Showing posts from April, 2011

Goldberg 2000 Bestiaire et Culture Populaire Musulmane et Juive au Maroc

Sometimes you find gems in the most unexpected places – and a book that should be required background reading for anybody attempting to study the religious chromolithographs that were produced and consumed during parts of the 20th century by Muslims in the Levant, North Africa and West Africa in the library of the Natural History Museum.

I am indebted for this find to a hint from Mirjam Shatanawi of the Tropenmuseum in Amsterdam I received via the H-Net list for Islamic Art. The book she recommended is Bestiaire et Culture Populaire Musulmane et Juive au Maroc by Andre Goldberg, a sort of dictionary of the significances of different animals in Moroccan popular culture. And, yes, at first it doesn’t sound like anything relevant to the study of religious chromolithographs. But bear with us.

The chromolithograph depicting Sheikh Ahmad Tijani al-Hasani shows him accompanied by a gazelle while a falcon (eagle?) is cruising the sky above him. A lion rests next to Ali in the print that shows him surrounded by his sons Hassan and Husayn as well as to the feet of Sheikh Abd al-Qadir al-Hasani. Animals populate the Ark of Nuh/Noah. And, iconographically related prints in other collections include a snake and, more curiously, a peacock into the depiction of the primordial couple, animals in the court of the Solomon, a lion in the image showing the imprisoned Moroccan Sheikh Rahal al-Boudali (top row, to the right of Ibrahim/Abraham’s sacrifice) and the lions, snakes and scorpions in the illustrations of the tomb of Sheikh Ahmad al-Rifa’i.

So, clearly, anybody interested in the iconography of these religious images needs to consider the significances of these animals in the popular cultures that produced and consumed them. And that is where Goldberg’s book comes in. That, and the fact that it illustrates and discusses a selection of religious chromolithographs collected in Morocco some of which were produced in Casablanca and others imported from Cairo.

I have only started reading the book – being written in French it takes me double the time that an English or German language volume would – and I am happy finding illustrations of a number of chromolithographs. Another useful piece in the puzzle. I am also captivated by the multiple significances that these animals connote(d) in popular Moroccan culture. Of course, while some of these meanings may have been shared across the region in which the religious chromolithographs were produced, others will have been interpreted differently in the various local contexts including in Nigeria. Nevertheless, as I already said, it is another piece in the puzzle – and a push in another, hopefully fruitful direction of inquiry.

P.S. Did I mention that Goldberg also illustrates vehicle arts in Morocco, thus (on a comparative level) contributing to another strand of research I’d like to explore further …

Vanishing Art: Art Works Incorporating Religious Prints

Not sure I understand what’s going on here but considering that I’ve spend the last few days re-immersing myself into my research into religious chromolithographs its fascinating: popular religious imagery re-emerging in … oh, well, that’s the bit I’m not sure I understand: “vanishing art.” And, its too late for me to try again, I’m too tired. All I wanted to do was share with you those rather curious images. Enjoy.

al-Buraq an-Nabi (The Buraq of the Prophet), 2010

Note sure I have seen many images closely resembling this one but then, the fact that al-Buraq seems to fly westward may be taken to suggest that this is another illustration originating from South Asia which is simply not my area of, err, ‘expertise’ (in so far my limited insight can be called ‘expertise’ at all). Anyway, it’s interesting: probably the only illustration of al-Buraq I have seen that depicts the animal with blond hair. Not sure this is of any further significance, though.

Founding the Fatimid Order Cairo, NY, August 20, 2010

If I’m not mistaken, the image in question depicts Zuljana or Dhuljanah or Dul Dul, the horse of Husayn ibn Ali. Once more I am handicapped by my lack of Arabic but I am sure I have seen similar images reproduced in poster format in collections of popular Muslim imagery including the volume by Centlivres & Centlivres-Demont and the Tropenmuseum in Amsterdam. The print in the collection of the Tropenmuseum was collected in India. According to the information provided by the museum (in Dutch), the background (the pyramids apart), actually depicts an idealised heavenly garden characterised by a stylistically Indian (Mughal?) building with minarets and a tomb (reference: Debris 2008: 510-12).

