is successful for some purposes might not be successful for others.”30 Following Johannes Fabian, one should instead speak to the coalescence of idealizations and temporal regimes across cultural and regional identities.31 The following brief case studies are offered to exemplify and clarify such assertions.

The Visual Hagiography of Papisto Boy

Contemporary Dakar is a compellingly cosmopolitan, remarkably visual city: seemingly everywhere, signs are painted, posters pasted, and graffiti inscribed, all bearing mundane or political purposes. Even in the most hectic of commercial milieux, however, distinctly different imagery conveys the serene blessings of Senegalese Sufi saints (awliya Allah, ‘friends of God’).32 The great majority of Senegalese are Muslims, and four Sufi orders are prominent.33 Of these, Mourides surpass the others in the frequency and expressiveness with which they portray their saints. This is especially true of imagery of Cheikh Amadu Bamba (c. 1853–1927), around whose life lessons and teaching the Mouride movement was founded.

Bamba aspired to the “greater jihad” (or struggle) against the imperfections of his soul (nafs), and as a pacifist who professed tolerance for people of all backgrounds, he famously stated that a pen would be the only weapon he would ever wield, despite his persecution by French colonial authorities.34 Nevertheless, French colonial administrators found Bamba to be “surreptitiously revolutionary” and they sent him into what would stretch to more than seven years of exile (1895–1902) in the colony of Gabon in French Equatorial Africa, followed by four years in Mauritania (1903–1907) and house arrest in Senegal until he died in 1927.

Through these harsh measures, French authorities hoped to diminish Bamba’s prestige and bring an end to what they found to be an intolerable state-within-a-state created by his ardent devotees. Yet in all naïveté the colonizers created a sacred martyr. A combination of suspicion and antagonism toward Muslim leaders, coupled with the secular influence of the colonial state, effectively transformed Islam into a grass-roots ideology of opposition to colonialism in Senegal and elsewhere in French West Africa.35

Significant to the present discussion, it was just prior to and during his exile in Gabon that Bamba performed his greatest miracles (karamat in Arabic), as recounted by Muusaa Ka and other poets in ‘Ajami—that is, Wolof written in Arabic script directed to Senegalese readers and, in all likelihood, undecipherable by French authorities.36 Such signal moments are often depicted by Mouride visual artists, and significantly, such pictures are meant to be touched, narrated, and discussed as well as seen.37 They also present hagiographies, “borrowing,” Cheikh Anta Babou tells us, “from the Sufi tradition of manaqib (hagiographical literature in which the glorious spiritual and material feats of a renowned Sufi master are told) and West African griot style of storytelling, Mouride hagiographers have constructed a comprehensive epic of their sheikh’s resistance to French oppression.”38 Mouride artists extend the idiom as visual hagiographies, inviting participation of those viewing them to live the saint’s life forward to their own times and circumstances.39

The work of the late Mamadou Pape Samb (1951–2014), better known by his graffitist’s tag “Papisto Boy,” exemplifies how contemporary popular artists bring histories to bear on present circumstances (Fig. 3). Papisto’s greatest artistic accomplishment was a two-hundred-meter-long mural covering exterior walls of a fish-processing plant in the portside industrial park of Bel-Air that celebrated global heroes of human rights. Through the 1990s and early 2000s, Papisto could be found near this work, adding to or refurbishing its poignant scenes and telling compelling stories of those depicted.40 Despite his limited formal education, he brought astonishing erudition to his murals. Through conversations with Senegalese university friends, Papisto learned of and portrayed individuals whose histories and life lessons he hoped would inspire the inhabitants of his Bel-Air community. His depictions ranged from Gandhi to Bob Marley, Gerhard Hansen (the 19th-century Norwegian physician who identified the cause of leprosy) to Martin Luther King, Che Guevara to Jimmy Carter, the Pope to Jimi Hendrix. The juxtapositions and vignettes of Papisto’s murals were to be read as “literature,” the artist explained, and he intended that his paintings would bring the urban poor, so readily “invisible” to so many, “faith to keep living and keep working, and courage and faith in their work.”41

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Figure 3. Papisto Boy.

Photo courtesy of Fowler Museum at UCLA. © Mary Nooter Roberts and Allen F. Roberts, Dakar, 1996.

No subject was more important to Papisto than Chiekh Amadou Bamba, the Sufi saint central to the Mouride Way that Papisto fervently followed. In the early 1990s, he created a larger-than-life wall painting that depicted the signal miracle of Bamba praying on the waters as he was being sent into exile by French colonial authorities in 1895. Papisto’s mural was situated at the threshold to a junkyard sprawling along a railroad right-of-way in the Dakar neighborhood of Colobane.42 When asked why he painted this image at this particular place, Papisto said that he had received inspiration in a dream, for “if one looks at this photograph, this wall painting, it will give courage to those who are trying to make a living, you see, because these people [in the Colobane junkyard] work very hard, they work very hard, and yet they earn very little. But just the same, when they have the painting there before them, if they look at that painting there, they will have faith to keep living and keep working, and they will have courage and faith in their work.”43

Far from taking credit for his art, however, Papisto held that Cheikh Amadu Bamba was responsible for any such achievements, for, as the artist put it, “when I paint the image of the Sainted Man, something helps me. When I paint, I think [about what to do], but sometimes it is as if someone has taken my hand and tells me, ‘Do this and this and this,’ and it is he [Bamba] who says this. When I do such work, he himself participates, he finishes the work, for in this way he is up to date, he knows what is being done for him now, and he gives me courage.”44 And so it is with the visual hagiographies of Senegalese Sufis: They are always lived forward, always inclusive, and they always provide mirrors between saints and supplicants. Indeed, they bring people hope that if Bamba could overcome such profound difficulties so miraculously, so might they eke out livings with dignity of purpose against all odds.

