Afrotropes as an Analytic Framework to Expand Art Historical Methodologies of the Black Atlantic?

Sarah Hegenbart, Technical University Munich
Levi Prombaum, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum

This session will explore how the ‘afrotrope’ elucidates an art history dedicated to the artistic expressions and exchanges between the African continent and its diaspora. The notion of the ‘afrotrope’ was introduced by Huey Copeland and Krista Thompson as an analytical framework to examine the circulation of motifs that feature centrally in African Diaspora aesthetics. While ‘afrotropes’ facilitate alternative theoretical models beyond the Western epistemologies structured by time and space, they are also inspired by concepts such as Mikhail Bakhtin’s ‘chronotope’ and its subsequent adoption in the work of Paul Gilroy, as well as Hortense Spillers’ concept of the ‘pornotrope’.

The theoretical discourses in this thematisation raise big questions about ‘African’ art history’s relationship to ‘Western’ art history, as well as questions about the specificity and universality of image cultures across Africa, Europe and the Americas. Since the movement of afrotropes involves an oscillation between latency and forceful recurrence in response to sociopolitical events conditioning black experiences, to what extent does an in-depth understanding of afrotropes and their distinctive materiality require challenging existing tendencies within theoretical discourses of Western art history? How  do ‘afrotrope’ function (or need to function) to account for traditional distinctions between fine art and the vernacular? How might the term account for the different social conditions that emerge in postcolonial and post-slavery contexts?


Conditions Reporting: ‘I AM A MAN’ and the writing of Afrotropic art histories
Huey Copeland (Northwestern University)

Reparations for Black People Should Include Rest: How do black female artists employ ‘rest’ as an aesthetic motif within their artistic practices?
Janine Francois (University of Bedfordshire / Tate)

Afrotopes in East European Art: Self-identification with Africa in the Polish culture of late socialism
Katarzyna Cytlak (Universidad de San Martín, Argentina)

‘Blackness as Blackface’: Repetition of tropes as political statement in Theaster Gates’ Black Chapel (2019)
Cole Collins (Independent Researcher)