AIRN Seminar #13
Analysis of a late 19th-century carved ivory from the Loango Coast region (challenges and possibilities)

Jessica Stephenson (Kennesaw State University)

April 24, 2024 | Online | 6 PM (GMT)

Organization | African Ivory Research Network & Centre for History of the University of Lisbon

Zoom Meeting |

ID: 968 1675 0302 | Password: airn2023

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Abstract: This presentation considers challenges and possibilities in the study of carved ivory tusks from the Loango Coast region of the Congo, made from roughly 1840 to around 1910—the period marking the demise of the transatlantic slave trade and the onset of colonial rule. Through detailed visual analysis of a single tusk—its imagery, form, composition, and medium—and discussion of written sources and photographs made by its collector, a German plantation manager, an attempt is made to interpret ivory carvings of this type in the context of 19th-century Loango Coast trade and plantation culture.



Bio: Jessica Stephenson is Associate Professor of Art History and Museum Studies at Kennesaw State University, USA. She received a doctorate degree in art history from Emory University, USA, and BA and BA Honors degrees from the University of the Witwatersrand, South Africa. Her research centers on the emergence of novel art forms in contexts of rupture and change; art, heritage, and tourism; and histories of museum collecting and display. These issues inform her research with rural art collectives in Botswana, South Africa, and Namibia and in archives and museum collections within the United States and Europe. Her current research focuses on late-19th-century African-carved ivory tusks and colonial-era photography within the Congo region. Curatorial work has included Spirited Vessels: the Ritual and Practice of African Ceramics (2004) and Divine Intervention: African Art and Religion (2011) at the Michael C. Carlos Museum, Atlanta; South African History Under Apartheid: A Tribute to Nelson Mandela (2015) at the Turchin Center for the Arts, Boone, North Carolina; and Sleight of Hand (2016) at the Zuckerman Museum of Art. Publications include "Mirror Dance: Tourists, Artists, and First People Heritage in Botswana" which appears in the edited volume The Anthropology of Art/The Art of Anthropology (2013), "Landscape Claimed and Reclaimed in Botswana” in the edited volume Formations of Identity: Society, Politics, and Landscape (2016), and "The Museum Mannequin as "Body Without Organs," Bridget Cooks and Jennifer Wagelie (eds.) Mannequins in Museums: Power and Resistance on Display (2021). Her current research project is the book Looking Both Ways: Carved Ivory Sculptures and Colonial Photography in the Congo (1880–1910) for which she is conducting archival and collections research in museums across the United States and Europe.