Congolese Ukumbusho: Arts as Aides Mémoires

For humanities scholars interested in how the past is recollected through visual and performance arts to contribute to histories useful to present needs, of primary interest are ways that such productions provide access to culturally specific regimes of historicity.45 It is important to underscore how relationships between spaces of experience and horizons of expectation differ according to genre, generation, social categories, and the like.46 Most sources for reconstructing the past are elicited to establish dates and facts about institutions and those holding political, religious, or other forms of power. In opposition, artistic productions, and especially those that participate in everyday life and are called “popular,” permit access to particular experiences of individuals and groups of people.47 The specific rapport with the past that artistic representations make possible permits a researcher to transcend hegemonic reconstructions of the past for which established authority is enunciated.

Unfortunately, artistic productions of women, junior persons in society, ordinary workers such as caravan porters in earlier times, and enslaved persons or those in other forms of bondage in days of yore, have rarely been recorded and conserved. Increasingly, scholarly attention is given to earlier expressive idioms such as dance and work songs, and to corporeal modifications such as scarification, hairdressing, and clothing fashions.48 Nonetheless, colonial conceptions that find in such artistry nothing but “tribal” identity impede their use as sources of historical information concerning persons and communities in particular circumstances. And even though, beginning in the 1960s, social science and humanities scholars recognized the historicity of African societies (as opposed to colonial notions of “peoples without History”), university-based research has largely retained notions of ethnic groups as homogenous and little affected by the passage of time.49 How, then, may artistic productions by members of such collectivities be considered as evidence of relationships to the specific times and circumstances in which such works have been created?

Congolese painters and their local audiences, who were/are mostly urban men, understand that politico-economic difficulties of the present can only be understood with reference to colonial times, as remembered more than half a century after the fact. Nevertheless, their ambition is to represent relationships to the past in their own ways independent from what History has taught them as formal knowledge learned in school.50

Such representations of the past, as opposed to hegemonic discourse of earlier times, legitimize conception of the present and future as socially controlled by men who claim colonial experiences as their own as they do social ruptures of independence in 1960.51 In the 1990s, when deindustrialization transformed Congolese society, such links to the past began to lose relevance. Despite being the principal providers of family survival, younger Congolese have dared to “break up time by negotiating the borders among present, past, and future.”52

In urban contexts among people of the post-independence generation, contemporary Congolese painters have drawn from idealized writings that present society as a united and universal political body.53 For example, several artists have painted portraits of Patrice Lumumba as Moses leading his people out of Egyptian slavery, or as Jesus Christ whose martyrdom brought about a universal community.54 Each painting makes present a singular event and the face of the hero, painted from a press image but following an artist’s individual style as well as community aesthetics to reinforce the singularity of particular histories. Furthermore, the repetition of these pictures, as found in innumerable Congolese homes in the 1970s and 1980s, authorized varying degrees of adhesion to semantic memory suggested by references to writing and press photography. Yet in the living room of an urban home, each person had particular stories to recount in the presence of such a painting. Such recitations assured the pertinence of personalizing idealized histories on given occasions as well as over the long term.55

In contrast to such works, in 2010 the contemporary artist Sammy Baloji (1978–) photographed the building near Lubumbashi where Lumumba was detained prior to his execution in January 1961.56 In a small clearing in otherwise wooded savanna and next to a square of recovered bricks as the last ruins of the building that had once been of such momentous significance, an elderly man stands facing the camera. Wearing a once-elegant double-breasted suit jacket far too large for his aging body, the man seems to struggle to recover the lost dignity of a fashionably dressed person. He holds a reddish-yellow bottle of a popular carbonated drink that is out of place in such a remote setting. Through his composition, Baloji suggests that all that remains of the modernity promised by Lumumba are rubble and meaningless commodities like the soda pop the old man clutches in his hand.

In southern cities of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, younger people of insignificant means are reconfiguring pictorial discourse around foundational experiences of modernity, but of their great-grandfathers rather than their fathers. The city once held great promise. Salaried labor, though cruelly difficult physically and psychologically, might lead to middle-class lives for many urban Congolese, as such a social designation could be understood locally in cities subject to a color bar. A degraded and degrading present is captured in Baloji’s photographic collages that still bear hope despite lost dreams and disappointment.