Now, why the title of the collage as well as the English-language caption at the bottom of the postcard suggest an Egyptian rather than Indian connection, I really don’t know. Maybe this particular postcard originated in Egypt, maybe its simply artistic freedom (the inclusion of the artist’s initials and surname in the caption would suggest the latter). Equally, I don’t quite understand (but, again, I haven’t quite managed to weave my head around the concept of “vanishing art” the artist, Peter Lamborn Wilson, refers to) why this motif would be considered (part of) a project called “vanishing art.” It seems to me that the production and consumption of similar images continues via Indian street traders and the internet. What really fascinates me about the particular piece used in this artwork, is that it appears to be a postcard. There is even what looks like a postal stamp in the upper left corner. – Seriously, somebody help me out: Is/Was this the only motif available in this format? If not, what other motifs are/were available? Where are/were they produced and predominantly consumed?

Bonhams, Islamic and Indian Arts Sale, 19 June 2011, Lot 58

I tend not to comment on politics here, especially Nigerian politics. I follow them but I don’t think I do understand them well enough for any opinion worth your time. And, anyway, I probably use the very same sources that you do, thus having little to add. (Although in private I do have opinions, however uninformed, and feel for anybody who was injured or lost relatives in any of the outbreaks of violence. Allah ya kiyaye Najeriya. Allah a kawo sulhu. If I remember my Hausa correctly.) So, instead of commenting on yesterday’s events, I’ll offer something I know a little bit more about: another comment on the religious posters I collected in Kano and the international trajectories of this tradition of visual piety.

A few weeks ago I mentioned here that I had stumbled across the illustration of an Egyptian print depicting al-Buraq in the catalogue of a British auction house. I got in contact with them and they were really kind and helpful. Yesterday I had a brief telephone conversation with the owner. Today, I went to Bonham’s in London and had a chance to have a quick look at the whole set of prints. I worry a bit about the impression I made but, in my defence, I hadn’t slept well and had a stiff walk there after waiting half an hour for a bus that is supposed to come every 4-6 minutes. With my social inadequacies and student wardrobe I don’t come across as particularly professional at the best of times but today I actually failed: I really should have asked to sit down and spend a bit more time with these prints and looking a bit more closely. I am sure that would have been alright and much more professional than sitting here now and realising the details I should have paid more attention to. Anyway. What’s done is done. And, it’s been helpful nevertheless, first of all for the opportunity to see in the original and actually feel some of these prints I had been reading about. So, what else did I find out (apart from a lesson in how not to conduct your research)?

The set I looked at consists of ten chromolithographs that, according to the owner Ali Ahmed, were produced in Cairo in the 1920s. This coincides with the period during which according to one of the scholars who studied these prints, Peter Schienerl, this tradition of chromolithography took roots in Cairo. They illustrate Nuh/Noah’s Ark, Ibrahim/Abraham about to sacrifice his son Ishmael/Isaac, the court of King Solomon, al-Buraq, the Imam Ali ibn Talib accompanied by his sons Hassan and Husayn, and Khaled bin al-Walid. The chromolithographs are of two different sizes, 416x567mm and 250x330mm. The set of larger prints includes Nuh/Noah’s Ark, Ibrahim/Abraham’s sacrifice, al-Buraq, Ali with his sons, and Khaled bin al-Walid. The smaller prints illustrate Nuh/Noah’s Ark (2x), Ibrahim/Abraham’s sacrifice and al-Buraq. The printer’s marks are only visible on some of the larger prints and, according to Bonham’s (yes, I need to get back to my Arabic lessons), they identify their producer as Matba’at al-funun al-Jamilah. This appears to be the company, Fine Art Printers, to which Schienerl refered to as the major producer of what religious chromolithographs in Cairo between the 1920s and the mid 1970s. The smaller prints lack printer’s marks. I am not sure whether they are of the same age as the larger prints. Schienerl suggested that the smaller prints represented another generation of religious chromolithographs that emerged in the 1970s. But, who am I to question the assessment of the owner.

