CONTACT: PETER ALEXANDER
100 Old Public Library
Iowa City IA 52242
(319) 384-0072; fax (319) 384-0024
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 <http://www.uiowa.edu/~africart>, 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 <http://edsitement.neh.gov>.
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 <firstname.lastname@example.org>, or visit their the world wide
web site: <http://www.uiowa.edu/~africart/>.
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.