Bárbaro Martínez-Ruiz

Dialogic Keynote II: Healing Senses: Arts of the Afterlife


Tanner-Opperman Chair of African Art History in Honor of Roy Sieber
Indiana University

Martinez-Ruiz earned his B.A from the University of Havana in 1994 and his Ph.D. from Yale University in 2004. He is an Art Historian with expertise in African and Caribbean artistic, visual and religious practices, whose work challenges traditional disciplinary boundaries and examines the varied understandings of – and engagement with – ‘art’ and ‘visual culture’.

Following professorships at Havana’s High Institute of Art from 1993-1997, the Rhode Island School of Design from 2002-2004 and Stanford University from 2004-2013, Martinez-Ruiz joined the University of Cape Town, where he has served as the head of the Art History and Discourse of Art Department since 2013. He was the 2017-2018 recipient of the Leverhulme Visiting Professorship, hosted by Oxford’s School of Interdisciplinary Area Studies, and a Senior Fellow at St Anthony’s College and Trinity College.

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. Other recent publications include Ma kisi Nsi: L’art de habitants de region de Mbanza Kongo, in Angola figures de pouvoir (Paris: Dapper Museum Press, 2010); Writing Bodies in the Bakongo Atlantic Experience, in Performances: Challenges for Art and Anthropology (Quai Branly Museum Press, 2010); Funerary Pots of the Kongo in Central Africa, in African Terra Cotta: A Millenary Heritage (Geneva: Musee Barbier Mueller Press, 2008), The Impossible Reflection: A New Approach to African Themes in Wifredo Lam’s Art, in Wifredo Lam (Miami: Perez Art Museum Press, 2008).

He is currently working on Unwrapping the Universe: Art and Cosmology Among the Bakongo, a project that takes the Kongo concept of the universe as a packet or bundle and aims to “unwrap” the conceptual layers of specific works of art to gain a better understanding of their cosmological complexities and interrelated meanings and to describe the conceptual and functional associations of these objects within their cultural context.  Art forms explored include figurative sculpture, masks, divination implements, basketry, textiles, and ceramics and the book will disentangle the cross-cultural relationships these pieces both express and create while also tracing their historical evolution and present-day usage. 

In addition to his research and teaching, Martinez-Ruiz is an active curator, whose shows have explored issues of visual communication, dislocation and hybridity in the work of contemporary artists across the African diaspora. He also serves as an editor for the Cuban Studies Magazine and Harvard’s Transition Magazine and was a researcher for Pacific Standard Time AL at the Getty Foundation and the Museum of Latin American Art, Los Angeles California from 2014  to 2016.

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