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the 2020 James S. Coleman Memorial Lecture is being delivered by Zina Saro-Wiwa. Due to Covid-19, Saro-Wiwa has opted to deliver the lecture in film form. In this unique performance lecture film, artist Zina Saro-Wiwa navigates the moral, philosophical and cultural conundrums that arise from the very existence of contemporary traditional African art. A large part of Saro-Wiwa’s artistic practice explores the masquerade traditions of Ogoniland, her ancestral ethnic group from the Niger Delta. Yet Saro-Wiwa’s hybrid identity has forced her to consider how African masks live both in the West and in Africa and how these African art worlds impact one another and explores the ways in which the cultural capital-building powers of traditional African art objects are curtailed. In “Worrying the Mask: The Politics of Authenticity and Contemporaneity in the Worlds of African Art”, Saro-Wiwa challenges the call for the restitution of African art by privileging storytelling over geographical location. She exposes the desires and limitations of Ogoni storytelling to ask whether an object can represent a people at all. And she elucidates how contemporaneity informs the genre of “contemporary traditional African art,” suggesting that our attempts to understand and explain it may require a radical ontological shift.
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