Personally, I was particularly surprised by the quality of the larger prints. Unlike the prints I collected in Kano, they displayed a larger variety of colours and shading was executed more delicately. The smaller chromolithographs, however, were characterised by a reliance on block colours and hatching similar to the Nigerian prints. I think this is particularly apparent if one compares the larger sized chromolithograph depicting Abraham attempting to sacrifice Ishmael/Isaac with the smaller sized one in the set and the print I collected in Nigeria in 2008 (sorry, Bonham reserves the copyright for its images so I can’t juxtapose them here, instead pls. make use of the links).

Again, some of the chromolithographs in the set displayed a close resemblance to the respective motif in the set of prints I collected in Kano. These include the illustrations of Nuh/Noah’s Ark, Ali and his sons, al-Buraq and Abraham’s sacrifice of Ishmael/Isaac.

Interestingly enough, the larger of three prints in the set illustrating Nuh/Noah’s Ark presents the motif on a plane sheet of paper without any decorative borders but includes inscriptions including of the shahada on the ship’s pennant. In this it resembles an illustration of the same motif by Kriss & Kriss Heinrich and collected in Cairo in the 1950s as well as the print I collected in Kano in 2008. The two smaller sized chromolithographs are distinguished by a decorative border including (and here it comes again, I need to take Arabic lessons again) what I guess are the respective verses from the Qur’an. They also present a mirror version of the motif depicted in the larger print in the set. No other inscriptions have been incorporated into the image. In all but the absence of the inscription in the pennant, the Nigerian print appears to follow the larger of the three chromolithographs.

Another interesting aspect that was raised during the conversation with the prints’ current owner Ali Ahmed: He explained that this kind of images was more closely associated with Shi’ism rather than practices of Sunni Islam. Interestingly enough, Elisabeth Puin and Schienerl indeed argued that this tradition of religious imagery may be traced back to Iran. However, these images appear to have been produced and found audiences among Muslim populations in an area stretching from Morocco to the west to Syria in the east, from the costs of the Mediterranean to the north to the Sahel belt to the south. If I am not mistaken, the areas on the African continent are predominantly, if not exclusively, Sunni. So the appeal of these images cannot be limited to Shia Islam. Maybe, Khenchelaoui provided a clue here when he discussed similar chromolithographs within the context of pious practices associated with Sufi Islam in Algeria, in particular the reverence of the Sheikh Abd al-Qadir al-Jilani. Or, maybe, Ahmed’s assessment reflected contemporary interpretations of Islam’s teaching about the arts and the use of religious imagery that have changed since the period during which these chromolithographs were produced in Egypt. I don’t know (yet) but these certainly are interesting questions to explore. No?

All references here. (Oh, the ease of inserting just one link, I should have posted my bibliography on a separate but associated page much earlier!)

Nka Roundtable III: “Contemporary African Art and the Museum”

Chika Okeke convenes another virtual roundtable at the Nka blog.

Nka Roundtable III: “Contemporary African Art and the Museum”

Over the next several weeks curators and directors of major museums in the United States, Germany, Japan, South Africa and the UK will engage in spirited but substantial discussion on the relationship between contemporary African art and the museum. I expect excursions into the history of this relationship, its crucial moments, state of affairs, and challenges that remain. In the process, we shall debate issues of presenting this material in art and ethnology museums; the politics of acquisitions and display; museums and scholarship; and the place of contemporary African art–relative to the “traditional” and western contemporary. I suspect that there will be surprising turns in the course of our discussion, but I am certain that the deliberations of this diverse, unprecedented and distinguished panel of curators will surely be of immense value to students and scholars working or interested in this exciting, dynamic field. Please join us!

