Founded 2010

This Blog is a companion component of CAT113 ~ AFRICAN AMERICAN TRADITIONS,
Bloomfield College, Bloomfield, NJ


Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Review Monday's Lecture


African American crafts consisted of pottery, metalworks, wood working, textiles (quilting), and architecture... These were the prominent crafts Africans brought with them to America.

Fine arts consist of: sculpture, painting, graphics, printmaking, and dance. In other words these disciplines are most often developed skill sets acquired by scholarly pursuits. 

Crafts on the other hand are considered skills acquired by handwork on functional objects. Today however the line between what is fine art and what is craft has been blurred by the use of mixed media art creations, and the exceptance of craft objects into museums and galleries as hight art forms.

Early Fine Arts:
The end of slavery marked the beginning of many advances in the African American community including the advent of a middle class interested in acquiring material culture of their own. That demand was met by the art of many artists. Most prominent among them Edward Bannister, Henry O. Tanner, Edmonia Lewis, and Josuha Johnson to name a few.

The story of Joshua Johnson's work was obscure and almost lost in history because his paintings were primary of wealthy white patrons. Until recent twenty-first century scholarship he was thought to be white...

Painting by Joshua Johnson, early African American portrait artist

History of the Lukasa

The story of the lukasa is closely associated with the history of the Luba kingdom, which dominated most of northern Shaba during the eighteenth century and the first half of the nineteenth century. No candidate for political office could receive his title without first becoming a member of the Bambudye society, and the ruler of the Luba kingdom held the highest ranking Bambudye title. Reefe states that while it is not possible to date the origins of the lukasa, the high degree of integration of the lukasa into the structure of the Bambudye society and into the oral lore of the Luba kingdom strongly suggests that this art form is of considerable antiquity.

A Luba memory device

Central to Luba artistry, lukasa aids memory and the making of histories. Stools, staffs, figures, and complex choreographies complement the lukasa as Luba culture is remembered, produced, and transformed.

Lukasa memory boards are hourglass-shaped wooden tablets that are covered with multicolored beads, shells and bits of metal, or are incised or embossed with carved symbols.[1]The colors and configurations of beads or ideograms serve to stimulate the recollection of important people, places, things, relationships and events as court historians narrate the origins of Luba authority. A lukasa serves as an archive for the topographical and chronological mapping of political histories and other data sets.[2]

Lukasa are approximately the same size (20-25 centimeters long and about 13 centimeters wide) and have the same rectangular dish shape. A row of carved mounds called lukala runs across their concave surface, dividing it in half. Beads and shells are attached to the board by small slivers of wood or hand-made iron wedges driven through their centers, and cowrie shells are frequently attached at the top and bottom. Beads are arranged in three ways: a large bead surrounded by smaller beads, a line of beads, and one isolated bead. Each configuration lends itself to the transmission of certain kinds of information. Board surfaces also have holes and lines cut into them.

Court historians knows as bana balute ("men of memory") run their fingertips across the surface of a lukasa or point to its features while reciting genealogies, king lists, maps of protocol, migration stories, and the great Luba Epic, a preeminent oral narrative that records how the culture heroes, Mbidi Kiluwe and his son Kalala Ilunga, introduced royal political practices and etiquette.[2] For Luba, how an object looks dictates how well it works.[3]

Culture heroes are identifiable by beads whose colors have a fan of connotations triggering remembrance of their deeds and exploits, as well as their qualities and physical appearance. For example, Nkongolo Mwamba, the tyrannical anti-hero of the Luba charter, is always represented by a red bead, for he is the red-skinned rainbow-serpent associated with bloody violence. Blue beads (considered "black") stand for Mbidi Kiluwe, the protagonist and culture-bearer of kingship whose skin is shiningly black like that of a bull buffalo, symbol of ambivalent power and secret potential.[4] The paths of Luba migration and significant events and relationships are indicated by lines and clusters of beads. Chiefs and their counselors, sacred enclosures, and defined places are shown by circles of beads.[5]


  • 1865 Emancipation 
  • 1920's Harlem Renaissance
  • 1930's WPA Works Progress Program
  • 1960's Civil Rights Movement
  • 1970's Onward Contemporary Art
    • Mixed Media Art

Monday, December 1, 2014


It has been a good semester..... Really enjoyed seeing students interrupting the projects. Was especially elated that at least six students took me up on the offer to go to the Montclair Art Museum to see From Heart to Hand: African-American Quilts from the Montgomery Museum of Fine ArtsWe got to see all the hallmarks of African American Quilting 
1. vertical strips 2. bright colors 3. large designs 4. asymmetry 5. improvisation 6. multiple patterning 7. symbolic forms.... Below are a few of the quilts. See if you can see  some of these trademarks in the quilts shown:

The second part of the semester has been unfortunately condensed do to multiple days off. So I find myself have to condense into one lecture the entire section on fine arts...

