Africa: People, Culture, and Art
– Julie Nanavati, Librarian, Loyola Notre Dame Library
For the past three years at Loyola-Notre Dame Library I have been involved in teaching library research sessions for several African History courses such as Women & Social Change in Modern Africa, Apartheid and its Demise in South Africa, and Africa: Past and Present. Students in these classes select from a wide range of social and historical research topics in which they incorporate a blend of primary and secondary resource materials.
One of the most important concepts in the students’ research is the ability to recognize and understand that Africa is not just one country, one culture, but many countries made up of hundreds of unique peoples and societies. The images illustrating Africa: People, Culture, and Art include photographs from Ghana, Burkina Faso, Nigeria, Sudan, Kenya, Ethiopia, and South Africa and provide a window into the lives, culture, and art—from daily life to religious practices and celebrations—of a few of the varied peoples in these regions.
Among the examples I use, I have explored handcrafts and clothing choices, buildings, and rituals. One such ritual is funeral rites. Looking through the funerary images, a strong cultural contrast is visible in both clothing and formality: in Ghana, at a traditional Akan funeral (the funeral of the Omanhene of Techiman (Takyiman)), mourning clothing of red and black is worn by all; at a friend’s funeral in the Nuba Mountains in Sudan a man is shown with painted white body art and minimal clothing (Natu at the funeral of his friend Napi, East Africa); while a mix of western and more traditional clothing is worn by a group at a simple funeral for a child in a remote village in Ethiopia.
Through these images students also explore the lives of women in African communities, an area in which many of my students focus their research. In the group are photos of women working, with their families, and creating items for daily use, as well as images of body ornamentation. A selection of images by Christopher D. Roy looks at the cooperative process through which a group of co-wives from Burkina Faso work at the daily task of creating pottery. Other images offer a detailed view of body scarification from two vastly separated groups—one in the Sudan, and one in Nigeria—showing both the process and the intricate finished patterns being displayed by the women.
Perhaps the greatest benefit of the ARTstor image collection is its ability to transport students into new cultures in ways that years before would have been limited to a few photo journals or spreads in National Geographic. The more our students today can explore these societies, the greater understanding the next generation will have of the world.