Convener: Chika Okeke-Agulu (Princeton University)

Participants: Marla Berns (Director, Fowler Museum of Cultural History, University of California, Los Angeles), Christa Clarke (Senior Curator, Newark Museum, Newark, NJ), Laurie Ann Farrell (Director of Exhibitions, Savannah College of Art & Design Gallery, Savannah, GA), Khwezi Gule (Chief Curator, Hector Pieterson Memorial, Johannesburg), Kinsey Katchka (independent scholar/curator), Yukiya Kawaguchi (Associate Professor/Curator, National Museum of Ethnology, Osaka), Clive Kellner (Curator-at-Large, The Gordon Schachat Collection, Johannesburg), Karen Milbourne (Curator, Smithsonian National Museum for African Art, Washington DC), Raison Naidoo (Director Arts Collections, Iziko: South African National Gallery, Cape Town), Enid Schildkrout (Chief Curator/Director of Exhibitions, Museum for African Art, New York) Chris Spring (Curator, British Museum, London), Ulf Vierke (Director, Iwalewa-Haus, University of Bayreuth, Bayreuth), Okwui Enwezor, Salah M. Hassan.

Surely, once again, worth following closely … Find it here.

CCA, Lagos: Art-iculate Lectures Series, Spring 2011

In my inbox this morning …

Art-iculate Lectures Series, Spring 2011

In 2008, Centre for Contemporary Art, Lagos began the Art-iculate Lecture Series to increase dialogue, encourage debate and stimulate exchange in visual art and culture in Nigeria. By prioritising the provision of an independent discursive platform through our public programmes, we actively encourage the development of critical perspectives as well as engage with topical issues that affect our society specifically as well as the world at large. To much acclaim, Art-iculate has featured lectures and presentations by Slyvester Ogbechie (U.C, Santa Barbara), Didier Schaub (Doual'Art, Cameroon), Solange Farkas (Videobrasil, Sao Paulo), Yacouba Konate (University of Abidjan), Monna Mokoena (MOMO Gallery, Johannesburg), Shahidul Alam (Drik Agency, Dhaka) and Chika Okeke-Agulu (Princeton University), amongst others.

Date: Wednesday, April 20, 2011, 4:00 p.m.

Venue: Terra Kulture, 1376 Tiamiyu Savage Street, Victoria Island


Kristina Van Dyke

Kristina Van Dyke is Curator for Collections and Research at the Menil Collection in Houston, Texas, where she co-manages the curatorial department and oversees the museum's archives, library, and exhibitions department. She received her M.A. from Williams College and her Ph.D. from Harvard University, writing her dissertation on the nature of representation in the oral cultures of Mali. Since arriving at the Menil in 2005, she has curated Insistent Objects: David Levinthal's Blackface, Chance Encounters: the Formation of the de Menils' African Collection, and Body in Fragments. In 2008, she reinstalled the African galleries and published African Art from the Menil Collection.

Kristina Van Dyke will provide an illustrated overview of The Menil Collection's history and discuss its unique curatorial philosophy. She is currently developing three research projects: a study of Malian antiquities and cultural heritage issues; an exhibition exploring skull imagery in sculpture from Nigeria, Cameroon, and Gabon; and an exhibition on the theme of love and Africa.


Yinka Shonibare, MBE

Internationally acclaimed Nigerian artist Yinka Shonibare MBE will discuss his artistic trajectory over the past two decades, presenting key themes from his vast and diverse artistic practice.

Yinka Shonibare, MBE was born in London and moved to Lagos, Nigeria at the age of three. He returned to London to study Fine Art first at Byam Shaw College of Art (now Central Saint Martins College of Art and Design) and later at Goldsmiths College, where he received his MFA-graduating as part of the ‘Young British Artists' generation. Shonibare has become well known for his exploration of colonial and post-colonial themes. His work explores these issues through the media of painting, sculpture, photography and, more recently, film and performance. With this wide range of media, Shonibare examines in particular the construction of identity and the tangled interrelationship between Africa and Europe. Having described himself as a ‘post-colonial' hybrid, Shonibare questions the meaning of cultural and national definitions. In 2004 Shonibare was shortlisted for the Turner Prize and in 2009 he won a commission for the Fourth Plinth in London's Trafalgar Square, for which he unveiled in 2010 a scale model of Nelson's ship HMS Victory in a bottle. He has exhibited at the Venice Biennial and internationally at leading museums worldwide.

