Panel discusses African art roles and perceptions

Daily Sundial

CSUN’s Art Department hosted a panel to discuss the role of African art in religion, and the portrayal and reception of African art Tuesday at the Art and Design Center.

Dr. Mutumbo Nkulu-Nsengha of the Religious Studies department began the discussion by talking about the importance of art through religious practices.

“When you are studying African religion, you encounter (African) art first,” said Nkulu-Nsengha. “Art is a source for learning about the African religion.”

Nkulu-Nsengha presented various photographs of symbols that represent God. Some symbols represent strong religious beliefs. One belief represented is the idea that all humans are children of God.

Another important symbol displayed was “Nsaka Sunsum,” a West African term meaning to connect deeply with the essence of one’s spirit.

Nkulu-Nsengha spoke about the centrality of art in African religion, using the example of widely accepted dances during mass ceremonies.

Sculptures are used to represent kings, heroes, and ancestors, he said. The sculptures usually have small mouths, big heads and eyes. Nkulu-Nsengha said this is to show that rulers should speak less, listen more, and watch carefully.

Peri Klemm, professor in the Art Department, discussed the responsibilities of museums in accurately portraying art. African art makes its way in and out of context.

“Europeans saw African art as raw, primal, and dynamic,” said Klemm.

She said sometimes “(art) pieces are (displayed) incomplete, and to try to get a sense of completeness in a museum is difficult.”

When people view African artifacts, sometimes they use these objects to put down African people, said Klemm.

CSUN student and moderator, Monica Duke, said that anthropologist’s theories could be dangerous, and closed by saying that “peace comes from cultural disarmament.”

The panel discussion was held in conjunction with “African Art In the Life Cycle” exhibition. The exhibit will run through April 9, in the main Art Galleries at CSUN.