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NOTE TO EDITORS: Copies of the CD "Art and Life in Africa: Recontextualizing African Art in the Cycle of Life" are available for review. If you would like a copy, please contact Arts Center Relations at the address, phone numbers or e-mail address listed above.

UI project has created a CD-ROM that presents African Art in the context of African life

IOWA CITY, Iowa -- A pioneering CD-ROM that presents African art in the context of the annual cycle of life in Africa has been created by the Art and Life in Africa Project at the University of Iowa. Incorporating the equivalent of 5,000 pages of text and 10,000 color images, the CD has been released for purchase by schools, teachers and individuals interested in African art.

Titled "Art and Life in Africa: Recontextualizing African Art in the Cycle of Life," the CD was developed by the directors of the UI Art and Life in Africa project: art and art history faculty member Christopher Roy and multimedia developer L. Lee McIntyre.

The CD aims to provide a complete learning experience of African art by presenting objects from 11 museum collections alongside photos taken in the field and text by 36 internationally recognized scholars of African art. Using the most current multi-media technology, the text and photos are supplemented by video and music clips. An ethnography is included for each of 106 peoples whose art is discussed in the text. Maps of 27 countries are accompanied by national statistics and a brief history of each country, both before and after independence.

A searchable bibliography features 1,400 entries that provide additional readings as well as basic sources for students doing research papers.

Roy commented, "We believe the 'Art and Life in Africa' CD-ROM program provides a rich experience for students learning about African art through an exploration of African culture in general, and for African-Americans who are exploring their own African cultural heritage."

Originally designed as a "visual textbook" for the UI course "Introduction to African Art," the CD-ROM will be a resource for students in African art courses, Africans and African-Americans who are interested in their cultural heritage, and any other members of the public who are interested in African art. There is also a companion web site to the CD, at <>, that provides a resource for African art. This web site, which had received more than 60,000 "hits" long before the release of the CD-ROM, was selected from among 66,000 sites nominated to be included on a list of best Internet sties for education in the humanities, posted at <>.

Roy notes that the study of African art history is a fairly new discipline that for many years endured a lack of suitable text books. "For years we have used the catalogue of the Stanley Collection at the UI Museum of Art," Roy said. "That has the disadvantage of being organized for a museum audience and not for classroom use."

The Stanley Collection of African Art is the heart of the University of Iowa Museum of Art's extensive African art holdings. The collection consists of more than 600 African objects representing ethnic groups from throughout sub-Saharan Africa. The late Max and Betty Stanley of Muscatine began collecting African sculpture in the early 1970s, entering the field at its inception. With Roy's guidance, they aimed to acquire the finest available objects of various types, creating a collection that would serve as a teaching tool as well as a monument to the aesthetic achievements of African artists. The collection was donated to the museum in two portions in 1986 and 1990.

Designed to fill the need for a suitable African art text book, the CD project got under way in 1995 with a three-year, $210,000 grant from the Fund for the Improvement of Post-Secondary Education (FIPSE). The grant, which was matched more than one-to-one by the University of Iowa with staff and equipment, allowed the incorporation of extensive material from African art scholars around the world. The aim was to include as much material as possible in order to reach the widest possible audience.

In 1997 a $220,000 grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities allowed the project team to further enhance the program by incorporating additional materials appropriate for high school students and to train teachers in grades K though 12 to use the program in their classrooms to meet multicultural curriculum requirements.

The images of art objects appear throughout the CD-ROM program sections, illustrating the text in "chapters." Within the chapters more than half of the objects can be seen from multiple perspectives. The CD's "Image Catalogue" provides detailed views of the objects, allowing them to be studied in close-up. The catalogue also provides basic data about each object's dimensions, materials, location and other pertinent information. In fact, the CD-ROM offers a better view of many objects than is possible in a museum, where the lighting is often subdued and diffused by Plexiglas cases.

Images of objects are supplemented by field photos by prominent scholars of African art history, anthropology and other disciplines that show the same or similar objects being used in Africa. Each scholar was asked to select 15 of their own slides and to write an essay that incorporated their images and described the use, meaning and function of the objects, placing them in context. In all, 36 such essays were chosen for inclusion, covering a wealth of topics from pottery making in Mali to women's initiation among the Mende in Sierra Leone and Yoruba masquerades in Nigeria.