In his Mémoires series of 2006, Baloji superimposed historical photographs as phantoms of early colonial history on images of shuttered, bestilled, rusting ruins of the vast Gécamines (Union Minière) copper-mining complex that occupies the center of Lubumbashi. In one gripping work, an early 20th-century young man with a pained expression stands in a tattered striped shirt, an iron collar around his neck fixed to a chain suggesting he is suffering the rigors of incarceration; in the background are the partially flooded buildings of an utterly empty workyard in early 21st-century Lubumbashi (Fig. 4).57 As Baloji has explained, the jarring juxtaposition confirms the conviction of his generation that their fathers are to blame for not transmitting modernity to them, for not honoring the memory of those who, though brought to Katanga through labor conscription tantamount to enslavement, nonetheless succeeded in establishing themselves as wage-earning miners. They, despite colonizers’ heavy-handed politics, ruthless exploitation, and monopoly of capital, constructed a modernity that might have been left to present-day sons, but has not been. Baloji’s photo montages offer new presence to grandfathers in an effort to repair such rupture through a form of modernist ancestor worship.58

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Figure 4. Sammy Baloji, Sans titre 13, (60 cm x 159,47); series: Mémoire 2006.

Photo courtesy of the artist.

Furthermore, through works such as his poignant video production also entitled “Mémoire” (2006), as realized with the dancer/choreographer Faustin Linyekula, Baloji follows the model of Luba-Lunda epics to lend the statute of culture hero to persons of contemporary society, rather than depicting them as victims of colonialism.59 The work begins with pompous yet vacuous promises by postindependence politicians like Mobutu, matched by the still-exhilarating, still-recognized voice of Lumumba invoking “sublime struggle” for social justice and prosperity. Yet as Baloji shows next, actual work has been reduced to abject scavenging from the mountain-sized heap of Gécamines’ detritus. In a spontaneous performance, Linyekula, naked to the waist, performs anomie itself as framed by an enormous mining conduit, dented and rusted and through which nothing can flow any longer. The rousing words of Mulumba Lukoji, first president of the Sovereign National Conference of 1990, speak to viewers through subtitles: “We owe it to ourselves, as we owe it to our ancestors as well as to our children to be able to discuss at length, to talk about the past and the future of our country without indulgence but also without emotion and with no gratuitous violence, even if it is merely verbal.”60 Linyekula then walks forward with an arm raised in defiance, looks to the sky, folds, spins, and walks into the deep shadows of the ruins behind him leaving viewers with hope matched by despair. As Susan Stewart has written, “speech leaves no mark in space, like gesture, it exists in its immediate context and can reappear only in another’s voice, another’s body, even if that other is . . . transformed by history.”61 Baloji and Linyekula have turned to the language of the body, gesture, and speech in space to harness time and reveal its betrayals as well as its enduring promises.62

Baloji continues his work of repurposing colonial representations of Congolese people and the Congo more generally, vindicating them as ancestors of the present even as he affirms the dignity of men and women reduced to specimens lacking evolutionary progress or as “typical” of “race” or “tribe.”63 To give the present a past for Baloji, as well as artists preceding him, is to open a future for those excluded from mastering their own lives as they might wish, based upon the fleeting middle-class accomplishments of their parents’ generation.

Conclusions and Beginnings

To incorporate African senses of artistic production and practice in scholarly reconstruction of African pasts, distance must be sought from deeply embedded positivist concepts of Art, History, and Art History. From echoes of ancient times still in evidence in rupestral arts right up to the present as reflected in video, cinema, and popular street arts, arts in public places raise questions of identity, belonging, legitimacy, and dissidence, of continuity and rupture.64 As Sabine Marschall writes of South African street arts, “murals are a repository of memories, myths and legends, an expression of aspirations, perceptions of reality and visons for the future. In a contemporary heterogeneous urban context, the visual language of murals may complement or even replace the importance of oral tradition in conversation and transmission of knowledge.”65

Such thoughts may be as readily applied to urban paintings of the Democratic Republic of the Congo as to reverse-glass paintings in Senegal, to the photo montages of Sammy Baloji or to nightclub and recorded music across the continent. The list is endless, for new media and new techniques of expression are ceaselessly invented or borrowed or adapted to meet needs of advertising, fashions, or politics, all with regard to senses of the past as significant to the present and projected into the future. As mnemonic systems made tangible, artistic productions and practices give access to knowledge of pasts as understood locally. Display of such expression is a political act, often vividly debated and contested. As with any system of conservation and management of information, art as an artifactual system of memory should be approached taking systemic singularities into consideration while possessing local knowledge necessary for its interpretation.

Primary Sources

With very few exceptions such as the District Six Museum of Cape Town, we know of no public collections of earlier or recent sub-Saharan arts specifically assembled as historical sources in the ways discussed in this article. Because acquisition data are so rarely available to visitors, one must bring one’s own insights to bear on exhibited works, as informed by local exegeses and pertinent scholarship. Major museums anywhere in the world may possess African materials, and those also acquiring contemporary arts include Accra’s National Museum of Ghana, Berlin’s Weltkulturen Museum, Cape Town’s Zeitz Museum for Contemporary African Art, Los Angeles’ UCLA Fowler Museum, Osaka’s National Museum of Ethnology/Minpaku, Toronto’s Royal Ontario Museum, Tervuren’s Belgian Royal Museum for Central Africa, and Washington DC’s National Museum of African Art.

