The Influence of African Art on African American Art

Authored by: Tobias Wofford

The Routledge Companion to African American Art History

Print publication date:  December  2019
Online publication date:  November  2019

Print ISBN: 9781138486553
eBook ISBN: 9781351045193
Adobe ISBN:


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African art’s influence on African American art is often accepted a priori, as natural as the commonly used term African American itself. Yet even the phrase “African American” introduces a complicated duality through a tension between a rootedness in a place of origin (Africa) and a rootedness in a place of dispersal (America). It mirrors the duality of the “double consciousness” proposed by W. E. B Du Bois in his 1903 book The Souls of Black Folk, which argued that black subjectivity in the twentieth century is formed by a simultaneous interiority and exteriority to American culture. 1 Further, the expression “African American” highlights the ways in which Africa functions as an important term of difference through which the duality of black consciousness in the United States is expressed and the nature of American constructions of racial difference, or “the color-line” as Du Bois referred to it, are often made visible. This dynamic also exposes some of the nuances underlying the influences of African art on African American art. Indeed, early in the twentieth century, African American modernists began to consider the possibilities of African art in forming a distinctly black contribution to American art. Discourse on how and whether to incorporate African art into black modernist practice grew and changed over the twentieth century with expanding knowledge about African art traditions and with shifting domestic and international contexts that informed African American notions of racial, cultural, and political belonging. The intense debates surrounding such appropriations reveal the ways in which African Art’s influence on African American art should be read as one important contribution to the nuanced discourses of belonging that have characterized the color-line in the twentieth century.

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