One major aim of the CD was to help students understand that Africans make and use art at important events in their lives to solve problems, overcome adversity and meet the challenges of life in an African environment. As Roy explains, "The strategy is to make this material, which is otherwise abstract and difficult, familiar and approachable through the use of cross-cultural comparisons, emphasizing that Africans solve problems that are often very similar to those we face, through the use of art."

The CD uses a Kongo cosmogram, a symbol for the passage of the human soul from birth to death and rebirth, as the table of contents. Chapter titles are arranged around the edge of the cosmogram, which is intended as a visual metaphor of the integration of art into the cycle of life in Africa. Roy stresses that "the program emphasizes in the strongest terms the very positive contributions Africans have made to world culture, and we are very careful to emphasize materials and use language that communicates respect for the brilliant cultural creativity of African peoples."

Chapter titles include "Key moments in Life," "Art and Abundance," "Education and Initiation," "Death and the Ancestors," and "Ancient Africa," among others. Images and text from throughout sub-Saharan Africa are included to illustrate the various themes.

"We believe the 'Art and Life in Africa' CD-ROM is innovative because of the medium and content," Roy says. "CD-ROMs are becoming very popular as a means of providing students with data in and out of class. This format permits us to provide the students with large amounts of data, lots of images of objects, photos of art being used in Africa, maps, country studies and a whole bookshelf of text, plus video clips and musical excerpts. All of this material is integrated on the CD-ROM into a single package -- a first in the area of African art history study.

"But students don't need to absorb all of the material, because the medium allows the students to navigate through this mass of material, making active choices about the material they will use in research papers and other assignments."

During the course of its development, the CD-ROM was evaluated in several ways. UI Associate Dean Donald Yarbrough, working with students and staff of the Center for Evaluation and Assessment in the UI College of Education, carried out a rigorous evaluation of the effectiveness of the CD-ROM. For two years they conducted individual interviews with students in the "Introduction to African Art" class at the UI, both before and after they had used the CD. Questionnaires were distributed to students to gather data on ease of use, effectiveness, interactivity and other issues.

The team that produced the CD-ROM also conducted extensive beta testing with college and high school teachers in Iowa and nationally. In December 1997 they conducted a one-day workshop with 20 high school art and social studies teachers from Iowa who serve as the high school advisory board to the project. These teachers then directed some of their students to work with the CD-ROM and give feedback of their impressions. Based on their suggestions, several new features were incorporated into the final product, including the addition of a hypertext glossary.

The CD "Art and Life in Africa: Recontextualizing African Art in the Cycle of Life" is available from the Art and Life in Africa Project at 100 Oakdale Campus, Rm N151 OH, The University of Iowa, Iowa City, IA 52242-5000. The cost is $50 for the CD, $10 for the teacher's guide; a 20-percent discount is available for orders of 10 or more CDs, and the teacher's guide is available free electronically at the Art and Life in Africa web site. For further information, contact the Art and Life Project at the address above, by telephone at (319) 335-4098, by fax at (319) 335-1097, by e-mail at <>, or visit their the world wide web site: <>.

Images in the CD come from the Stanley Collection at the UI Museum of Art, as well as collections including the Metropolitan Museum of Art; the Indiana University Museum of Art; the Fowler Museum of Cultural History at UCLA; the National Museum in Lagos, Nigeria; the Seattle Art Museum and the Detroit Institute of Arts.

One of the world's leading specialists in African art, Roy was curator of African, Oceanic and New World Cultures at the UI Museum of Art for eight years and continues to serve the museum as adjunct curator. The many exhibitions he organized for the museum have been recognized as models of educational curatorship.

Since 1992 Roy has also served on the faculty of the UI School of Art and Art History. His publications include "Art of the Upper Volta Rivers"; many exhibition catalogues, including "Art and Life in Africa: Selections from the Stanley Collection," now in its second edition, which has served for many years in place of an African art textbook; and articles in major anthologies and scholarly journals devoted to art history and African art. He has delivered lectures at conferences and universities worldwide. Since 1984 he has been editor of the "Iowa Studies in African Art," an ongoing series of collections of papers presented at conferences on African art at the UI.

McIntyre has been working in multimedia development for seven years, including working as multimedia designer for the Hausa CD language project at Stanford University and as software editor of the Project of International Communications Studies at the UI. She has taught English as a second language in Tokyo and was a visiting assistant professor in the UI department of linguistics. She holds a bachelor's degree in classics from the John Hopkins University, and master's and doctoral degrees in linguistics from the University of North Carolina.