Past events

William Fagg and the Study of African Art
From Friday 24 April 2015 -  01:30pm
To Saturday 25 April 2015 - 05:30pm
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William Fagg and the Study of African Art

14.00 – 18.00, Friday 24 April 2015 (with registration from 13.30)
09.30 – 17.30, Saturday 25 April 2015 (with registration from 09.00)

Kenneth Clark Lecture Theatre, The Courtauld Institute of Art, Somerset House, Strand, London WC2R 0RN

Sculpture by Olowe of Ise, courtesy of the Royal Anthropological Institute.William Fagg was the great pioneer in Britain of the study of art in Africa. His interests ranged across all regions of the continent, and through all periods and forms. In his capacity as the leading authority on the subject at the British Museum, his appreciation of African art was informed by his friendships with artists such as Jacob Epstein, Henry Moore and Leon Underwood, as well as Roland Penrose, Director of the Institute of Contemporary Arts, at a formative period in its history.

Though famed for his interests in sculpture, and in defining the canon for future generations to ponder, he was also concerned to promote respect for the aesthetic energies of, for example, ceramic and textile technologies. He benefitted from the opportunity to study collections in Europe at a time prior to the widespread faking that developed in the 1950s, and he was able to build upon that study by means of first-hand field research in West and Central Africa (and especially Nigeria where his brother, Bernard, was head of the Nigerian Government Department of Antiquities) at a time when the traditions inherited from the past were still largely intact. He also promoted the study of the engagement between African artists and Europe in his work on the Afro-Portuguese ivories.

Fagg was thus a major figure in the art world of post-war Britain, and a leading player in the work of the Royal Anthropological Institute. He also led the removal of the ethnographic department of the British Museum to its thirty-year sojourn as the Museum of Mankind, where he pioneered new ways of exhibiting African art. Today, William Fagg’s insights still dominate the study of African art even when scholars of the present time sometimes find themselves fighting against those insights. The nature and substance of his leadership provides the subject of this conference.

Organised by Professors Christopher Green and Deborah Swallow with Cathy Corbett (Courtauld Institute of Art), Professor John Picton (SOAS and formerly of the British Museum) and Professor John Mack (UEA and formerly of the British Museum) in collaboration with the Royal Anthropological Institute.

This conference is generously supported by the Fagg Trust and RAI (Royal Anthropological Institute)

Ticket/entry details: £26 (£16 students, Courtauld staff/students, RAI fellows/members and concessions)

BOOK ONLINE:   Or send a cheque made payable to ‘The Courtauld Institute of Art’ to: Research Forum Events Co-ordinator, Research Forum, The Courtauld Institute of Art, Somerset House, Strand, London WC2R 0RN, stating ‘William Fagg’. For further information, email



FRIDAY, 24 April (DAY 1)

13.30 – 14.00     REGISTRATION
14.00 – 14.05    Welcome – Professor Deborah Swallow(The Courtauld Institute of Art)
14.05 – 15.00    Introduction by Professor John Mack (Professor of World Art Studies, UEA, Chairman of UEA’s Sainsbury Institute for Art) and Professor John Picton (SOAS)
15.00 – 16.30    SESSION I:
    Professor Philip Peek (Drew University): Benin City and Beyond:  William Fagg and the 'Lower Niger Bronze Industry'.
    Angela Rackham, (Independent Scholar): Revealing Sculptures: The Nok Terracottas in Time and Space.
16.30 – 17.00     TEA/COFFEE BREAK (provided – Seminar room 1)
17.00 – 18.00     Keynote address:
    Professor Rowland Abiodun (John C. Newton Professor of the History of Art and Black Studies, Amherst College): William Fagg: A Visionary in African Art Studies.
18.00    RECEPTION (Front Hall)

SATURDAY 25 April (DAY 2)

09.00 – 09.30     REGISTRATION
09.30 – 11.00    SESSION I:
    Dr Charles Gore (SOAS): Commemorating William Fagg: Commemoration, Memory-Making and Benin Art.
    Dr Barbara Plankensteiner (Deputy Director and Chief Curator at the Weltmuseum Wien):  African Art and William Fagg's Contemporaries in Austria.
11.00 – 11.30    TEA/COFFEE BREAK (provided – Seminar room 1)
11.30 – 13.00     SESSION II:
    Dr William Rea (University of Leeds): The sculptors of Ekiti: Creativity and Variation in Form.
    Professor Sidney Kasfir (Emory University, Atlanta): Awe, Resistance and Reassessment: William Fagg and the Benue.
13.00 – 14.00    LUNCH (provided for the speakers only – Seminar room 1)
14.00 – 16.00     SESSION III:
    Dr Margaret Garlake (Independent scholar): From ‘primitive’ to ‘tribal’: William Fagg and the Post-War Culture of Modernity.
    Lisa Maddigan Newby (UEA): ‘Not Always Talking the Same Language,' William Fagg and the ICA in Post-War London.
    Professor Elizabeth Harney (University of Toronto): Tribal and Post-Tribal: New Talk of a Canon in Modern and Contemporary African Arts.
16.00 – 16.30    TEA/COFFEE BREAK (provided – Seminar room 1)
16.30 – 17.30     Panel Discussion: The Display of African Art – the Museum Situation Today.
Speakers to be confirmed.