Africa in the American Imagination
Popular Culture, Racialized Identities, and African Visual Culture
A study of popular culture's representation of the African continent's visual traditions
In the American world, the presence of African culture is sometimes fully embodied and sometimes leaves only a trace. Africa in the American Imagination: Popular Culture, Racialized Identities, and African Visual Culture explores this presence, examining Mattel's world of Barbie, the 1996 Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue, and Disney World, each of which repackages African visual culture for consumers. Because these cultural icons permeate American life, they represent the broader U.S. culture and its relationship to African culture. This study integrates approaches from art history and visual culture studies with those from culture, race, and popular culture studies to analyze this interchange. Two major threads weave throughout. One analyzes how the presentation of African visual culture in these popular culture forms conceptualizes Africa for the American public. The other investigates the way the uses of African visual culture focuses America's own self-awareness, particularly around black and white racialized identities.
In exploring the multiple meanings that “Africa” has in American popular culture, Africa in the American Imagination argues that these cultural products embody multiple perspectives and speak to various sociopolitical contexts: the Cold War, civil rights, and contemporary eras of the United States; the apartheid and post-apartheid eras of South Africa; the colonial and postcolonial eras of Ghana; and the European era of African colonization.
"Carol Magee has revisited the crucial topic of Africa in the American imagination in this era of globalization, documenting out of her excellent fieldwork how the Disney empire, Mattel's Barbie franchise, and black models in the swimsuit issue of Sports Illustrated have all been instrumental in reshaping American attitudes towards Africa and its diaspora in the age of Obama."- Donald J. Cosentino, professor emeritus at the University of California and author of Sacred Arts of Haitian Vodou; Vodou Things: The Art of Pierrot Barra and Marie Cassaise
"Carol Magee's book Africa in the American Imagination: Popular Culture, Racialized Identities, and African Visual Culture has important ramifications for both the scholarship related to the study of aspects of African cultural production and the scholarship surrounding a firmer understanding of American popular culture that implicates 'Africa' in its formulation and impact. Consider the popularity and influence of Barbie dolls, Sports Illustrated, and the Disney empire in Orlando! With these case studies, Magee highlights those products, those popular cultural icons, which feature the ways in which a perceived 'Africa' has impacted North American culture. Importantly, her arguments are rendered accessible to a large cross-section of readers. Magee convincingly persuades us that it is vital to look at popular culture as 'Africa' increasingly looms large in our political and social world."- Judith Bettelheim, professor emerita of art history at San Francisco State University