Crossing boundaries : context and cultural transformation with reference to the Giriama Vigango of Kenya

Parsons, Catherine J (2004) Crossing boundaries : context and cultural transformation with reference to the Giriama Vigango of Kenya. PhD thesis, University of Gloucestershire.

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10618 C.J. Parsons (2004) Crossing boundaries Volume 1 PhD Thesis.pdf - Accepted Version
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Text (Final thesis Volume 2 of 2 Vols)
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This research project was founded on the cultural and environmental context of Kenya, with reference to the Giriama Vigango, commemorative grave posts of the Gohu secret society, and the transformation of this information into contemporary sculpture. This arose from studying African artifacts in UK museums, as other European artists bad done, resulting in an examination of the formal characteristics alone. This stage was supported by a literature search of both fine art and anthropological approaches to African art. Through these factors, the lack of contextual knowledge was manifest, and therefore fieldwork became a necessity, in order to consider the symbolic and functional aspects of the posts in their original context This approach has rarely been considered by artists in the West, illustrated by the views of Eduardo Paolozzi and Richard Serra, who suggested it was advantageous to the artist not to know about the context of an ethnographic artifact to make artwork. Subsequently, I undertook a six-week field trip to Kenya in 1999 to document and record the Vigango. This experience brought about a change of focus from the artifacts to questions of visual context. As a result, the African context, the use of materials and constructions plus conceptual aspects of ritualistic importance came to the fore. On return to the UK, I began the process of synthesising these observations into my art practice. The cross-cultural dynamics of the work that I was creating began to suggest further questions about context, cultural binaries and cultural interaction. In the studio, I constructed 'Shelter', a tunnel-shaped construction of human dimensions made of clay and sticks. This work located the local African vernacular architecture as a central focus for the artwork. In the transposition of my understanding of art practice from continent to continent, I started to move away from working with organic and natural materials and started to experiment with industrial materials. Upon analysis, it became clear that commonalities as well as juxtapositions were emerging, thus highlighting questions of interpretation and re-interpretation. I then explored issues of artistic transposition by relocating my own explorations to the African context for review. The key stage here was the reconstruction of the 'Panels' at the National Museum of Kenya, Nairobi, in the 'Crossing Boundaries' exhibition (2001). The responses to this work led up to the final series of three full-scale structures created as fragments of 'Walls'. The studio practice revealed the salient theme of concealed and revealed elements inherent in the semiotic values of the materials and forms. Encompassed in this was reversal with the binary oppositions of interior/ exterior, absence/ presence, solid/ void, horizontal/ vertical and positive / negative, however taking a Post-Structuralist stance. The photographs, initially an important part of the recording process and taken from the sculptural work, became significant as artwork in their own right displayed as large digital prints. These were subsequently exhibited at the Brunei Gallery, School of Oriental and African Studies, London (2003) under the title 'Concealed/revealed', in order to gather an informed response to the work from a Western audience.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Thesis Advisors:
Thesis AdvisorEmailURL
Uncontrolled Keywords: Giriama Vigango, grave posts; Spirit-objects; Gohu ancestral sculpture; Gohu secret society, Kenya; African artefacts in museums, UK; Sacred art, Kenya
Related URLs:
Subjects: N Fine Arts > NB Sculpture
Divisions: Schools and Research Institutes > School of Arts
Depositing User: Susan Turner
Date Deposited: 26 Jan 2022 14:56
Last Modified: 05 Jan 2023 16:51

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