Appropriation and Its Discontents

This collaborative project--between Associate Professor of Art History Huey Copeland (Northwestern University) and MFA student Athi Mongezeleli Joja (University of the Witwatersrand)--focuses on comparative approaches to theories of cultural appropriation, with a particular emphasis on the global circulation of black bodies, discourses, and art forms from an Afro-pessimist perspective. Together, Copeland and Joja will develop interdisciplinary graduate and undergraduate courses that critically interrogate the ways in which blackness variously functions across and between the global North and South.​


Huey Copeland is Associate Professor of Art History and affiliated faculty in the Critical Theory Cluster, the Department of African American Studies, the Department of Art Theory & Practice, and the Gender and Sexuality Studies Program at Northwestern. Focusing on modern and contemporary art with an emphasis on articulations of blackness in the Western visual field, Copeland is the author of Bound to Appear: Art, Slavery, and the Site of Blackness in Multicultural America (2013), as well as numerous articles and chapters. He is currently at work on a new book, In the Shadow of the Negress: A Brief History of Modern Artistic Practice, which explores the constitutive role played by fictions of black womanhood in Western art from the late-eighteenth century to the present. Photo by Bonnie Robinson for The Graduate School, 2017.

Athi Mongezeleli Joja is an art critic based in Johannesburg, South Africa. A member of the art collective Gugulective, he is currently studying toward his MFA at the University of the Witswatersrand on the critical practice of late critic Colin Richards. His writing has appeared in publications such as The Mail and Guardian, Art Throb, Contemporary And (C&), Chimurenga Chronic, and Africanah.

Background Reading

Joja, Athi Mongezeleli. “Critical Reflections on ‘Exhibit B’ and the South African Art World.” Art South Africa 13, no. 2 (2014): 86-87.

Copeland, Huey. “Flow and Arrest.” Small Axe 19, no. 3 (2015): 205-224.

Wilderson, Frank B., III. “The Narcissistic Slave.” In Wilderson, Red, White & Black, 54-91. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2010.

Aranke, Sampada. “Fred Hampton’s Murder and the Coming Revolution.” Trans-Scripts: An Interdisciplinary Journal in the Humanities and Social Sciences 3 (2013), 116-139.

News and Events

  • April 3, 2018 | Northwestern
    Visiting scholar Athi Joja delivered his paper "Dumile and the Sketches of Jazz." Exploring how jazz impacted the visual language of the iconic South African artist Dumile Feni, Joja presented an introductory overview of Feni’s unique oeuvre and the intricate ways in which jazz both constitutes much of its subject matter and, more importantly, informs its expressive grammar. Joja argued that in spite of Dumile’s noted stylistic and formal shifts throughout his career, jazz remained the most consistently present idiom in his work, shaping his well-known beautiful line.

  • January 2018 | Northwestern
    Athi Joja is in residence at Northwestern and working with Professor Copeland on their collaboration. Welcome, Athi!

  • November 10-13, 2017 | Northwestern
    Athi Joja visited Northwestern for "Transformations of Critical Theory," the inaugural workshop of the Critical Theory in the Global South Project, where he and Professor Copeland presented their work on the Appropriation and Its Discontents project, with a response from Northwestern graduate student Mlondolozi Zondi. On the final day of the workshop, Copeland, together with Fumi Okiji, Northwestern's current Black Arts Postdoctoral Fellow, led a graduate-student teach-in on the theme "Afro-Pessimism, North and South.” On November 9, Copeland, Joja, and Zondi participated in a roundtable discussion at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago on Afro-Pessimist Aesthetics.

    From left to right, Huey Copeland, Athi Joja, and Mlondi Zondi

    Fumi Okiji