The Anthropological Lens: Multiple Worldviews in Abstract Form
Mixed Media Paintings by Norma Wolff

An anthropologist with a background in African art, Wolff draws upon a lifetime of experience in this field to develop her paintings. Iowa Artisans Gallery will exhibit her work from March 26 through April 26, 2009.

Wolff notes "for much of my art, it is not possible to separate my anthropological interests from my artworks. From my first trip to Nigeria in the mid-1960s, I have loved the colors and dynamics of everyday life which provide endless varieties of subject matter for the artist." It was on that trip that she first painted scenes of everyday life. Using wax crayon, wax pastel and ink techniques, she now works more abstractly.

"In many of my paintings, particularly the Spirit Series, my anthropological field research is a major influence. I worked with woodcarvers in West Africa, who created the masks and figures used to make contact with the world of ancestors and other spirits who interact with humankind. I also worked with a healer-sorcerer, who introduced me to the world of witchcraft and sorcery. I have found that their indigenous African worldview and religious beliefs have penetrated my subconscious to the point that many times, when I am creating what I think are pure abstractions of line and form, at a certain point in the creative process, some take on an identity with the spirits that are always present in the indigenous African worldview. Sacred forests, ancestors, deities, nature spirits, witches, and sorcerers emerge. While I am not African by birth or heritage, forty years of exposure to this rich worldview has changed my life and view of the seen and unseen world."

Having taught anthropology at Iowa State University for many years, Wolff continues to write and publish in her field, particularly on both traditional and contemporary arts in Africa. Her current research focuses on textile and fashion trends in Nigeria, Nigerian contemporary artists, Ghanaian artisans and the global market, and indigenous medicines. She recently served 3 years as a Board Member of the Arts Council of the African Studies Association.

For more information about this or any show at the Gallery, please email us.


"Flying Away" Wax, pastel, ink
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"Dancer’s Dream" - Wax pastel, ink
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"Hot Spot"
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"West African Eclipse" (with Harmattan Spirits) - wax pastel, ink, acrylic
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The Musician
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"Silver Bird" - wax pastel, ink and acrylic with watercolor background on paper
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