The Art of Emergency: Aesthetics and Aid in African Crises

Samuel Mark Anderson (Editor), Chérie Rivers Ndaliko (Editor)

Research output: Book/ReportBook


Across Africa, artists increasingly turn to NGO sponsorship in pursuit of greater influence and funding, while simultaneously NGOs—both international and local—commission arts projects to buttress their interventions and achieve greater reach and marketability. As a result, the key values of artistic expression become “healing” and “sensitization” measured in turn by “impact” and “effectiveness.” Such rubrics obscure the aesthetic complexities of the artworks and the power dynamics that inform their production. Clashes arise as foreign NGOs import foreign aesthetic models and preconceptions about their efficacy, alongside foreign interpretations of politics, medicine, psychology, trauma, memorialization, and so on. Meanwhile, each community embraces its own aesthetic precedents, often at odds with the intentions of humanitarian agencies. The arts are a sphere in which different worldviews enter into conflict and conversation.To tackle the consequences of aid agency arts deployment, the volume assembles ten case studies from across the African continent employing multiple media including music, sculpture, photography, drama, storytelling, ritual, and protest marches. Organized under three widespread yet underanalyzed objectives for arts in emergency—demonstration, distribution, and remediation—each case offers a different disciplinary and methodological perspective on a common complication in NGO-sponsored creativity. The Art of Emergency shifts the discourse on arts activism away from fixations on message and toward diverse investigations of aesthetics and power negotiations. In doing so, this volume brings into focus the conscious and unconscious configurations of humanitarian activism, the social lives it attempts to engage, and the often fraught interactions between the two.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Place of PublicationNew York
PublisherOxford University Press
ISBN (Print)9780190692322, 9780190692360
StatePublished - Mar 2 2020


  • African art
  • activism
  • aesthetics
  • crisis
  • emergency
  • media
  • NGOs
  • violence


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