The domestic sphere comprises spaces where we live and nurture, and where we often become our most authentic selves. Repositories for both utilitarian and aesthetic objects, domestic spaces define a social place that engages the inner world of family and the outer public world.
Artists have long represented domestic interiors, imaging them as spaces for reflection, family celebrations, aesthetic expression, memory, and more. African and African American artists have used domestic objects and environments to define powerful aspects of personal and cultural identity.
- How artworks are linked to individual and family life histories
- How objects reflect ideas about status, spirituality, aesthetic excellence, and the desire to beautify personal space
- How the cultural value and dignity of work are explored through art
- How objects reveal the hand of talented artists and reflect specific knowledge, skills, and aesthetic systems
Personal objects evolve over time, and they reveal life histories of ownership and use. Luguru stools with high backrests in the form of a stylized female torso were possibly related to female ancestors of chiefs and other notables, and reflected the prominence of matrilineal societies in parts of Tanzania. More recent research also documents the stools’ connections to initiation rites and their function as seats of power akin to altars on which smaller ritual objects are placed.
I have been drawn to the chair as an object and a symbol for more than forty years. In my work, chairs often represent the passage of time and the memory of place. They also symbolize ancestral references to power and authority. And, of course, they are very beautiful.—David C. Driskell
The desire to create an aesthetically pleasing home environment is explored in the poignant depictions of post-apartheid township life by the contemporary South African artist Zwelethu Mthethwa. This large-format color photograph presents a portrait of a woman, dressed in church attire, standing inside her modest dwelling. She has decorated her home with posters, magazine covers, and photographs, and has stacked housewares and recycled consumer products into patterns. In doing so, she has revealed a lively sense of interior design and asserted her dignity despite her humble circumstances.
Varnette Honeywood shows the capacity for humor that is built into every human being, and she is able to put into her art the life, the humor, the warmth, the cuddling, the holding, and the modernization of this life.—William H. Cosby Jr.
The contemporary Senegalese artist Moustapha Dimé fashioned his Serer woman out of ordinary utensils—mortars, a pestle, wooden bowls—that a Senegalese woman might use in daily food preparation. In so doing, the artist created a powerful, poetic statement about valuing the significant contributions women make to family and community.—Christine Mullen Kreamer
Pajaud’s travels to Mexico inspired Mujeres, a series of works focusing on the folkways of the Mexican people. The arms and shoulders of the monumental tortilla maker dominate the canvas in Mujer con Maiz, showing the strength and imposing beauty of the working woman.—Adrienne L. Childs
A rich sense of geometric patterning characteristic of African textile traditions provides visual interest in this photograph by the Malian artist Seydou Keita.
Cortor’s hyperrealistic interior takes an ordinary wall of mailboxes and transforms it into a haunting abstraction of patterns, textures, and shadows.—Adrienne L. Childs
While steeped in a long history, African textiles today—in both urban and rural settings—are contemporary, global, and dynamic. As powerful communicators of status, gender, and accomplishment in Africa, many textiles are connected to public presentations of self. African textiles are far from static, despite their manner of presentation in most museum contexts. Rather, textiles are performed, kinetic, and three-dimensional, worn on and manipulated by the body and thus moved through space in their contexts of use and display.
In addition to quilts made by Clara Elizabeth Jackson Carter, Camille Cosby’s maternal grandmother, the Cosbys own a number of quilts by the next-generation quilter Catherine Hanks, Mrs. Carter’s daughter and the mother of Camille Cosby. For generations the quilts were used by family members in their daily life and thus carry the traces of the family histories that they have witnessed.
Africa’s textile artists are masters of technique and design. Broad-loom, narrow-strip, and factory-printed textiles evince the hand of talented artisans who imbue their cloths with bold colors, complex motifs, and wonderful patterning—linear, geometric, naturalistic, and abstract—employing weft-float, embroidered, appliqué, resist, and print techniques. Among textiles’ many contexts of use, they serve as men’s and women’s wrappers; as commemorative cloths for funerary rites or to honor notable public figures; and as emblems of power, status, and accomplishment.
For the Cosbys, quilts are powerful and poignant objects that honor kinship and preserve family history. The Crossroads Quilters, a mostly African American quilt-making community in Port Gibson, Mississippi, whom Camille Cosby admires and patronizes, offered to make the Cosbys a quilt in memory of their son, Ennis Cosby. Created with pieces of Ennis’s clothing, the quilt features visual references to Ennis’s interests, studies, and travels.