Further Reading

Abiodun, Rowland. Yoruba Art and Language: Seeking the African in African Art. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2014.Find this resource:

Barber, Karen. A History of African Popular Culture. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2018.Find this resource:

Ceuppens, Bambi, and Sammy Baloji. Congo Art Works: Popular Painting. Tielt, Belgium: Lannoo Publications, 2016.Find this resource:

Cooksey, Susan, Robin Poyner, and Hein Vanhee, eds. Kongo across the Waters. Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 2013.Find this resource:

De Boeck, Filip, and Sammy Baloji. Suturing the City. Living Together in Congo’s Urban Worlds. London: Autograph ABP, 2016.Find this resource:

Defrantz, Thomas, and Anita Gonzalez, eds. Black Performance Theory: An Anthology of Critical Readings. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2014.Find this resource:

Drewal, Henry J., ed. Sacred Waters: Arts for Mamy Wata and Other Divinities in Africa and the Diaspora. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2008.Find this resource:

Ebron, Paulla. Performing Africa. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2002.Find this resource:

Fabian, Johannes. Remembering the Present: Painting and Popular History in Zaïre. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1996.Find this resource:

Israel, Paolo. In Step with the Times: Mapiko Masquerades of Mozambique. Athens: Ohio University Press, 2014.Find this resource:

Jewsiewicki, Bogumil, ed. A Congo Chronicle: Patrice Lumumba in Urban Art. New York: Museum for African Art, 1999.Find this resource:

Jewsiewicki, Bogumil. “Leaving Ruins: Explorations of Present Pasts by Sammy Baloji, Freddy Tsimba, and Steve Bandoma.” African Arts 49, no. 1 (2016): 6–25.Find this resource:

MacGaffey, Wyatt, and Michael D. Harris. Astonishment and Power. Washington DC: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1993.Find this resource:

Marschall, Sabine. Community Mural Art in South Africa. Pretoria: University of South Africa Press, 2002.Find this resource:

Mojalpelo, Max. Beyond Memory: Recording the History, Moments and Memories of South African Music. Cape Town: African Minds, 2009.Find this resource:

Newell, Stephanie, and Onookome Okome, eds. Popular Culture in Africa: The Episteme of Everyday. New York: Routledge, 2018.Find this resource:

Roberts, Allen F., and Mary Nooter Roberts. A Saint in the City: Sufi Arts of Urban Senegal. Los Angeles: UCLA Fowler Museum of Cultural History, 2003.Find this resource:

Roberts, Mary Nooter, and Allen F. Roberts, eds. Memory: Luba Art and the Making of History. New York: Museum for African Art, 1996.Find this resource:

Strother, Z. S. Inventing Masks: Agency and History in the Art of Central Pende. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1998.Find this resource:

Vansina, Jan. Art History in Africa: An Introduction to Method. London: Longman, 1984.Find this resource:


(1.) Mary Nooter Roberts, “Luba Memory Theater,” in Memory: Luba Art and the Making of History, ed. M. N. Roberts and A. F. Roberts (New York: Museum for African Art, 1996), 134. As Mary Roberts completed the thought, “initiations, recitations and spectacles of Mbudye”—the Luba society of “men of memory” closely associated with political authority—“lie somewhere between history and performance, on the border between convention and creation” (147). Luba are a demographically and politically important ethnic group of southeastern Democratic Republic of the Congo, internationally celebrated for their mnemonic figural and performance arts. Authors Jewsiewicki and Roberts dedicate the present essay to the memory of Mary “Polly” Nooter Roberts (1959–2018), who contributed so much to so many interested in African arts and humanities.

(2.) It should be noted that both authors’ primary regional specialization is the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and that Roberts has also worked extensively in urban Senegal, hence the concentration of examples from these parts of the continent. By no means do we intend to generalize from these cases to speak of a culturally or historically undifferentiated sub-Saharan Africa.

(3.) Robert Brain, Art and Society in Africa (London: Longman, 1980), 274. For further early insights on the issue, see the essays in Warren d’Azavedo, ed., The Traditional Artist in African Societies (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1973); and for even earlier yet still apposite thoughts, Frans Boas’s classic Primitive Art, 3rd ed. (New York: Dover, 2010).

(5.) Although beyond the scope of this article, Jane Bennett’s sense of “the agency of assemblages” is apposite; see her Vibrant Matter: A Political Ecology of Things (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2010), 20–38. Also see Arnold Rubin, “Accumulation: Power and Display in African Sculpture,” in Arts of Africa, Oceania, and the Americas: Selected Readings, ed. C. Berlo and L. M. Wilson (Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1993), 4–21.

(6.) Important museum projects have brought renewed attention to Kongo arts in cultural and historical contexts; see Susan Cooksey et al., eds., Kongo across the Waters (Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 2013); and Alisa LaGamma, Kongo: Power and Majesty (New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2015). On Kongo ideas and practices concerning Nkisi Nkondi (sometimes written minkisi minkondi as a plural), see Wyatt MacGaffey, “The Eyes of Understanding: Kongo Minkisi,” in Astonishment and Power, ed. W. MacGaffey and Michael D. Harris (Washington DC: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1993), 18–103; and “Franchising Minkisi in Loango: Questions of Form and Function,” Res: Anthropology and Aesthetics 65/66 (2014–2015): 148–157. Particular histories associated with an Nkisi Nkondi now in the collections of Belgium’s Royal Museum for Central Africa are presented by Maarten Couttenier, “EO.0,0,7943” [museum acquisition number], BMGN—Low Countries Historical Review 133, no. 2 (2018): 79–90. On related Kongo arts through which memory has been inscribed, see Bárbaro Martínez-Ruiz, Kongo Graphic Writing and Other Narratives of the Sign (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 2013).

