The West versus the Rest of Us: Leo Frobenius and the Question of Classicism in African Arts and Performance

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Drawing examples from African “classical” sculpture, orature, dance, music, drum language, festival and ritual theatre as well as adaptations/performances of Greek Classics by African and Caribbean playwrights, I will address the question of “classicism” and “what really constitutes a “classic” in art and scholarship as defined by the Western Academy?”

Using, as comparative and counterhegemonic paradigm, the famous example of Leo Frobenius (1873-1938), an influential German archeologist who argued that Yoruba classical sculpture found in Ife, Nigeria, in the 1900s, was actually created by some Greek sailors shipwrecked in antiquity off the Bight of Benin, I will interrogate many of Paul Gilroy’s misleading assertions - and occasional ignorance - about African art, African diasporic identity, black cultural expressivity and the creolization process in The Black Atlantic.

I will also reveal how the Western Academy uses its Plato-to-Postmodernism theoretical construct/episteme to undermine African cultural intelligence and her contributions to world/global culture from the era of Egyptologist scholarship to the present discourse of multiculturalism/global studies. It will be very interesting to see how the Western Academy functions as the last defence of Western i.e. European Diasporic values, economic interests, intellectual hegemony and the politics of knowledge.

Finally, I will highlight how the Western Academy, in the bid to protect its intellectual entitlements and other manifest destinies, essentializes concepts such as ethnicity, tribalism, classics, classical, classicism, philosophy , theory, and the values attached to works of art/literature/orature/film/performance even as it accuses other cultures of “essentialism” in their attempt to recuperate positive representations and discourses of their histories, derogated identities, cultural intelligence , philosophies of art and theories of performance.


Keywords: Classicism, European Criticism, African Art, African Diaspora, Sculpture, Performativity, Plato to Post Modernism, Ethnicity, Ethnocentricity, Western Scholarship
Stream: Arts Theory and Criticism
Presentation Type: Paper Presentation in English
Paper: A paper has not yet been submitted.


Esiaba Irobi

Associate Professor, International Theatre/Film Studies, Ohio University
Athens, Ohio, USA

Esiaba Irobi was born in the Republic of Biafra. He earned his Ph.D. in Theatre Studies from the School of English, University of Leeds, UK. He has taught at New York University, Towson University, and now Ohio University, Athens. He is the author of the forthcoming: Before They Danced in Chains: Performance Theories of Africa and the African Diaspora. Recently, an External Research Fellow at the Leslie Centre for the Humanities, Dartmouth College, Hanover, New Hampshire; and Visiting Professor at the University of the West Indies, Barbados.

Ref: A09P0491