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Release: Oct. 7, 2002

UI Obermann symposium focuses on African fashion and body arts October 17-20

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The UI Obermann Center for Advanced Studies presents its 2002 Humanities Symposium, "The Cultured Body: African Fashion and Body Arts," Oct. 17-20 at the UI Museum of Art. The event, co-sponsored by International Programs and the Project for the Advanced Study of Art and Life in Africa, opens at 7 p. m. on Thursday, Oct. 17 with a keynote address by Joanne Eicher, regents professor of design, housing and apparel at the University of Minnesota, titled "The Body and Dress: The Cultured Body in Africa."

Eicher's presentation will look at body and dress in Africa as a complementary pair as many designers do. She will also review some body and dress fashions and arts from across the African continent, both traditional and contemporary. She will follow this by presenting in more detail, two peoples from her research who have contrasting approaches to body and dress: the Kalabari of Nigeria and the Somali of the Horn of Africa.

This event, which is free and open to the public, will offer the UI community and the general public the opportunity to experience cultures from around Africa through fashion and body arts including fashion design, jewelry, body painting and other forms of personal adornment.

In addition to funding from the major sponsors, support has also been provided by the UI Museum of Art, African Studies Program, Global Studies Program, and the Departments of French and Italian, anthropology, women's studies, and the Office of the Vice President for Research and External Affairs.

"The goal of this gathering is to bring together an unprecedented array of scholarship concerning all aspects of African body arts, including traditional as well as contemporary forms and representing much of sub-Saharan Africa," says Sarah Adams, assistant professor of art and art history at the UI.

All of the invited presenters have particular interest in the role of African body arts in processes of cultural change, both in contemporary and historical contexts. This emphasis on change, and the uses of body adornment as a tool for mediating or reacting to change, will lead presenters to address a host of contemporary issues, including the societal shifts that occur as a result of economic and political change, the growing presence of mass media, and tensions between ethnic groups, generations and genders.

In addition, the conference will include scholars whose work focuses on the influence of African clothing and body arts on Western arts and fashion.

"Here, too, we seek to explore the weighty social issues that underlie changes in styles and practices, including the colonial relationship of Europe and Africa, and the use of African forms as 'exotica'," explains Victoria Rovine, the director of the UI African Studies Program and curator of the Arts of Africa, Oceania and the Americas at the UI Museum of Art.

Highlights of the symposium include lectures and expositions in the following areas:
Re-examining the Traditional: Adornment and Communication; Inside/Outside Africa: The Travels of People and Adornments; Contemporary Studio Arts and the Body; Fashion and Invention: Weaving Identities; and Beads, Hair, Jewelry, and Identity.

"Obermann Humanities Symposia feature UI humanities scholars exchanging ideas with one another and with distinguished colleagues from other disciplines and other institutions," notes Jay Semel, Director of the Obermann Center. "Previous symposia have resulted in important publications on subjects as diverse as the concept of mind, the avant-garde, genes and self-knowledge, lyric poetry, and religious philosophy."

The Obermann Center for Advanced Studies is a place and program dedicated to intellectual interchange. The Center supports collaborative approaches in order to explore broad fields of knowledge and to investigate complex problems.

For more information about the symposium or a complete program schedule, visit or contact Victoria Rovine, 319-353-2468 or Sarah Adams, 319-335-1778.