Perani, Judith

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PERANI, Judith

PERSONAL: Female. Education: University of California at Berkeley, B.A. (art history), 1968; Indiana University, M.A. (art history), 1970, Ph.D., 1977.

ADDRESSES: Office—438 Seigfred Hall, Ohio University, Athens, OH 45701. E-mail—[email protected]

CAREER: Author and educator. Ohio University, Athens, OH, professor of art history and faculty member in African Studies Program.


(With Craig Kinzelman) Sacred and Secular Art ofWest Africa (museum catalog), Trisolini Gallery (Athens, OH), 1976.

(With Lisa Aronson) Nigerian Textiles: Evolution ofSurface Design (museum catalog), Trisolini Gallery (Athens, OH), 1979.

(With Elizabeth Bunsen Chokr) Art of the Congo RiverBasin (museum catalog), Trisolini Gallery (Athens, OH), 1983.

(With Marilyn Hunt-Nishi) Ritual Art of the SepikRiver: The Solomon Collection (museum catalog), Trisolini Gallery (Athens, OH), 1984.

(With Mark Fleming) Yoruba Art of West Africa (museum catalog), Parkersburg Art Center (Parkersburg, WV) and Trisolini Gallery (Athens, OH), 1986.

(With Marilyn Hunt-Nishi) Art of the Sepik River and the Papuan Gulf: An Exhibition of New Guinea Art (museum catalog), Parkersburg Art Center (Parkersburg, WV) and Trisolini Gallery (Athens, OH), 1987.

(With Fred T. Smith) The Visual Arts of Africa:Gender, Power, and Life-Cycle Rituals, Prentice-Hall (Upper Saddle River, NJ), 1998.

(With Norma H. Wolff) Cloth, Dress, and Art Patronage in Africa, Berg (Oxford, England), 1999.

Contributor to History, Design, and Craft in West African Strip-woven Cloth, National Museum of African Art, 1992.

SIDELIGHTS: Judith Perani, a professor of art history at Ohio University, published two books about African art in the late 1990s. The first, The Visual Arts of Africa: Gender, Power, and Life-Cycle Rituals, which she coauthored with Kent State University art historian Fred T. Smith, is a textbook for college art students. The book discusses the history and development of various art forms in Africa, including sculpture, architecture, textiles, ceramics, and painting. Perani coauthored her most recent book, Cloth, Dress, and Art Patronage in Africa, with anthropologist Norma H. Wolff. The book explores the role that cloth plays in African art.

Perani taught both undergraduate and graduate courses in art history at the college level for nearly thirty years. As her writings suggest, the focus of her work is African art, and more specifically the art of West Africa and Central Africa. In her courses, Perani covers the social, economic, religious, and political elements that influence African art. Perani has made many research trips to Africa, particularly to Nigeria, whose art has been her main focus. In fact, Perani first developed her interest in African art during a trip to Sierra Leone as a member of the Peace Corps after graduating from college. "While in Sierra Leone, I developed a keen interest in African art. My active participation with the Peace Corps became the foundation of my career as a professor of art history," Perani said in an interview with Dora Oduoi posted on the Ohio University Web site.

Perani also explained to Oduoi why she feels that studying art is important, especially for those seeking information about a particular society or culture. "Art can be used as a concrete entry to explore a people's values, philosophy, and religious beliefs. Also, art can aid in the reconstruction of a people's early history," Perani said. This is particularly true, she maintained, of the study of African art. "Overall, the study of African art places more emphasis on the way art functions and the purpose for which it was made," Perani told Oduoi. Perani has used her expertise on the subject to put together several exhibitions of African art at various American galleries over the years. For example, she received permission to gather more than seventy pieces of Yoruba art from various private collections to be displayed at the Parkersburg Art Center in Parkersburg, West Virginia, and the Trisolini Gallery in Athens, Ohio, in 1986.

According to Perani, The Visual Arts of Africa took three years to complete, largely because of the arduous task of collecting data and obtaining authorization from various museums and private art collections to include their artworks in the book. The text is broken up into sections based on different geographic regions of Africa and on how art varies in each region. The important artistic traditions of each region are highlighted, and the authors explain how each has its own unique art patronage system. Some of the artists represented in the book include Vincent Kofi, Lamidi Fakeye, and Uche Okeke. The book also includes 360 illustrations of artworks, as well as a bibliography for those who wish to do further research on the topic.

According to Barbara E. Frank, who reviewed the book for African Arts, the work introduces "students to a diversity of African creative expression" more completely "than previous sources." However, Frank continued, the "writing style is somewhat uneven, with well-written passages linked by awkward transitions."

In Cloth, Dress, and Art Patronage in Africa, Perani explores the role that cloth plays in African art. She and coauthor Wolff call cloth "the most important twodimensional art form in Africa," as it "dresses the body, packages artifacts and defines space." The authors explain the ancient craft of cloth-making, which continuously adapts to changes, particularly when new textiles are imported into a culture. They also say that few materials play as important a role as cloth does in a culture's creative expression, because it "defines ethnic identity and social status, articulates sacred and secular boundaries, and acts as a measure of value."



African Arts, July, 1993, Elisha P. Renne, "History, Design, and Craft in West African Strip-woven Cloth," pp. 30-31, 83; spring, 1999, Barbara E. Frank, review of The Visual Arts of Africa: Gender, Power, and Life-Cycle Rituals, pp. 14-16.

Choice, January, 2000, A. F. Roberts, review of Cloth,Dress, and Art Patronage in Africa, p. 977.


Ohio University Web site, (March 12, 2002), profile of Dr. Judith Perani, including interview with Dora Oduoi.*