(7.) Alfred Gell, Art and Agency: An Anthropological Theory (New York: Oxford University Press, 1998), 62. Gell’s present tense can refer to the fact that although “nail fetishes” have only been produced for external art markets since the early 20th century, they have been replaced by other sculptural forms and performance practices still apposite in the early 21st century.

(8.) Jan Vansina, “Is Elegance Proof? Structuralism and African History,” History in Africa 10 (1983): 307–348. Ironically, despite his antipathy to the “elegance” of structuralism as practiced by the anthropologist Luc de Heusch, portions of Vansina’s Art History in Africa: An Introduction to Method (New York: Routledge, 1984) can be read as structuralist analyses rather than as exemplifying the positivist historiography that Vansina otherwise espoused. It is also striking that a dozen years later Vansina did not use the term “art” while stressing the importance of “objects as concrete ‘proofs’” as well as “symbolic assemblages” in his “Foreword” to Roberts and Roberts, Memory: Luba Art and the Making of History, 12. His position did not change until he published his monograph Being Colonized: The Kuba Experience in Rural Congo (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 2010), when he explicitly considered Kuba as a society contemporary to his own, or “coeval,” as Johannes Fabian would say in Time and the Other, 2nd ed. (New York: Columbia University Press, 2002).

(9.) Abiodun, Yoruba Art and Language.

(10.) Notable works on African and African Diaspora performance arts include Paulla Ebron’s Performing Africa (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2002) and Thomas Defrantz and Anita Gonzalez’s co-edited Black Performance Theory: An Anthology of Critical Readings (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2014). An emphasis on orality is sometimes driven by a spurious sense that African societies are “illiterate” and without written histories. Aside from fifteen hundred years or more of use of Ge’ez as a script and Christian liturgical language in greater Abyssinia (see Ayele Bekerie, Ethiopic, An African Writing System [Trenton, NJ: Red Sea Press, 1997]); and the millennium of sub-Saharan African writing and recording in Arabic, especially as ‘Ajami through which Arabic script is used to write non-Arabic languages (see Fallou Ngom, Muslims Beyond the Arab World: The Odyssey of ‘Ajami and the Muridiyya [of Senegal] [New York: Oxford University Press, 2016]); one must recognize longstanding, nonalphabetic systems of inscription throughout sub-Saharan Africa. See Christine Kreamer et al., Inscribing Meaning: Writing and Graphic Systems in African Art (Milan: 5 Continents, 2007).

(11.) Although beyond the scope of this article, important thinking about such matters is presented by Walter Mignolo, Local Histories/Global Designs: Coloniality, Subaltern Knowledges, and Border Thinking (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2012), and Boaventura de Sousa Santos, Epistemologies of the South: Justice against Epistemicide (New York: Routledge, 2014), among others.

(12.) For theoretical perspectives, see Richard Schechner, Performance Theory (New York: Routledge, 2003). As an application of such perspectives, see Mary N. Roberts, “Proofs and Promises: Setting Meaning Before the Eyes,” in Insight and Artistry: Crosscultural Study of Divination in West and Central Africa, ed. John Pemberton III (Washington DC: Smithsonian Institution Press, 2000), 63–82. Ways that a negotiated historiology called milandu by Tabwa, Luba, and related peoples of southeastern DRC informed events and production of arts in the fraught years of the late 19th century are a primary subject of Allen F. Roberts, A Dance of Assassins: Performing Early Colonial Hegemony in the Congo (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2013).

(13.) Works in ivory were among the first artifacts brought from sub-Saharan Africa to Europe in the 15th and 16th centuries as decorative sculptures sharing west and central African and European aesthetics. See Ezio Bassani and William Fagg, Africa and the Renaissance: Art in Ivory (1989, Munich: Prestel); also see E. Schildkraut and C. Keim, African Reflections: Art from Northeastern Zaïre (New York: American Museum of Natural History, 1990); and LaGamma, Kongo: Power and Majesty.

(14.) For an outstanding example of such dynamism, see Polly Richards, “Masques Dogons in a Changing World,” African Arts 38, no. 4 (2005): 46–53, 93.

(15.) On ways that histories are created through local visual epistemologies (in this case among people of coastal Republic of Bénin) despite what the same images may mean to those originating them (Hindus of India), see Dana Rush, “Eternal Potential: Chromolithographs in Vodunland, African Arts 32, no. 4 (1999): 60–75, 94–96. For discussion of how a photograph of a Samoan snake charmer performing in a 19th-century rural German circus becomes understood as the apotheosis of capitalism in many African communities, see Henry J. Drewal, “Interpretation, Invention, and Representation in the Worship of Mami Wata,” in Performance in Contemporary African Arts, ed. Ruth M. Stone (Bloomington: Indiana University Folklore Institute, 1988), and Bogumil Jewsiewicki, Mami Wata: La peinture urbaine au Congo (Paris: Gallimard, 2003). On how mechanical reproduction does not diminish local senses of the blessing powers of hand-crafted images, see A. F. Roberts and M. N. Roberts, A Saint in the City: Sufi Arts of Urban Senegal (Los Angeles: UCLA Fowler Museum of Cultural History, 2003).