This edition of Art-iculate is supported by Shonibare Studio, The Menil Collection and Terra Kulture.

Shonibare's visit is supported by The Menil Collection, Houston and is part of the preliminary research for work to be presented in the forthcoming exhibition Love and Africa (2012–13) taking place in Houston and Lagos in collaboration with CCA, Lagos.

For inquiries, please contact, or visit

Naija Langwej Poetry Contest

I don’t really understand much about poetry. I read (not as much as I used to) but not really poems. I enjoy rhythm and rhymes but in songs and recitations. So, I don’t really know much about what I am going to advertise right now. But, it sounds interesting. And, I have a soft spot for Pidgin.

Call for Submissions: Poems in Nigerian Pidgin

Arojah Concepts, an Abuja based edutainment outfit in collaboration with SOMETIN FO EVRIBODI has concluded plans to publish an Antoloji of Naija Puems (Poems in Nigerian Pidgin) and thereby wishes to invite interested Nigerians to send in their entries.

The anthology which will be released in the third quarter of the year is part of efforts by the organizers, in collaboration with the Naija Langwej Akademi and the Institute Francaise de Recherche en Afrique au Nigeria (IFRA Nigeria) to promote writings in Naija Langwej (aka Nigerian Pidgin) which is growing steadily across the country.

Send between 3 and 5 poems written in ‘Naija langwej’ (Pidgin English) to or


* Submissions need to be original and have not been published before

* Submissions should not exceed 2 pages using MS Word format (Garamond, 14 point)

No topics have been specified and contributors are free to explore any theme and subject of their choice including the Nigerian and other cultures.

Ten poems will be selected from all the entries received and the poets will receive various categories of prizes in appreciation of their creativity.

Submissions need to be received before Friday 29th of April 2011.

Submissions to or For further enquiries pls. contact 0803 453 0786 or 08080900813

Ulli Beier

This weekend Ulli Beier died.

Reading through obituaries this morning and flicking through biographies I feel the loss not only of a pioneer of the art histories of non-Western cultures but a whole generation of intellectuals. Still, I wonder whether there still are those who like Ulli Beier who came to Nigeria in 1950 and deeply involved himself in the country’s then burgeoning creative scene, whether in this I could follow his example or whether I even should. He was instrumental in the foundation of the Mbari Artists and Writers Club in Ibadan and later the Mbari Mbayo in Osogbo as well as the magazine Black Orpheus. The Osogbo art workshops of 1964 (did I get that date right?) produced artists and artistic traditions that, again through his tireless promotion organising exhibitions, gained international reputation. And, as a German I have to mention his role in the foundation of the Iwalewa House at the University of Bayreuth that remains an important space for the promotion of non-Western arts in Germany (and for a moment almost tempted me to Bayreuth for my PhD). Maybe I am just idealising a past that, with hindsight, appears ripe with opportunities and creativity and overlooking its challenges and problems, especially when viewed through the current anxieties of my upcoming viva and applying for post-doctoral positions. Maybe. And, surely there are those I today admire for their work in Nigeria and across the continent. But, judging by the obituaries in Nigerian publications this was a man who – like is former wife Susanne Wenger who died two years ago - is still remembered for this contribution to contemporary Nigerian arts in the 1950s and 1960s and, judging by the obituaries (already here, here and here), is fondly remembered for his contribution beyond the small professional and academic world of contemporary Nigerian arts.

Respect. And, RIP.

P.S. Chika Okeke has published a lovely poem on his blog.