In Cameroon, a monumental “statue of liberty” is made from scrap metal. In Congo, a thriving popular music incorporates piercing screams and carnal dances. When these and other instantiations of the aesthetics of Africa and its diasporas are taken into account, how are ideas of beauty reconfigured? Scholars and artists take up that question in this invigorating, lavishly illustrated collection, which includes more than one hundred color images. Exploring sculpture, music, fiction, food, photography, fashion, and urban design, the contributors engage with and depart from canonical aesthetic theories as they demonstrate that beauty cannot be understood apart from ugliness.
Highlighting how ideas of beauty are manifest and how they mutate, travel, and combine across time and distance, continental and diasporic writers examine the work of a Senegalese sculptor inspired by Leni Riefenstahl’s photographs of Nuba warriors; a rich Afro-Brazilian aesthetic incorporating aspects of African, Jamaican, and American cultures; and African Americans’ Africanization of the Santería movement in the United States. They consider the fraught, intricate spaces of the urban landscape in postcolonial South Africa; the intense pleasures of eating on Réunion; and the shockingly graphic images on painted plywood boards advertising “morality” plays along the streets of Ghana. And they analyze the increasingly ritualized wedding feasts in Cameroon as well as the limits of an explicitly “African” aesthetics. Two short stories by the Mozambican writer Mia Couto gesture toward what beauty might be in the context of political failure and postcolonial disillusionment. Together the essays suggest that beauty is in some sense future-oriented and that taking beauty in Africa and its diasporas seriously is a way of rekindling hope.
Contributors. Rita Barnard, Kamari Maxine Clarke, Mia Couto, Mark Gevisser, Simon Gikandi, Michelle Gilbert, Isabel Hofmeyr, William Kentridge, Dominique Malaquais, Achille Mbembe, Cheryl-Ann Michael, Celestin Monga, Sarah Nuttall, Patricia Pinho, Rodney Place, Els van der Plas, Pippa Stein, Françoise Vergès