(16.) Kwame Anthony Appiah, As If: Idealization and Ideas (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2017), 1289, Kindle.

(17.) Appiah, As If, 402. An example is how a French photograph of a Tunisian boy taken in 1904 for use as an Orientalist postcard is now understood by some to be a portrait of the Prophet Mohammed as a boy; see Allen F. Roberts and Mary Nooter Roberts, “Flickering Images, Floating Signifiers: Optical Innovation and Visual Pety in Senegal,” Material Religion 4, no. 1 (2008): 4–31.

(18.) “Episodic memories” are of personally experienced events or people encountered. Everyone has his or her own episodic memory of a given event or person; but how is such diversity to be included in historical analysis, rather than being lost in homogenized accounts? Lila Abu-Lughod’s sense of “ethnographies of the particular” is relevant; see her “Writing against Culture,” in Recapturing Anthropology, ed. R. Fox (Santa Fe, NM: School of American Research, 1991), 137–163.

(19.) Semantic memory includes elements of a community’s collective knowledge and epistemology. Relevant theory is reviewed and advanced in B. Jewseiwicki and V. Y. Mudimbe, “Africans’ Memories and Contemporary History in Africa,” History and Theory 32, no. 4 (1993); also see Roberts and Roberts, Memory: Luba Art and the Making of History.

(20.) Genealogies and other narrations are often contested in give-and-takes between presenters and their audiences; see Robert Cancel, Allegorical Speculation in an Oral Society: The Tabwa Narrative Tradition (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1989).

(21.) See MacGaffey, “Eyes of Understanding.”

(22.) Tsimba’s work is discussed with that of other contemporary Congolese artists in Bogumil Jewsiewicki, “Leaving Ruins: Explorations of Present Pasts by Sammy Baloji, Freddy Tsimba, and Steve Bandoma,” African Arts 49, no. 1 (2016): 6–25. Choreography is being used in somewhat similar ways to remember, heal, and move forward despite dire difficulties experienced in the DRC for decades; see Virginie Dupray, “Kisangani: A Chronicle of Return,” African Arts 46, no. 1 (2013): 14–21, concerning the arts activism of Faustin Linyenkula and the Studios Kabako he directs. On similarly inspired work, see Chérie Rivers Ndaliko, Necessary Noise: Music, Film, and Charitable Imperialism in the East of Congo (New York: Oxford University Press, 2016), concerning arts activism through the Yole!Africa Cultural Center of Goma, DRC.

(23.) See Allen F. Roberts, “Blades: Of Hard Work and Honor,” in Striking Iron: The Art of African Blacksmiths, ed. A. F. Roberts (Los Angeles: UCLA Fowler Museum, 2018).

(24.) See LaGamma, Kongo: Power and Majesty, 220–265.

(25.) Freddy Tsimba, Légendes et saisons de métal (Kinshasa: Eds. Le Cri, 2012), 45.

(26.) Jewsiewicki, “Leaving Ruins,” 17–18.

(27.) On the lieu-de-mémoire concept, see Pierre Nora, “Between Memory and History,” Representations 26 (1989): 7–25. For its application to African social histories, see Roberts and Roberts, Memory: Luba Art and the Making of History.

(28.) Gell, Art and Agency, 226, here writing of Malangan sculptures from New Ireland, Papua New Guinea, that are conceptually similar to Kongo Minkisi Minkondi, as Gell himself suggested.

(29.) See, respectively, Roberts and Roberts, Saint in the City; Bassani and Fagg, Africa and the Renaissance; Bob White, Rumba Rules: The Politics of Dance Music in Mobutu’s Zaïre (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2008); Susan Elizabeth Gagliardi, Senufo Unbound (Milan: 5 Continents, 2015); and Herbert M. Cole, Mbari: Art and Life among the Owerri Igbo (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1982).

(30.) Appiah, As If, 17.

(31.) Fabian, Time and the Other.

(32.) See Abdelmajid Hannoum, “Semiotics of Sufism, or How to Become a Saint,” in Practicing Sufism: Sufi Politics and Performance in Africa, ed. Abdelmajid Hannoum (New York: Routledge, 2016), 15–39.

(33.) Qadariyya and Tijaniyya, were both introduced to Senegal, while Muridiyya and Ilahiyyin are homegrown movements, more commonly known as Mourides and Layennes following French orthography. See Khadim Mbacké, Sufism and Religious Brotherhoods in Senegal (Princeton NJ: Markus Weiner Publishers, 2005).

(34.) See Cheikh Anta Babou, Fighting the Greater Jihad: Amadu Bamba and the Founding of the Muridiyya of Senegal, 1853–1913 (Columbus: Ohio University Press, 2007); also, “Sufi Eschatology and Hagiography as Responses to Colonial Repression,” in Hannoum, Practicing Sufism, 57–73, 62–63; and David Robinson, “Beyond Resistance and Collaboration: Amadu Bamba and the Murids of Senegal,” Journal of African Religion 21, no. 2 (1991): 149–171.

