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Elliott Percival Skinner (1924-2007)


Remembering Elliott P. Skinner (1924-2007)

Elliott Percival Skinner, a resident of Watergate South since 2000, passed away peacefully on April 1, 2007. He will be greatly missed by his wife of 25 years, Dr. Gwendolyn Mikell, his children Victor, Gail, Touray, Sagha, and Luce, 7 grandchildren, 1 great grandchild, 4 siblings, and a host of uncles, aunts, cousins, nephews, nieces, in-laws, and other relatives, colleagues and friends. Dr. Skinner was Franz Boas Professor of Anthropology - Emeritus, of Columbia University in New York City, where he taught for 40 years. Born in Trinidad and Tobago, he arrived in the United States just in time to serve in the U.S. Army in the European Theater of Operations from 1943 to 1946, he attended the University of Neufchatel in Switzerland prior to returning home. He received his B.A. from the University College of New York University, and received his M.A. in Anthropology as well as his Ph.D. in Anthropology (1955) from the Graduate Faculties of Columbia University. In 1966 he was appointed by President Lyndon B. Johnson as the United States Ambassador to Upper Volta (Burkina Faso) and served until 1969. In 1968, while serving as Ambassador he was awarded the Commandeur de l’Ordre National Voltaique by the President of the Republic of Upper Volta.

He served as Chairman of the Anthropology Department at Columbia from 1972 to 1975. In addition, he has held a number of prestigious fellowships including a Guggenheim and the Fulbright 40th Anniversary Distinguished Fellowship at the University of Abidjan in Cote d’Ivoire (1987). He was the former Chairman of the Association of Black American Ambassadors, a member of the Board of Trustees of the University of Bridgeport, a member of the Council of American Ambassadors, and a member of the Council on Foreign Relations since 1976. He was a prolific writer, and the author of over twelve books beginning with The Mossi of Upper Volta (1964), including African Urban Life: The Transformation of Ouagadougou which won the Herskovits Award for the best book on Africa in 1975, as well as African16th November 2006, the AfAA invited session “African Art and Anthropology: Representing the Social Self,” co-organized by Bennetta Jules-Rosette and J.R. Osborn, was presented at the AAA Annual Meetings in San José. Papers by Bennetta Jules-Rosette, J.R. Osborn, and Hudita Mustafa examined Bogumil Jewsiewicki’s concept of collaboratively constructed “transactional identities.” Panelists analyzed how artists and researchers use self-positioning to create an imagined world that recalibrates the past and the present. Applying this approach, Jules-Rosette addressed popular African painting. Osborn analyzed contemporary Sudanese calligraphic art. And, Mustafa looked at fashion in Dakar as a social and artistic construction. Imageries of popular painting, calligraphy, and fashion deploy the self as a vehicle for interrogating larger social issues that transcend the frame of the art. Discussant comments by Bogumil Jewsiewicki (the AfAA Distinguished Lecturer for 2006) and David Coplan noted that the panelists were going beyond the reflexive turn to propose a new genre challenging the limits of shared anthropology and the strategies of negotiation used in the ethnography of art. This session was a prelude to the Distinguished Lecture by Bogumil Jewsiewicki later that evening, in which several of the popular paintings discussed in the panel were reviewed and reinterpreted. All participants agreed that these topics should be further explored in another session next year.

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