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Friday July 25, 2014
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David Doris

 

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By then, he was already deep into another passion: African art. It started as a fluke: he heard the Brian Eno-David Byrne album My Life in the Bush of Ghosts, which led him to read the novel of the same name by Nigeria's Amos Tutuola. Discovering African culture, "I felt as if my head popped!" he recalls. "Here was a world I did not know that was incredibly rich." He earned a master's in art history from Hunter College in 1993 and a PhD from Yale in 2002.

Doris acknowledges that anything connected with Africa can be loaded: white students, especially, are nervous about saying something that might be construed as racist. To clear the air, he starts each semester by asking them to write down whatever image of Africa comes to their mind; their responses include mud huts, British colonies, and starving people. Then they discuss their perceptions. "I try never to alienate the students," Doris says. "But it's important to speak plainly, even to risk offending, if it brings us closer to real dialogue and understanding."

"David is anything but one-dimensional," says U-M art history chair Celeste Brusati. "He has written on topics that range from Zen and the international Fluxus art movement of the 1960s to Disney theme parks, Kodak Picture Spots, and the Internet's role in constructing Yoruba identity." He sometimes hosts faculty parties in a thatched-roof "tiki" house he built in the basement of the home he shares with his wife, Melissa, and their two-year-old daughter Marcella, adopted from Guatemala.

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