(35.) Charles Stewart, “Colonial Justice and the Spread of Islam in the Early Twentieth Century,” in Le temps des marabouts, ed. David Robinson and Jean-Louis Triaud (Paris: Karthala, 1997), 57; also see Christian Coulon, “Prophets of God or of History? Muslim Messianic Movements and Anti-Colonialism in Senegal,” in Theoretical Explorations in African Religion, ed. Wim van Binsbergen and Matthew Schoffeleers (Leiden: African Studies Center, 1985), 346–366.

(36.) Ngom, Muslims Beyond the Arab World.

(37.) “Haptic visuality” of the sort is discussed in Mary Nooter Roberts, “Tactility and Transcendence: Epistemologies of Touch in African Arts and Spirituality,” in Religion and Material Culture: The Matter of Belief, ed. David Morgan (New York: Routledge, 2010), 77–96.

(38.) Babou, “Sufi Eschatology,” 64.

(39.) Positivist historians often distrust or dismiss hagiographies as insufficiently “true,” when, as the present example suggests, hagiographies instead present what is true following locally determined historiologies and the epistemologies upon which they are based. These matters are discussed at length in Roberts, Dance of Assassins. For a theoretical discussion and Senegalese examples of visual hagiography, see Roberts and Roberts, Saint in the City, 36–38; and Allen F. Roberts, “Icons from the End of Days: Visual Hagiography Among Layennes of Senegal,” World Art 3, no. 2 (2013): 235–258. On the expressive processes so implied, see Allen F. Roberts and Mary Nooter Roberts, “The Visual Performative of Senegalese Sufism,” in Hannoum, Practicing Sufism, 175–208.

(40.) The remarkable qualities of Papisto’s work were recognized in the late 1970s and he was brought to West Germany to exhibit his paintings in 1980; see H. Fichte and L. Mau, Die Wanderbilder des Papisto Boy (Frankfurt: Qumram, 1980). He also participated in Dakar’s Set/Setal youth-empowering artistic revolution of the late 1980s; see Mamadou Diouf, “Fresques murales et écriture de l’histoire: Le Set/Setal à Dakar,” Politique africaine 45 (1992): 41–54. Papisto’s works figured prominently in the exhibition “A Saint in the City: Sufi Arts of Urban Senegal” that traveled to six US museums from 2003 through 2008; see Roberts and Roberts, Saint in the City, 122–149. His last major mural was commissioned in 2006 for the outer wall of the French Cultural Center of Dakar. Posthumous attention to his achievements include M. Bernstorff and D. Schwärzler, eds., Pape Mamadou Samb—Papisto Boy (Vienna: Friedl vom Gröller, 2008).

(41.) Such aspects of Papisto’s work are discussed in Allen F. Roberts and Mary Nooter Roberts, “Voir la ville invisible,” Politique africaine 100 (2006): 177–197.

(42.) The Colobane junkyard and how men working there are inspired by the teachings of Amadu Bamba is one of two case studies in Allen F. Roberts, “The Ironies of System D,” in Recycled Re-seen: Folk Art from the Global Scrap Heap, ed. Charlene Cerny and Suzanne Seriff (New York: Abrams, 1996), 82–101. The “D” in question is from the phrase débrouille-toi, “make do, figure it out,” as a watchword of informal economies throughout Francophone Africa. Related arts production in greater Colobane is presented by Joanna Grabski in her audio DVD/audiobook, Market Imaginary (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2013).

(43.) From a tape-recorded interview as translated into English from Papisto’s French, and as quoted in Roberts and Roberts, Saint in the City, 140–141. Papisto’s use of the word “photograph” to describe his wall painting refers to the indexical “truth” perceived in the only known picture of Bamba taken in 1913 by French authorities as a surveillance instrument. See Allen F. Roberts and Mary Nooter Roberts, “L’Aura d’Amadou Bamba: Photographie et fabulation dans le Sénégal urbain,” Anthropologie et Sociétés 20, no. 1 (1998): 15–40.

(44.) As quoted in Roberts and Roberts, Saint in the City, 140–141.

(45.) Ukumbusho is a word in Swahili as spoken in Lubumbashi that is roughly translated as “that which causes to remember,” and is developed in the work of Johannes Fabian, such as his Remembering the Present: Painting and Popular History in Zaïre (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1996). Any contemporary expressive practices of the sort must recall earlier and ongoing mnemonic arts; see Roberts and Roberts, Memory: Luba Art and the Making of History.

(46.) See Reinhart Koselleck, “‘Space of Experience’ and ‘Horizon of Expectation’: Two Historical Categories,” in R. Koselleck and Keith Tribe, Futures Past: On the Semantics of Historical Time (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1985), 255–275. Only recently have genre and generation become recognized as categories of analysis. See Pierre Nora, “La generation,” in Les Lieux de Mémoire III: Les Frances (Paris: Gallimard, 1992).

(48.) For example, see J. W. Scott, “Gender: A Useful Category of Historical Analysis,” The American Historical Review 91, no. 5 (1986): 1053–1075; Max Mojalpelo, Beyond Memory: Recording the History, Moments and Memories of South African Music (Cape Town: African Minds, 2009); Arnold Rubin, ed., Marks of Civilization: Artistic Transformation of the Human Body (Los Angeles: UCLA Fowler Museum of Cultural History, 1988); R. Sieber and F. Herreman, eds., Hair in African Art and Culture (Munich: Prestel, 2000); and Victoria Rovine, African Fashion, Global Styles: Histories, Innovations, and Ideas You Can Wear (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2015).

