Essay for Smithsonian Folklife Festival: “It is Heritage”

Since September 2017, I have been a predoctoral fellow at the Smithsonian Institution. I have been writing my dissertation, which is based on my field research as well as some collections research that I am undertaking here (in the archives of the Smithsonian Folklife Festival, and collections of the National Museum of Natural History ethnology department and National Museum of African Art). In a nice coincidence for me, a small part of the 2018 Folklife Festival put on by my hosts, the Center for Folklife […]


Paper at ASA 2017: At Home in the Market

At the African Studies Association meeting in Chicago, I participated in a panel on “everyday trades.” I did that thing where I changed my paper title at the last minute, because as I was putting together my slides I was really struck by memories of how warm, sociable, and special the markets I visited were, and I wanted to draw that element out. So the talk became “At Home in the Market: Fashion, Identity, and Reputations in West African Networks of Cloth.”   In the […]

Paper / panel at European Conference on African Studies, Basel

My colleague Brittany Sheldon and I organized a panel for the 7th ECAS meeting in Basel, Switzerland, whose overall theme was encounters of urban and rural Africa. For our part, we were interested in the ways artists experience networks and travel. We noted that through their practice or through trade, many African art forms simultaneously cross (spatially) and maintain (conceptually) the boundaries between urban and rural. As artists, collectors, and objects travel, and as images, songs and videos fly from phone to phone, rural and urban […]

Fieldwork snapshot: search for la famille Wagué

  Much of my time in Senegal has felt lucky, perhaps blessed (even if only in retrospect). Here I want to revisit an episode from earlier in the trip, because it is emblematic in certain ways of the field experience as a whole. Based on information from a regular research contact in the market, I was looking for Binetou Wagué, a senior woman from an old family of cloth dyers, but with no more information than her name and her neighborhood. So, knowing that knowledge in […]

Preliminary Research Trip #2: Paris

Guests, some in a blue and orange wax print group uniform, at a wedding celebration in a Parisian suburb. This trip was hard—well, as hard as spending time in Paris, its glittering center and fascinating, diverse, labyrinthine suburban communities can be. I arrived in Paris with a not-very-long list of phone numbers, contacts’ contacts. It never feels good to have one’s messages unreturned, but the few relationships I was able to establish during the six weeks’ stay rewarded me much more than I could have […]

Preliminary research trip #1: Dakar

There is a radio host in Senegal who pronounces the name of their capital city in a low, vocal-frying tone, ndakaaaaar. Now this is always how I hear it in my head, and it brings to mind the sensations of that city, too: hot sun stinging the skin and a welcome, briny sea wind; the sounds of hard work, of haulers, cloth tappers, merchants; snarls of traffic and slowly strolling city-dwellers. I had very mixed feelings as I embarked on this trip in September. I […]

Paper at ASA 2014: Encoding Fashion in Post-Independence Bamako

I presented a paper in a panel themed around the notion of the “clandestine,” a fascinating frame. The paper grew from a project from a comp lit seminar with Akin Adesokan on African cosmopolitanisms in the 20th century. In the project I thought through ways that intellectual and political struggles around nation, modernity, and liberation can be worked on–and changed in unpredictable ways–at the site of the body, through techniques of consumption, performance, prohibition, and secrecy. My subject was both a fashionable practice and its […]

Lecture at Miami University: Thoughts on Looking

I was invited to give a talk at my alma mater, Miami University, by the fabulous people in the art museum. The talk aligned with a senior art history capstone project, a reflexive exhibition of African art that probed modes of African art display, collecting, and knowledge creation. Many thanks to the Art Museum and congratulations to the students and their prof, my former adviser dele jegede. In the talk I outlined some of the history of display of what we now usually call African […]

Lecture at the Art Institute of Chicago: “The Pursuit of Elegance”

I was invited to speak at the Art Institute of Chicago on September 6, presenting a longer version of the paper I gave in the spring as part of the graduate student seminar (an annual gathering of art history students from midwestern universities; I represented IU). It was a treat! The Art Institute people were lovely, with special thanks to Annie Morse in Education. The lecture presented parts of a project I began in 2012 (it became my MA thesis) about photography and sapeurs, “The Pursuit […]