Belief and Beauty

September 29, 2004 (Wednesday) / 5:00 pm

200 College Hall, 3450 Woodland Walk

Belief and Beauty

The Art and Worship of an African Master

Robert Farris Thompson

Colonel John Trumbull Professor of the History of Art
Yale University

Acclaimed Yale art historian Robert Farris Thompson regales us with the fascinating saga of Abatan, master potter of the Yoruba of Nigeria. Hear how her worship of riverain deities translates directly into the spectacular art she makes and the dazzling dances in which her art is fit like a moving cathedral.

Considered one of the world's foremost authorities on African and Afro-Atlantic cultures, Robert Farris Thompson has been called a brilliant thinker, tireless researcher, spellbinding lecturer (known to break into dance and to sing and drum), and writer of almost velvet prose—a towering figure in the history of art whose voice for diversity and cultural openness has made him a public intellectual of great importance.

His colleagues in African art credit him with having transformed the fields of African and African diaspora art history. He has completely changed what the public understands about the use and context of African art, showing that art cannot be split from its maker, its use, its function, and its perception.

In his writings, Thompson has explored the material cultures of various African ethnic groups, both in their own right and in relation to cultural traditions of the African American, Afro-Carribean, and Afro-Cuban worlds. He is the author of such classics as The Face of the Gods: Art and Altars of Africa and the African Americas; Black Gods and Kings; African Art in Motion; The Four Moments of the Sun: Kongo Art in Two Worlds; and Flash of the Spirit: African and Afro-American Art and Philosophy. His articles on the influence of African art on American sports, dance, and drama have been anthologized in more than 17 books. In addition, he has designed and organized a number of major exhibitions of African and Afro-American art.

Prof. Thompson was honored in 2003 with the first College Art Association Award for Distinguished Lifetime Achievement for Art Writing. In 1995 he received the Leadership Award of the Arts Council of the United States African Studies Association for his contributions to scholarship in African and African-American Arts.