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Appropriation and Its Discontents

This collaborative project--between Associate Professor of Art History Huey Copeland (Northwestern University) and MFA student Athi Mongezeleli Joja (University of the Witwatersrand)--focuses on comparative approaches to theories of cultural appropriation, with a particular emphasis on the global circulation of black bodies, discourses, and art forms from an Afro-pessimist perspective. Together, Copeland and Joja will develop interdisciplinary graduate and undergraduate courses that critically interrogate the ways in which blackness variously functions across and between the global North and South.​


Huey Copeland is Associate Professor of Art History and affiliated faculty in the Critical Theory Cluster, the Department of African American Studies, the Department of Art Theory & Practice, and the Gender and Sexuality Studies Program at Northwestern. Focusing on modern and contemporary art with an emphasis on articulations of blackness in the Western visual field, Copeland is the author of Bound to Appear: Art, Slavery, and the Site of Blackness in Multicultural America (2013), as well as numerous articles and chapters. He is currently at work on a new book, In the Shadow of the Negress: A Brief History of Modern Artistic Practice, which explores the constitutive role played by fictions of black womanhood in Western art from the late-eighteenth century to the present. Photo by Bonnie Robinson for The Graduate School, 2017.

Athi Mongezeleli Joja is an art critic based in Johannesburg, South Africa. A member of the art collective Gugulective, he is currently studying toward his MFA at the University of the Witswatersrand on the critical practice of late critic Colin Richards. His writing has appeared in publications such as Art ThrobThe Mail and Guardian, Contemporary And (C&), Chimurenga Chronic, and Africanah.

Project Syllabi

Copeland and Joja generated two versions of the "Appropriation...." syllabus; the first approaches the problem of appropriation in art and culture from a North American art historical perspective, and the second expands and critiques the first from a South African perspective.

A comparative, side-by-side visualization of the two versions of the syllabus is available via Juxta.

Supplemental Project Syllabi

In the context of this project, Copeland also developed and co-taught the cross-institutional course with Sam Aranke.

Related Articles

Background Reading

Aranke, Sampada. "Fred Hampton’s Murder and the Coming Revolution." Trans-Scripts: An Interdisciplinary Journal in the Humanities and Social Sciences 3 (2013): 116–139.

Asega, Salome, Homi K. Bhabha, Gregg Bordowitz, Joan Kee, Michelle Kuo, Ajay Kurian, and Jacolby Satterwhite. "Cultural Appropriation: A Roundtable," Artforum, Summer 2017, 266-277.

Clifford, James. "On Collecting Art and Culture." In The Predicament of Culture: Twentieth-Century Ethnography, Literature, and Art, 215-251. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1988.

Copeland, Huey. "Some Ways of Playing Antinova." In Multiple Occupancy: Eleanor Antin's "Selves", edited by Emily Liebert, 30–40. New York: Columbia University, The Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Gallery, 2013.

Copeland, Huey. "Flow and Arrest." Small Axe19, no. 3 (2015): 205–224.

Crimp, Douglas. "Pictures." October 8 (Spring 1979): 75–88.

Fanon, Frantz. "On National Culture." In The Wretched of the Earth, 145-180. New York: Grove Press, 2004.

Fusco, Coco. "The Other History of Intercultural Performance." TDR 38, no. 1 (Spring 1994): 143–167.

Joja, Athi Mongezeleli. "Critical Reflections on 'Exhibit B' and the South African Art World." Art South Africa13, no. 2 (2014): 86–87.

Kinney, Dale. "Introduction." In Reuse Value: Spolia and Appropriation in Art and Architecture from Constantine to Sherrie Levine, edited by Richard Brilliant and Dale Kinney, 1–11. New York: Ashgate Publishing, 2011.

Mudimbe, V. Y. "Reprendre: Enunciations and Strategies in Contemporary African Arts." In Reading the Contemporary: African Art from Theory to the Market, edited by Olu Oguibe and Okwui Enwezor, 30-47. London: Institute of International Visual Arts, 1999.

Philip, M. NourbeSe. "The Disappearing Debate: or, How the Discussion of Racism Has Been Taken Over by the Censorship Issue." In Blank: Essays and Interviews, 198-242. Toronto: Book Thug, 2017.

Thomas, Nicholas. "The European Appropriation of Indigenous things." In Entangled Objects: Exchange, Material Culture, and Colonialism in thePacific, 125–184. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1991.

Wilderson, Frank B., III. Incognegro: A Memoir of Exile and Apartheid. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2015.

Wilderson, Frank B., III. "The Narcissistic Slave." In Red, White & Black: Cinema and the Structure of U.S. Antagonisms, 54–91. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2010.

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