(49.) See Eric R. Wolf. Europe and the People without History, 2nd ed. (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2010). Important exceptions to static views of African ethnicity include Leroy Vail, ed., The Creation of Tribalism in South and Central Africa: Studies in the Political Economy of Ideology (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1988).

(50.) It is important to recognize how significant similar questions are among contemporary African scholars. An important 2019 conference to “problematize the possible and proper attitudes toward the past and the future of the African arts and Humanities,” has been convened in Ouagadougou by the Council for the Development of Social Science Research in Africa based in Dakar. The latter is one of the continent’s foremost think tanks.

(51.) As this occurred, women on urban margins whose gardening, cooking, and marketing permit urban dwellers to survive in such difficult times began “speaking out” through wall painting. The only publication about such matters presently available is Makwacha (Paris: Eds. ADD, 2014), the catalogue of an exhibition at the Maison des Métallos of Paris. Manon Denoun has written her PhD dissertation about contemporary women’s arts of the sort, as “Decorations, peintures et images de soi: le processus de représentation à l’ère du Village Global” (EHESS, Paris, France, 2017).

(52.) Paraphrasing the title of C. Lorenz and B. Bevernage, eds., Breaking Up Time: Negotiating the Borders between Present, Past and Future (Göttingen, Sweden: Vandenhoeck and Ruprecht, 2013).

(53.) On Congolese genre paintings, see Fabian, Remembering the Present, and “The History of Zaïre as Told and Painted by Tshibumba Kanda Matulu in Conversation with Johannes Fabian,” Archives of Popular Swahili 2, no. 1 (1998).

(54.) See Bogumil Jewsiewicki, ed., A Congo Chronicle: Patrice Lumumba in Urban Art (New York: Museum for African Art, 1999). On display of popular paintings in middle-class Congolese homes prior to the economic collapse and deindustrialization of the country suffered in the last years of Mobutu’s dictatorial rule, see Bogumil Jewsiewicki and Barbara Plankensteiner, AN/SICHTEN: Malerei aus dem Kongo 1990–2000 (Vienna: Springer, 2001). Also see Bambi Ceuppens and Sammy Baloji, Congo Art Works: Popular Painting (Tielt, Belgium: Lannoo, 2016); and Isidore Ndaywel è Nziem and Elisabeth Mudimbe-Boyi, eds., Images, mémoires et savoirs: Une histoire en partage avec Bogumil Koss Jewsiewicki (Paris: Karthala, 2009).

(55.) As an example, in the mid-1970s when tensions were rising about the inevitability of civil war in Zaïre, Allen Roberts visited the middle-class home of a man suspected by authorities of being a partisan of Katangan secession, and was shown a popular portrait of Moïse Tshombe hidden behind a door.

(56.) The photo is reproduced and discussed in Jewsiewicki, “Leaving Ruins,” 7, 9.

(57.) Jewsiewicki, “Leaving Ruins,” 9, 11.

(58.) Sammy Baloji’s work is discussed at length in Jewsiewicki, “Leaving Ruins,” 6–12; also see The Beautiful Time: Photography by Sammy Baloji (New York: Museum for African Art, 2010); “Se souvenir pour bâtir un monde meilleur: Photographies de Sammy Baloji,” in Lubumbashi 1910–2010: Mémoire d’une ville industrielle, ed. B. Jewsiewicki, D. Dibwe dia Mwembu, and R. Giordano (Paris: L’Harmattan, 2010); and “Photographie de l’absence: Sammy Baloji et les paysages industriels sinistrés de Lubumbashi,” L’Homme 198–199 (2011): 89–104.

(59.) Baloji’s film “Mémoire” is considered at length in K. Milbourne, M. N. Roberts, and A. F. Roberts, “Senses of Time: Video and Film-Based Arts of Africa,” African Arts 48, no. 4 (2015): 14–26. On Linyekula’s choreography, see Dupray, “Kisangani: A Chronicle of Return.” For divergent views of culture heroes of the Luba-Lunda Epic, see Luc de Heusch, Le roi ivre ou l’origine de l’État (Paris: Gallimard, 1972); V. Y. Mudimbe, Parables and Fables: Exegesis, Textuality, and Politics in Central Africa (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1991); and Jan Vansina, Kingdoms of the Savanna: A History of Central African States until European Occupation (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1967).

(60.) From a subtitle transcribed and translated in Baloji’s video.

(61.) Susan Stewart, On Longing (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1993), 31.

(62.) Milbourne et al., “Senses of Time,” 78–79.

(63.) On such matters, see V. Y. Mudimbe, The Invention of Africa: Gnosis, Philosophy, and the Order of Knowledge (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1988), and The Idea of Africa (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1994).

(64.) Sub-Saharan rupestral arts are widespread and have not received the scholarly attention they deserve, but see David Lewis-Williams, A Cosmos in Stone: Interpreting Religion and Society through Rock Art (Lanham, MD: AltaMira Press, 2002); and Nancy Ingram Nooter, “The Late Whites of Kondoa: An Interpretation of Tanzanan Rock Art,” Res: Anthropology and Aesthetics 12 (1986): 97–108.