Final 2017 Whiting Award talk to examine 19th century Swahili door carvings

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Janet Purdy, 2017 recipient of the Whiting Indigenous Knowledge Research Award, will present her research in a talk at noon on Wednesday, March 21, in Foster Auditorium, 102 Paterno Library, on Penn State’s University Park campus. For those unable to attend in person, the event will be livestreamed via Mediasite Live.

On the Swahili coast of East Africa in the 19th century, powerful merchants commissioned massive, elaborately carved wooden doors to adorn the front entrances of grand buildings. Purdy’s presentation examines the visual propaganda and roles that indigenous artists played in visual communication and personal identification of the messages and histories linked to the door carvings. An introduction will be made by William Dewey, associate professor of art history and director of the African Studies Program in the Penn State College of the Liberal Arts.

Purdy, a doctoral candidate in the Department of Art History, studies the surface patterns and designs of the African continent through the lens of identity, visual communications, and cultural exchange. Focusing on the role that symbols in woodcarvings and the definition of architectural space played in the lived experience of 19th-century Zanzibar in Tanzania, Purdy’s project examines the relationship between material objects and the formation of Swahili culture and identity. Her comparative analysis and interpretation of design elements, iconography and coded visual messages in Swahili woodcarving may unlock a better understanding of Swahili culture and syncretism.

The Whiting Award is available to all full-time Penn State undergraduate and graduate students, and is funded by the Margorie Grant Whiting Endowment for the Advancement of Indigenous Knowledge, and supported by Penn State’s University Libraries and the Interinstitutional Center for Indigenous Knowledge (ICIK). Award applications are evaluated based on the proposal’s intellectual merit, research potential, creativity, research design and evaluation, qualifications, and availability of resources to complete the work. Recipients present their research findings and write an article highlighting aspects of indigenous knowledge explored in their projects, for publication in Penn State’s open access indigenous knowledge journal, IK: Other Ways of Knowing.

For more information about the Whiting Indigenous Knowledge Research Award or for details on how to submit an application in consideration for 2018 project funding, contact Mark Mattson, global partnerships and outreach librarian, at 814-863-2480 or mam1196@psu.edu in advance of your visit.

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Last Updated March 15, 2018