"Defined as creative art, especially visual art, whose products are to be appreciated primarily or solely for their imaginative, aesthetic, or intellectual content." Unlike the first part of the semester which focused on CRAFTS: Items produced primarily for function.

The subject of fine arts is vast, taking in painting, sculpture, graphic arts, and even performing arts. However for the purpose of African American Traditions the survey has to do more with a period of time and how the arts helped to shape that time.

From April 15, 1865 the day Abraham Lincoln was shot, and the early years of emancipation when fine artists were finding their way; through the struggles of Jim Crow, to the Harlem Renaissance, up through the Works Progress (WPA) government program, that gave many African American artists, for the first time, a public platform for their voice; 

angela davis
to the birthing of the Civil Rights Movement, when the arts served as a political tool of necessity; and finally into contemporary times, when for the first time African American artists have finally come into their own... Able to create art for art sake without having to focus on JUST "Black Art" meaning art created solely with images of black people.

"Falling Star" Romare Bearden
Today, many African American artists still produce art solely with images of black people, however contemporary, mixed media art has given many artists the freedom to create from the soul without the weight of politic attached to their work -- if they so choose...

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

SIGNS & SYMBOLS: Part II ~ African Images in African American Quilts

Special thanks to our guest speaker: 
Glendora Simonson 
of the Nubian Heritage Quilter's Guild
Exerts from 
SIGNS & SYMBOLS: African Images in African American Quilts 
by Maude Southwell Wahlman

This week we are looking at a study of symbols that impact African American traditions. The  above publication is the result of years of research study and travel to rural communities in the South, by author Maude Southwell Wahlman, who begin to analysis the relationship between African symbols and its American counter part in African American quilts... 

Monday, October 6, 2014

LECTURE #3 :: SIGNS & SYMBOLS: Part I Adinkra West African Symbols

Our study of signs and symbols that have impacted African American traditions began with a survey of the stereotypical images in the DVD: "Ethnic Notions." How generations of African Americans were portrayed as the Mammy, Uncle, Coon, Pickaninny, or Sambo. Restrictive models and myths that characterized the African as fun loving, indifferent dancing darkies without dreams, born to serve the white populations of western society. Physically exaggerated caricatures who were either docile or savage depending on the political and social agenda of the time. Symbolism with such far reaching impact, that remnants of those stereotypes still remain to this present day...

Monday, September 22, 2014

LECTURE #2: Colonial America and the Gullah Culture....

Painting by Joshua Johnson, early African American portrait artist

Exerts from LECTURE and VIDEOS...
1700 -1820

When John Hawkins returned to England in 1562 with several hundred slaves captured in a buccaneering raid on the Spanish Main, Queen Elizabeth pronounced the deed 'detestable' and predicted that it would 'call down vengeance from heaven upon the undertakers of it.' But the when the profits which such ventures would bring were pointed out, she demurred in future opposition. Nonetheless, the English were of no significance in the Atlantic slave trade until almost a century later.

Slavery was crucial to the formation the of African-American identity, as well as the American identity.... Shaping the lives of white and black Americans, and providing the context in which the nation's economy, political and society context was developed... You have to understand, that in the midst of this economy driven depraved system of buy and selling human beings, American material culture was being born...

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

PROJECT #1 The African Mask - f14

Mask called "Obalufon", 14th-early 15th. century copper

PROJECT #1 Due: February 4 , 2013 (beginning of class).....
Here a bit of background information to inspire your creativity.

Iron Technology

The use of iron and development of its technology in Benin kingdom has had influences in the state-building process. Iron technology led to the development of weapons which changed the character of war. Generally, in West Africa, the states that rose to power in the period between 1400 and 1700 AD such as Benin, Nupe, Igalla, and Oyo in present day Nigeria, dominated others partly because of the advantages in the development of iron technology. The earliest known iron working in sub-Saharan Africa was discovered at the site of Taruga in present day Central Nigeria, where an advanced iron technology existed as early as the sixth century BC. Archaeological excavations unearthed a number of iron-smelting sites at Taruga, with radiocarbon dates from the fifth to the third centuries BC.

Saturday, August 23, 2014



This blog will be the place I post most of the information important to this course. Please take a few minutes to familiarize yourself with its content, and sign up to be a follower, so I know that you have been here. CLICK the link below to read the rest of the article that shows you how to join the Blog.


THESE READINGS ARE NOT FOUND IN YOUR COURSE TEXT. The Following articles are meant to provide a foundation for all that we will study this semester. PLEASE READ THESE TWO ASSIGNMENTS BEFORE BEGINNING READINGS AND IN CLASS WORK:
(click words below to link to article.)