Week 3: Explorers: Age of Encounter

There are many great explorers in history, but only the westerners seem to receive the most fame. When I say “explorer”, most people would think “Christopher Columbus!” in the first few seconds.

Another explorer, Vasco da Gama, is credited as the first person to successfully travel from Europe, around Africa, and to Southeast Asia. Some say that he is the one who opened up the maritime trade route between Europe and Asia, and this feat may even compare to present day’s man landing on the moon.

Yes, they are great explorers, but the thing is, these Eurocentric narratives do not shine enough light on the people who helped make it a success; those who passed on the knowledge on how to navigate the seas, those with nautical and astronomical understanding, which are crucial to da Gama’s journey. They are the Arabs or Muslim/Gujju navigators.


Week 2: Benin Bronzes

This week we learned about African art during the Portuguese encounter, and the ivories produced in Sierra Leone. We learned about how the cultures started to influence each others’ art, the artefacts from which we can recreate an account of the past, of what trade was like, when it started. This, I thought, was interesting because in the past I thought of art history as simply trying to find out about each culture’s history, not how they intertwined with each other.

Due to travel and trade, many artefacts that were once made, gifted or exchanged end up in different places in the future (which is present day). When archaeologists and historians find artefacts from the past, they would almost claim it as their own (“finders, keepers”) and store such valuables in museums that are not necessarily the home country’s. Such was the case of the Benin Bronzes. I feel that it is unfair and immature if they were to claim the bronzes as their own, and while it is important to share cultures around the world, it is not very nice for anyone to do that.

I don’t think that they should necessarily be housed in the home country’s museum, but at least there should be a compromise in terms of ownership(?), since both parties are involved with the artefact somehow. One is the origin, one is the re-discoverer, and both play a big part in the artefact’s history.

Week 1: (sigh) I don’t like art history

because it is boring, narrow, uncultured and masculine.

Though I have to say, that was in the past. People of today have more reason to view art history more favourably because we have grown to be more inclusive and explore global cultures.

Art historians started to acknowledge a world beyond the west, and with everyone being treated increasingly equally, different accounts of history are now less biased as there is a collective, consensual narrative painted by the analysis of people of varying genders and cultures.

I think when we personally find things about art history that we are interested in, be it names, dates, pictures or biographies, it would be easier and more enjoyable for us to engage in art history.