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Diane Manuel, News Service (650) 725-1945; e-mail:

Africanist Robert Farris Thompson to speak on Jan. 28

Robert Farris Thompson, the Colonel John Trumbull Professor of the History of Art at Yale University, will speak about African art at 5:30 p.m. Friday, Jan. 28, in Annenberg Auditorium of the Cummings Art Building.

Sponsored by the Department of Art and Art History and the Christensen Fund, Thompson is this year's Christensen Distinguished Lecturer in Art History. He will talk about "Treasures from Afro-Atlantis: Kongo Impact on New World Art."

As Jews look to Jerusalem and Roman Catholics to Rome, followers of the classical religion of Kongo look to the ancient capital of Mbanza Kongo, which was renowned for its law courts, acropolitan setting and richness of art. Thompson's lecture will link Kongo, visually, with the black Americas, including Haiti and Cuba, and the United States.

"He has a reputation for energy and passion, and for using film footage taken from fieldwork in his public talks," says Wanda Corn, chair of the Department of Art and Art History. "He's also known to break into dance and to sing and drum."

Thompson is the author of numerous books, including Black Gods and Kings, African Art in Motion, The Four Moments of the Sun: Kongo Art in Two Worlds, Flash of the Spirit, Rediscovering Masterpieces, Face of the Gods: Art and Altars of the Black Atlantic World and Mbuti Design, co-authored with George Meurant.

Thompson's articles on the influence of African art on American sports, dance and drama have been anthologized in more than 17 books. In 1995 he received the Leadership Award of the Arts Council of the United States African Studies Association for his contributions to scholarship in African and African-American arts.

The exhibition Thompson organized for the National Gallery of Art, "African Art in Motion," was a fascinating combination of objects and artifacts from African cultures, Corn says.

"He emphasized how masks were the topping for an entire costume and there were fantastic film clips of the costumes in motion," she adds. "He completely changed the education of the public about the use and context of African art, and showed us that art cannot be split from its maker, its use, its function and its perception."

For more information, call Stacie Gipson at (650) 723-3788.


By Diane Manuel

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