African Artists in the Age of the Big Man
In these lectures, I present five artists whose work exemplifies the difficult relationship of art and power as Africa's decolonization gave way to the emergence of undemocratic polities ruled by charismatic and repressive strongmen, in the second half of the twentieth century. I argue that these artists developed new artistic forms through which they established themselves among the most articulate critical voices of their day. Moreover, by examining the relationship of art and strong-man politics, I reflect on power and critical culture, and I juxtapose art’s imaginative ambitions with its limits and possibilities as a platform for a critique of and resistance to regimes of domination in late 20th-century Africa. In the introductory lecture, I explore the concept of the “big man” as the pervasive figure of power in Africa decades after political independence. I also trace the diverse resonances and manifestations of the big man figure in the work of contemporary African artists and writers. Finally, I consider the shift among modern African artists during this same period from articulating positive national culture to analysis and critique of emergent forms of autocracy and illiberal governance".
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