The Art & Life in Africa website, hosted by the University of Iowa Museum of Art (UIMA), is a freely accessible educational resource that is the product of the collaborative efforts of more than fifty scholars, technicians, collectors and institutions around the world.
The website was first released to the public in the spring of 2014. In 2012, with support from the Digital Studio for the Public Humanities, the Innovations in Teaching with Technology Awards, the Stanley-UI Foundation Support Organization and PASALA, Prof. Christopher D. Roy, Elizabeth M. Stanley Faculty Fellow of African Art History at the University of Iowa (UI), and Dr. Catherine Hale, Curator of African and Non-Western art at the UIMA, joined forces to update the Art & Life in Africa CD-ROM (1997) and make it available to audiences free of charge. All of the original participants were invited to evaluate their previous contributions and make modifications or submit new content for this online edition.
Cory Gundlach, UI graduate student in African Art History and Curatorial Research Assistant at the UIMA, assisted with virtually all aspects of the project’s development. The website was designed by Student Life Marketing + Design, a UI student-staffed web development group. Alice Phillips, Curatorial Assistant for Academic Affairs at the UIMA, was responsible for copy-editing the site’s content. All of the Art & Life in Africa data, as well as any future additions, will be maintained and updated by the Museum, thereby ensuring it continues to be available for decades to come.
HISTORY OF THE ART & LIFE IN AFRICA PROJECT
In 1993 Christopher D. Roy and his collaborator, Linda McIntyre, were awarded funding from the US Department of Education Fund for the Improvement of Postsecondary Education to create a CD-ROM that would address the subject of art and life in Africa. The Art & Life in Africa project, as it was titled, received additional funding from the University of Iowa College of Liberal Arts and Sciences and Stanley-University of Iowa Foundation Support Organization. The National Endowment for the Humanities later provided funding to develop an early website focused on K-12 education, out of which the current online format grew.
McIntyre, who undertook all of the programming, and Roy, who served as the principal investigator, assembled a creative staff that included graduate students in African art history as well as University of Iowa colleagues, William Dewey and Allen F. Roberts. The team recruited more than thirty national and international scholars of African art history and anthropology to contribute to Art & Life in Africa.
The conceptual structure of the CD-ROM, which continues to inform its current online presentation, was based on Prof. Roy’s reading of Arnold van Gennep’s publications about passages of life in Africa. This format draws on the Kongo Cosmogram (a circle with a cross), with the sun rising in the East and traveling counterclockwise to its apex at noon or adulthood, and declining in the West at sunset or death, and then continuing through the underworld until it is reborn in the East as a new day. Inspired by the Cosmogram, Prof. Roy and his colleagues wrote individual chapters to create an overarching narrative, which included such topics as Key Moments In Life, Education/Initiation, and Sacred Spaces. These chapters are supplemented further by more focused topic essays written by scholars in their fields of expertise. Prof. Roy also wrote catalog entries for more than 500 objects from the Stanley Collection that are featured on the website.
The CD-ROM, completed in 1997, sold thousands of copies to public school systems, public libraries, and universities in North America and abroad. It received critical praise for contributing substantially to the understanding of Africa by students, scholars, and collectors of African art. Prof. Roy invested the profits from the sale of the CD-ROM into video equipment he used to produce videos about art and life in Africa, which include twenty-six full-length documentary videos filmed in Burkina Faso, Ghana, Nigeria, and Niger, many of which are featured on the new website.
FUTURE OF THE ART & LIFE IN AFRICA PROJECT
The first phase of developing the Art & Life in Africa website focused on updating the original CD-ROM content so that it is available to as wide an audience as possible. Moving forward, the Art & Life in Africa team plans to invite scholarly contributions that will address underrepresented areas such as modern and contemporary artistic practices and geographic locations like South Africa. These new essays and/or chapters will be added to the site on an ongoing basis.