African Arts & Literatures Today: Art History - RCMC
18 May 2016

African Arts & Literatures Today: Art History

Lecture | 18 May 2016 | RCMC

African Arts & Literatures Today aims to address the underexamining of African cultural production by providing lectures, readings and discussions by academics and artists active in the field of African culture and literature.

In the Break - African and African Diaspora Art and the Problem of Art History Today | Dr. Barbaro Martinez-Ruiz (University of Cape Town)

For several decades, the history of African and African Diaspora art has received increasing attention from, and has been included in, traditional art history programmes, especially within the US academy. Despite growing interest, however, the study of African and African Diaspora art remains marginal in the field. This coincides with ongoing struggles of African and African Diaspora artists to find a place within major art institutions. In this presentation, Dr. Barbaro Martinez-Ruiz will address some of the causes underlying these issues, examining the limits of traditional art historical theory and practices in properly addressing African and African Diaspora Art. Tracing the history of the discipline’s relationship with African art, Martinez-Ruiz will argue that western art history has failed to fully replace assumptions regarding the primitive nature of ‘traditional art’. Further, that dichotomies in contemporary art theory between modernity versus modernization, culture versus nature, and high culture versus low culture continue to plague the discipline, and thus offers little place for addressing African and African Diasporic Art adequately. He will draw on his own work, which engages with a range of sites from Angola and the Congo to Cuba focusing specifically on his work on graphic writings systems in both Africa and the Diaspora. 


Barbaro Martinez-Ruiz earned his B.A. from Havana University in 1994 and his Ph.D. from Yale in 2004. He is an Art Historian with expertise in African and Caribbean artistic, visual, and religious practices. Dr. Martinez-Ruiz moved to the University of Cape Town in 2014. His books include Kongo Graphic Writing and Other Narratives of the Sign, Faisal Abdu’Allah: On the Art of Dislocation and Art and Emancipation in Jamaica: Isaac Mendes Belisario and his Worlds, which was awarded the Alfred H. Barr Prize by the College Art Association. Dr. Martinez-Ruiz also serves as editor for the Cuban Studies Magazine and for Harvard University’s Transition magazine and is a Pacific Standard Time LA/LA research fellow from 2014-2017 at The Getty Research Institute, Los Angeles California.


  • Studium Generale
  • Leiden University
  • University of Amsterdam
  • African Studies Centre


Mondriaan Fund