Historically Black Colleges and Universities, Civil Rights and African Studies

Another strand of inquiry explores the contributions of scholars at historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) to the “Making [of] African Art.” HBCUs have been and continue to be fertile sites of knowledge production about African art and house significant African art collections, yet are rarely credited as such. Fisk, Hampton and Howard Universities (to name but a few) all had significant collections of African art by the 1940s.

Here we explore the work of scholars, curators and artists at HBCUs who were actively challenging colonial representations of Africa by recuperating, revising and reinterpreting African histories, cultures and art forms. Taking an approach that acknowledges divergences, parallels and intersections with the two other strands, we examine how this realm of scholarship was or was not aligned with the Civil Rights movement, Pan-Africanist ideology, and the experiences of returned African-American missionaries who, like returned Peace Corps volunteers, brought home ethnographically informed understanding of African art production and performance.

This strand constitutes a critical complement to the other strands insofar as it forefronts interest in and scholarly discourse about African art at HBCUs and in movements such as the Harlem Renaissance in the 1920s and the Black Arts Movement in the 1960s. The dismissal of African-American contributions to the emergence of African art scholarship mirrors the dismissal of African-American contributions to the broader field of African studies—a topic of heated current debate.

Gallery in the Danjuma African Art Center, Lincoln University.

African Art Gallery at Hampton University Museum.

American artist, John Biggers, in his studio, 1960s.