Beauty and the Beast: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly in the Arts of Sub-Saharan Africa
"Beauty and the Beast: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly in the Arts of Sub-Saharan Africa"
Dr. Petridis is chair of the Department of the Arts of Africa and the Americas and curator of African Art at the Art Institute of Chicago. He has a PhD in Art History, an MA (summa cum laude) and BA in Art History and Archaeology (magna cum laude) from Ghent University. His research interests include a special interest in the art of sub-Saharan Africa, with an emphasis on the Congo Basin, visual anthropology, exhibiting cultures, and museum ethics. He has done field research in Togo, Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana, Mali, Burkina Faso, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
In her contribution to the now classic book African Art as Philosophy (1974), inspired by her colleague Herbert Cole's fieldwork on Igbo masquerades, Suzanne Blier considered the concept of "Beauty and the Beast" as one of the key themes in the arts of sub-Saharan Africa. An exploration of this binary set and its various corollaries serves as the starting-point for an international traveling exhibition on African aesthetics that the Art Institute of Chicago is organizing for the spring of 2021. Among the ideas this talk and the planned exhibition seek to address is the belief in the fusion of physical beauty and moral integrity as it is expressed in many African languages through a single term that combines our notions of aesthetics and ethics. The Bamana in Mali call it nyuman, the Baule in Ivory Coast say kpa, the Lega in Congo-Kinshasa speak of busoga, and the Chokwe in Angola name it cibema. The moral basis of what is considered beautiful is also at the core of how masks, figures, and many other forms of art are evaluated and appreciated within the cultures where they have been created and used.