African Studies Seminar: Ndinga i Sinsu: A Quest for Kongo Art


Conveners: Miles Larmer and Zoe Cormack

Speaker: Barbaro Martinez-Ruiz (Stanford/Oxford)

The seminar will focus on agency in Kongo society, exploring a complex state of social development in which legal, political, religious and visual systems motivate responses to and interpretations of Kongo cultural principles in the Atlantic world. Martinez-Ruiz will argue that the myriad forms of communication known as Ndinga i Sinsu seamlessly integrate into a wide range of audio and visual communicative techniques that he terms ‘graphic writing systems’. Such systems also include proverbs, mambos, syncopated rhythms, a large variety of written symbols, and oral traditions that are rich sources of cultural and social histories, religious beliefs, myths, and other expressions of the shared Bakongo worldview. The talk will incorporate critical examples gathered through fieldwork among the Kongo people in northern Angola, southern Democratic Republic of the Congo and within Kongo-based religious traditions in the Americas


Martinez-Ruiz earned his A.B from Havana University in 1994 and his Ph.D from Yale in 2004. He is an Art Historian with expertise in African and Caribbean artistic, visual, and religious practices. Fallowing positions at Havana’s High Institute from 1993-1997, adjunct professor at Rhode Island School of Design from 2002-2004, the Stanford Department of Art and Art History in 2004-13, came to the University Of Cape Town in 2013.


His books include Kongo Graphic Writing and Other Narratives of the Sign, Temple University Press, 2013 (English) and El Colegio de México, 2012 (Spanish; Faisal Abdu’Allah: On the Art of Dislocation), Atlantic Center of Modern Art Press, 2012 and Art and Emancipation in Jamaica: Isaac Mendes Belisario and his Worlds, Yale University Press, 2007, for which he received the College Art Association Alfred H. Barr Award.


Furthermore, appointed book editor in 2013 the Cuban Studies Magazine and editor in 2014 of Transition magazine at Harvard University; and researcher fellow between 2014-16 for the Pacific Standard Time AL; AL at The Getty Research Institute, Los Angeles California. Recipient from 2017-2018 of the Leverhulme Visiting Professorship through which I will be hosted by Oxford University’s School of Interdisciplinary Area Studies and Fellow at St Anthony’s College at Oxford University.