Zoe S. Strother F'09, F'05

Zoe S. Strother
Riggio Professor of African Art
Art History and Archaeology
Columbia University

ACLS Collaborative Research Fellowships 2009
Art History and Archaeology
Columbia University
Art that Dies: Iconoclasm, Transformation, and Renewal in African Art
(with Elizabeth L. Cameron, University of California, Santa Cruz)

The short life for many African art objects is commonly misattributed to climatic conditions. In fact, “African art time” often presupposes an expectation on the part of makers and users that an object has a specific lifespan, ending in a form of death and rebirth. This project explores the “cultural biography” of works of art and the reasons why they may be intentionally destroyed, transformed and renewed. It shows how periodic episodes of destruction are frequently pivotal to the creation of new artistic forms. Despite widespread destruction, certain African societies have sought to create enduring objects, of which the Benin bronzes are the most famous. The goal is to analyze motives for creating both ephemeral and permanent works of art in diverse West and Central African societies. The collaborators bring complementary research experience in different parts of Africa to the project and by joining forces will be able to present cross-cultural and historical data in West and Central Africa. The research will culminate in the publication of a scholarly treatise (collaboratively argued in single-authored essays) and the mounting of an exhibition at The Museum for African Art in New York. Award period: July 1, 2009 – June 30, 2011

Frederick Burkhardt Residential Fellowships for Recently Tenured Scholars 2005
Associate Professor
Art History
University of California, Los Angeles
Iconoclasm in Africa
For residence at the Huntington Library

This project demonstrates that iconoclasm is fundamental to art history in Africa. It examines some of the varied and unexpected motivations for destruction and maintains that periodic episodes of destruction are often pivotal to the creation of new artistic forms, drawing primarily on case studies drawn from the Congo and former British colonies. It also queries whether or not iconoclasm may also take place by proxy when art objects are programmed to self-destruct through deliberate exposure to the elements. Finally, this project problematizes the contemporary museum obsession with granting immortality to all works of art by asking when and under what conditions the desire to create the perduring art object arises.