Over the past 500 years, African people have experienced and interpreted their relationships with Europeans in particular ways. From the late fifteenth century, contacts between the first Portuguese merchants and indigenous peoples of the West and Central African coasts marked the beginning of Europe's economic engagement with sub-Saharan Africa. With increased trade came missionaries who paved the way for the subsequent European colonization of Africans from the late nineteenth through the first half of the twentieth century. Under colonialism, a previous relationship of autonomy and parity changed to one of subjugation. The postcolonial era has seen yet another shift in the image of the European, as Africans have increasingly participated in a global environment unmediated by colonizing powers. Through African Eyes: The European in African Art, 1500 to Present focuses on these historical changes as they are articulated in African visual arts.
Presented as a series of case studies, Through African Eyes addresses the arts and experiences of a representative group of African cultures. More than 90 of Africa's finest three-dimensional art and utilitarian objects of wood, ivory, metal, and textiles illustrate changes in African perceptions of the European. Essays by leading scholars in the field provide a sense of chronological progression while providing a rich overview of artistic genres and themes issuing from this cross-cultural exchange. Through African Eyes combines diverse representational forms-from sixteenth-century Benin bronzes to contemporary satiric masks and figures along with related material culture-to demonstrate the multiple relationships that developed between Africans and Europeans and their profound impact on African visual culture.