CONTEMPORARY ICONOLOGY AND AFRICAN SACRED SYMBOLS
Sophia Oduol, 2011
The awareness of the power of iconography in communication can be traced back to the earliest civilizations of mankind. Production of type was through scratch marks made on flat surfaces using sharp objects. Twentieth century records show well developed type from Mesopotamia, Chinese calligraphy, Egyptian Hieroglyphics and Phoenician alphabet. How do you make any sense of history, art or literature without knowing the stories and iconography of your own culture and all the world's main religions? Polly Toynbee (1947).
Contemporary Iconography is significant because it brings attention to civilization within the African continent. African countries have sacred letters and symbols that have been used to communicate written messages. Many of these remain undiscovered by the mainstream theorists. Saki Mafundikwa in his book ‘afrikan alphabets’, has made presentations on African letterforms, and he continues to unearth innovative and little understood symbols. This paper aims to explore how the Ancient African sacred writings have been reborn in to contemporary iconology. The study is placed in the context of the history, meaning, deciphering and transformation of Iconography. A conceptual framework is constructed, based on critical theory from arts disciplines, notably from the history of African Sacred symbols from the Igbos and the Adinkra. The icon is a primary denotation or representation. Iconology is an interpretation that calls on the unconscious. Intermingling of the icon and the African sacred symbols is considered.
This paper finds that written communication has now transformed into informal, colloquial icons, where everyday communication can occur through a sign rather than speaking. These signs are conclusively a replica of ancient African sacred symbols. The visual framework reveals a changing iconology where symbols may be discerned. An iconology is suggested of dreamlike connotations and magical powers in the collective unconscious. The study provides a model which may be applied to visual aspects of iconology. It would benefit from an assessment of readership impact. The analysis is of interest to design researchers, practitioners and trainees. It illuminates the ways in which contemporary iconology interacts with African sacred symbols and conveys intangible values that may not be reflected in our modern day lives.
Iconography, according to Dictionary.com is a symbolic representation, especially the conventional meanings attached to an image or images, the subject matter in the visual arts, especially with reference to the conventions regarding the treatment of a subject in artistic representation. Iconology then studies or analyses subject matter and its meaning in the visual arts.
Iconography as an academic art historical discipline is believed to have developed in the nineteenth-century in the works of scholars such as Adolphe Napoleon Didron, Anton Heinrich Springer, and Émile Mâle, all specialists in Christian religious art, which was the main focus of study in this period, in which French scholars were especially prominent. Erwin Panofsky for instance, codified an influential approach to iconography in his 1939 Studies in Iconology. He defined it as "the branch of the history of art which concerns itself with the subject matter or meaning of works of art, as opposed to form,"
The term is also believed to have originated from the Greek word ikon meaning image. An icon in religion for instance, was a picture of Christ used as an object of devotion in the orthodox Greek Church from at least the seventh century on. Thus icons have come to be attached to any symbol that holds a special meaning to it. Artists used iconography in a range of types to convey particular meanings. In Christian religious paintings, images such as the lamb represented Christ...
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