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This exhibit consists of selected raffia textiles from the collection of African art at the Miami University Art Museum. The primary goal regarding these objects is to contextualize and analyze across multiple platforms. The exhibit explores various interlocking themes that are essential in creating a broader understanding of raffia and its related political, social, and economical implications.

Contextualization and broadened perspective are some of the most important aspects of contemporary and historical artistic study. However, it it often overlooked in favor of fetishization, preconceptions, and bias.The Western bias is a particularly prominent issue that has embedded itself in our understanding of non-Western art. Oftentimes non-Western art is constructed as inferior in meaning and significance, or it is treated as a byproduct of Western influence. It is also commonly mythicized instead of understood from the perspective of cultural relativity and agency-based human contribution.

Non-Western art is also not often situated in a contemporary, relevant space. The fact that many of the cultures from which the art came are still alive and developing is forgotten or ignored. A troubling number of non-Western cultures are not given the consideration afforded to their Western counterparts, despite shared contemporary development. In the face of avant-garde and Modernist movements, non-Western art like the raffia explored in this exhibit is often viewed through the lens of lacking complexity and depth and being indicative of extinct practice. There are issues surrounding the “anonymous African artist” in which many pieces of African art have been obtained through unethical colonial seizures and are not connected back to a specific creator. This trend is common in museums and artistic establishments across the world, and is particularly problematic in relation to the hyper-sensitivity to authorship that surrounds Western art. The anonymity associated with African art also contributes to the mythicization of African cultures and assumptions that associated peoples are not still developing and innovating in today’s world.

This exhibit aims to mitigate the de-contextualization of non-Western art that has become such a problem in contemporary artistic spaces. This is done through a detailed investigation of the cultural and political surroundings of raffia textile, placing particular emphasis on its process of creation and its relevance to modern artistic study. This exhibit also attempts to assist viewers in developing a more comprehensive understanding of the impact of colonialism and the reasons behind the Western bias while fostering an appreciation of the complexity of raffia textiles as artistic objects and their associated cultural importance.

This exhibit was made possible by the Miami University Art Museum. All pieces shown in the gallery originate from their collection.


Initial exhibit created by Casey Bergman, intern Fall 2018