National Lecture Program

AIA Lecturer: Bárbaro Martínez-Ruiz

Affiliation: Indiana University

Bárbaro Martínez-Ruiz serves as the Tanner-Opperman Chair of African Art History in Honor of Roy Sieber for the Department of Art History at Indiana University as well as a distinguished professor at the University of Cape Town, and as a senior research associate in African Art and its Diaspora. He received his Ph.D and M.A. from Yale University and a B.A. from the University of Havana, and a B.F.A. from the San Alejandro Academy of Art. His research areas include:  African and African diaspora art, aesthetics and culture; graphic writing systems; rock painting; Latin American and Caribbean visual culture, art and aesthetics; theories of the avant-garde; contemporary theory. In 2007 Martínez-Ruiz was awarded the Times Literary Supplement Book of the Year award. His forthcoming book El Pasado Mío: Black Subjectivities in Cuban Art will be published by Harvard University Press. 


The lecture will focus on agency in Kongo society, exploring a complex state of social development in which legal, political, religious and visual systems motivate responses to and interpretations of Kongo cultural principles in the Atlantic world. Martinez-Ruiz will argue that the myriad forms of communication known as Ndinga i Sinsu seamlessly integrate into a wide range of audio and visual communicative techniques that he terms ‘graphic writing systems’. Such systems also include proverbs, mambos, syncopated rhythms, a large variety of written symbols, and oral traditions that are rich sources of cultural and social histories, religious beliefs, myths, and other expressions of the shared Bakongo worldview. The lecture will incorporate key examples gathered through fieldwork among the Kongo people in northern Angola, southern Democratic Republic of the Congo and within Kongo-based religious traditions in the Americas.

The lecture will touch upon some of the issues discussed by George Marcus as symptomatic of new approaches in anthropology. It will explore his suggestion that the off-stage green room is an apt metaphor for the increased dialogue across disciplines, particularly between anthropology and African art history, in that it symbolizes a XXI century experience of globalization that focuses on site-specific performance art and ethnographic encounters. The lecture will cover a global debate over Western representations of African and African diaspora art with special attention to issues such as the manner of in which aesthetic concepts, museum politics, art display, colonialism, identity practices and nationalism intersect across a global diaspora. It will explore questions of representation of contemporary African art and its proliferation in art collections of major institutions around the world and will query the dichotomy between viewing ‘African’ artistic practices in the diaspora as either influenced by cultures of the West (modern) or as non-Western cultures equated with primitivism (traditional).

support Us

The AIA is North America's largest and oldest nonprofit organization dedicated to archaeology. The Institute advances awareness, education, fieldwork, preservation, publication, and research of archaeological sites and cultural heritage throughout the world. Your contribution makes a difference.