Course Spotlight: Ancient Arts of Africa – The Nile and Niger Rivers

Art History 303 – Ancient Arts of Africa: The Nile and Niger Rivers

MWF: 11:00-11:50

L140 Conrad A. Elvehjem Building


The evolution of [artistic] style is like a large river, receiving water from neighbouring currents and giving off water to other currents, but nevertheless pushing a large mass of fluid downstream in time. Rivers can take on tributaries, lose tributaries, meander and fork…or they can flow smooth and straight in the same channel. There are no single ancestors and yet there are ancestors and there are continuing streams. We need a model of streaming traditions.

Responding to Jan Vansina’s classic Art History in Africa, this course explores the rivers of art and visual culture of various dynasties, ancient city-states, kingdoms, and empires that coalesced around the Nile and Niger Rivers, such as Egypt, Nubia, Nok, Igbo Ukwu, Ife, Owo, Benin and the Lower Niger Bronze complex. We will assess the visual, oral, and cultural evidence for sources, convergences, diffusions, and independent inventions as we attempt to reconstruct histories and comprehend the beauty, richness, and diversity of artistic traditions in these regions.

Lecturer Bio:

Adjunct lecturer Dr. Marguerite E. H. Lenius is an African art historian, a trained theater actor, and a recent graduate of UW with deep ties to UW’s African Studies Program. Her research focuses on body adornment, performance, and the role the senses play in creating figurative imagery in traditional healing contexts in Bantu-speaking communities in northeastern and coastal Tanzania. Her teaching interests include cross-cultural influences on the production of art in pre-colonial and colonial Africa, the history of representing Africa in American museums, and the effects of ancient artistic traditions on contemporary African artists. She is currently preparing her dissertation, “We are the Dancing People!”: Perceiving, Performing, Portraying the Body Through Dress in Shambaa Mivigha in Northeastern Tanzania,” for publication.