ARTH 524
The Watchful Object Fall 2018
Division I
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What is implied by an object that “watches”? Is it sentient? Animate? Through what apparatus does it gain the power to perceive and in turn generate some type of action? Watchful objects–sometimes known problematically as ‘fetishes,’ ‘idols,’ and ‘totems’–have existed in numerous material cultures in Africa over time and have often been saddled with titles and labels that largely reflect colonial-era notions of primitivism linked with non-Western objects, spaces, and peoples. Even today, many of these objects are still inappropriately connected to systems of the occult rather than being recognized as crucial cogs in the socio-political, cultural, and spiritual mechanics of lived experience on the continent both past and in some cases present. The purpose of this seminar, thus, is to unpack the multiple identities that these objects have experienced as a way of understanding 1.) the circumstances and situations that catalyzed their production; and 2.) how their various material and metaphorical components function as power-producing elements that enable these forms to become ‘watchful’ presences in society that operate in accordance with their ‘observations’ of the human condition. This course will also address how the psychological agency of many of these material traditions has prompted their inclusion and absorption within contemporary artistic practices as well, often in the form of productions and performances that provoke unsettling and often transformative experiences in viewers.
The Class: Type: seminar
Limit: 16
Expected: 12
Class#: 1215
Grading: no pass/fail option, no fifth course option
Requirements/Evaluation: in-class presentations, class discussion, and a final research project
Extra Info: may not be taken on a pass/fail basis; not available for the fifth course option
Prerequisites: none
Enrollment Preferences: second-year graduate students, then first-year graduate students, then advanced undergraduate students
Distributions: Division I

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