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Ravenhill, Philip L.

    Full Name: Ravenhill, Philip L.

    Gender: male

    Date Born: 1945

    Date Died: 1997

    Place Born: Bath, Bath and Northeast Somerset, England, UK

    Place Died: Washington, DC, USA

    Home Country/ies: United States

    Subject Area(s): Akan (culture or style), Baule (culture), Ivorian, Mande, museums (institutions), Wan, and West African (general)


    Museum director and historian of West African art. Ravenhill came to the United States from England as a young child. He received an M.A. (1970) and a Ph.D. (1976) in anthropology from the New School for Social Research in New York. Ravenhill’s fieldwork among the Wan peoples of Côte d’Ivoire established his ability to build relationships between West African and American cultural institutions. In 1982, he established and directed the West African Museums Program (WAMP) with financial support from the Ford Foundation. The program provides grants to West African museums to improve conservation methods, collections management, and educational programs. Ravenhill was hired as chief curator at the National Museum of African Art (NMAfA) in 1987, where he helped organize the permanent exhibition, The Art of the Personal Object in 1991. He published four monographs and over fifty articles about the Baule, and other West African societies. Ravenhill’s 1993 exhibition, Dreaming the Other World: Figurative Art of the Baule, Côte d’Ivoire began at the NMAfA and traveled to the UCLA Fowler Museum. Throughout his career, he advocated the importance of connoisseurship and cultural context in his approach to studying African art. In addition to his curatorial work at the NMAfA, Ravenhill actively participated in the effort to prevent illegal excavations of African archaeological sites. In 1996, he gave a presentation on aesthetics as the British Museum’s William Buller Fagg lecturer.

    Selected Bibliography

    [unpublished dissertation] The Social Organization of the Wan :a Patrilineal People of Ivory Coast. New York: New School for Social Research, 1976; and Mudimbe, V.Y. “More on ‘African Art and Authenticity.” African Arts 25 no. 4 (October 1992): 18-30, 100-103, 108; “What Museums for Africa?” Museum News (March-April 1992): 78-79, 90; “The Art of the Personal Object.” African arts 25 no. 1 ( January 1992): 70-75; and Bouloé, Vincent. “Un triptyque africain: de l’interpétation des trois parties et du tout.” Arts d’Afrique noire No. 83, (Fall 1992): 17-29; “An African Triptych: on the Interpretation of Three Parts and the Whole.” In, Object and Intellect : Interpretations of Meaning in African Art. New York: College Art Association of America, 1988 pp. 88-94; “Public Education, National Collections, and Museum Scholarship in Africa.” In, Culture and Development in Africa: Proceedings of an iInternational Conference held at the World Bank, Washington, DC, April 2 and 3, 1992. Washington, DC: World Bank, 1994, pp. 269-281; Cultural Property Rights of Malian treasures. Washington, DC: U.S. Information Agency, 1994; “Of Pachiderms and Power: ivory and the Elephant in the Art of Central Côte d’Ivoire.” In, Elephant : the animal and its ivory in African culture. Los Angeles: Fowler Museum of Cultural History, University of California, Los Angeles, 1992, pp. 115-133, 397-413; Dreams and Reverie: Images of Otherworld Mates Among the Baule, West Africa. Washington: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1996; The Self and the Other: Personhood and Images Among the Baule, Côte d’Ivoire . Los Angeles: Fowler Museum of Cultural History, University of California, 1994; Grace Kwami Sculpture: an Artist’s Book by Atta Kwami. Washington, DC: National Museum of African Art, Smithsonian Institution, 1994; The Art of the Personal Object. Washington, DC: Smithsonian Institution, 1991; and Vogel, Susan Mullin. The Baule Statuary Art: Meaning and Modernization. Philadelphia: Institute for the Study of Human Issues, 1980.


    Obituary, The Independent (London) October 21, 1997; “In Memoriam,” African Arts, Winter, 1998. Obituary, Washington Post, October 15, 1997.

    Contributors: LaNitra Michele Walker


    LaNitra Michele Walker. "Ravenhill, Philip L.." Dictionary of Art Historians (website).

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