The art critic as mediator of contemporary African art in Britain

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


This dissertation investigates the British art critic as mediator of contemporary African art, with an emphasis on newspaper art reviews. Its purpose is to reveal the underlying discourses of power and ideology that can be discovered from a close analysis of reviews of contemporary African art from 1990 to 2014, and views the art critic as part of a larger structure that produces (and re-produces) knowledge about Africa and African culture. Not generally thought of as significant from a wider social or political point of view, art reviews still inform people’s views of not only the art discussed, but of whole cultures – thus the art review becomes a powerful tool for seemingly innocent communication to a mass audience, making this an important topic to investigate. The study is located in the intersection between art history, media studies and cultural studies. The methodological focus of the dissertation is a qualitative study of “language in use” (in its broadest sense), taking a critical discourse analysis (CDA) approach. The work is written out of a concern that much of public discourse in Britain is reproducing taken-for-granted assumptions about people and cultures, which in reality are rooted expressions of ideology rather than “common sense” attitudes. This dissertation shows that many newspaper art critics are prone to taking to sophistry and sarcasm when reviewing non-Western art and artists, and it seems to be all too easy to “hide behind” Eurocentric jargon when describing and assessing exhibitions of contemporary African art. It is our critical obligation, argues Okwui Enwezor (1999), to question the hierarchies and value positioning of the Eurocentric critical apparatus that make up Western art history, an apparatus that excludes important voices and questions the quality of anything that is not readily accepted within the dominating discourse. Analysing media representations of contemporary African art, in this case newspaper art reviews, leads to insights into latent values of the mainstream art world rather than revealing any ”truths” about contemporary African art practice itself. It is not the socalled “Other” (the African artist), but “the Self” (the Western European art critic) that is the object of scrutiny.
Date of Award1 May 2016
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • King's College London
SupervisorRichard Howells (Supervisor)

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