Friday, May 16, 2014

Conversations from Tampa, Part II (Theme Parks)

SEMINARS CAN BE FUN. I recently met with art history graduate students at University of South Florida (USF) to discuss the last chapter of Africa in Florida, "African Attractions: Florida Tourism Gone Wild." In our seminar session, we talked about the "outer banks of art history" research on theme parks.

TEACHING AND RESEARCH. When I first arrived in Tampa in 1999 to teach African art history at USF for three years, I was amused by the fact that Busch Gardens, Africa was a mile from my office. I first noticed the tops of looping roller coasters on the horizon while looking out of a window on the fourth floor of the library. Then I decided to hold class in the park. I led my students from the seminar "Exhibiting African Art and Culture" on a walking tour of Busch Gardens while pointing out how colonialism was depicted through architecture, artifacts, and other display techniques.

Busch Gardens, Tampa, 2001. We stopped to interview the African artisans in the marketplace before setting the class loose to perform their own "fieldwork." 

After that, I continued to develop my own research methods and spread out across the state to explore African-themed tourist attractions of all sorts and sizes, which resulted in Chapter 23 of Africa in Florida.

In 2003, Amanda Carlson in Disney's Animal Kingdom interviewing Tabo (a cultural representative from Botswana) when Tarzan's wife Jane breaks in to be part of our interview--notice my serious fieldwork equipment (tape recorder and backpack). Research was funding by a University of Florida African Studies Research Fellowship.  

More from the realm of popular culture.....

AFRODISNEYAC. The popular TV show Jeoprody recently featured a category called Afrodisneyac, which consisted of facts about stories about Africa produced by Disney (show #6747 January 7, 2014). The term, AfroDisneyac, is derived the term  title of Fela Kuti's 1973 album "Afrodisiac," later popularized by a 2005 song by the same name by performer Brandy. The Fela album begins with the song Alu Jon Jonki Jon, a song based in Yoruba mythology. If the experts at Jeoprody actually drew the connection between the animal/human relationships in Yoruba folktales that Fela sings about and Disney stories that are based in Africa....THAT'S GREAT RESEARCH!

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