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Anne Lafont, 2022 Iris Foundation Awardee
Professor, École des hautes études en sciences sociales

Making Ornamental Africa: An Enlightenment Process

Could it be that in the geographical conception of art developed in Enlightenment Europe, the primary role and the function of the so-called “Black Continent” was one of ornament? Or, on the contrary, did the aesthetic conception elaborated by the European Enlightenment deprive Africa of artistic potentiality? These two opposing hypotheses coexist in eighteenth-century artworks and texts. Lafont’s talk will focus on some objects whose material, form, argument, use, and reception invite us not only to historicize the notion of African art, but also to identify the registers of categorization specific to this pivotal eighteenth-century moment, when both anthropology and aesthetics were invented. African objects, as well as European objects inspired by the African presence in Europe, rub up against the emergence of these two disciplines, which intersected around the importance of the senses and sight, in particular.

Tuesday, April 26, 6–7:30 pm
38 West 86th Street, Lecture Hall / Zoom

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Anne Lafont is an art historian and professor at the École des hautes études en sciences sociales. She is interested in the art, images, and material culture of France and its colonial empire in the modern era, as well as in historiographical questions related to the notion of African art. She has published on art and knowledge in an imperial context, on gender issues in the discourse on art in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, and her most recent book is entitled Art and Race: The African against the Eye of the Enlightenment. It was awarded the 2019 Fetkann Maryse Condé Literary Prize and the 2020 Vitale and Arnold Blokh Prize. Lafont participated, as a member of the scientific committee, in the Musée d’Orsay exhibition The Black Model (2019). In 2021, she was awarded a residential fellowship from the Cultural Services of the French Embassy in the United States, the Villa Albertine, and she serves, for the current academic year, as the Robert Sterling Clark Visiting Professor of Art History at Williams College (Massachusetts).

25th Annual Iris Foundation Awards
In 1997 Susan Weber created the Iris Foundation Awards to recognize scholars, patrons, and professionals who have made outstanding contributions to the fields of decorative arts, design history, and material culture. Anne Lafont will receive the Iris Award for Outstanding Mid-Career Scholar on April 27. Proceeds benefit the Bard Graduate Center Scholarship Fund. To find out more about the Iris Foundation Awards, visit us online or call 212.501.3071.

We have opened registration for a limited in-person audience. Bard Graduate Center requires proof of vaccination and photo identification to enter the building. Guests are required to wear masks regardless of vaccination status.

This talk will also be available on Zoom. 
A link will be circulated to registrants by 4 pm on the day of the event. This event will be live with automatic captions.