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African Art and the Slave Trade

Evening Lecture/Seminar

Monday, May 3, 2021 - 6:45 p.m. to 8:15 p.m. ET
Code: 1H0580
This program is part of our
Smithsonian Associates Streaming series.
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Materials for this program

Power Figure (Nkisi N’Kondi: Mangaaka), 19th cen., Congo (The Met)

Between 1400 and 1900, nearly 20 million Africans were captured and sold into slavery. They left the continent in the holds of ships or on the backs of camels, bound for destinations across Europe, Asia, and the Americas. The modern world was built on the backs of these individuals, and their arrival in the northern hemisphere contributed greatly to its growth and development. In contrast, the African continent’s own development suffered as a result of this forcible depopulation.

Art historian Kevin Tervala examines the Atlantic and Indian Ocean slave trades, with a focus on how African artists—and the societies that they were a part of—reacted to the sudden and brutal disruption and transformation and depopulation of the world’s second-largest continent. From the protective arts like Kongolese minkisi minkondi to the defensive architecture of Ganvie, a city built in Benin’s Lake Nokoué, Tervala highlights how the trauma of the slave trade forever altered Africa’s cultural history.

By focusing on African states and societies that were the victims of widespread enslavement as well as those that rose to prominence by choosing to sell slaves, he also highlights how the slave trade simultaneously brought great wealth—and with it, luxurious arts made in silver and gold—to the continent.

World Art History Certificate elective: Earn 1/2 credit*

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*Enrolled participants in the World Art History Certificate Program receive 1/2 elective credit. Not yet enrolled? Learn about the program, its benefits, and how to register here.