Document Type


Date of Degree

Spring 2011

Degree Name

PhD (Doctor of Philosophy)

Degree In

Art History

First Advisor

Roy, Christopher D

First Committee Member

Tomasini, Wallace

Second Committee Member

Rorex, Robert

Third Committee Member

Mooney, Barbara

Fourth Committee Member

Kruger, Marie


The inability to attribute art objects to the Basotho culture remains a problem for art historians and anthropologists alike. Current publications on the arts of Africa include few, if any, objects attributed to South Sotho-speakers, and often attribute Basotho objects under the broad label of "southern African," rather than linking them to artists from this particular culture. This is largely due to a lack of research on Basotho arts and culture, as well as the widespread belief that the cultures of the region are simply too enmeshed with one another for the arts to be distinguished. However, it is important that we be able to tell the art of one African people from another if we are ever to understand accurately how art expresses peoples' ideas and beliefs about themselves and the world in which they live. Through this project I challenge the label of "southern Africa" that is so often used in attributing art objects from the region, and develop a definitive system of identification for Basotho objects. This system differentiates Basotho arts from works produced by other cultures in southern Africa, and produces the first all-inclusive anthology of South Sotho art history. While my work first and foremost demonstrates the existence of a unique and identifiable Basotho visual style, it also investigates the roles that stylistic characteristics have played in the presentation of southern Sotho identity beginning with the formation of the Basotho polity 200 years ago. Furthermore I identify the contextual and cultural significance of an entire range of Basotho forms, generating a better understanding of Basotho art and culture.

In order to complete this, I use a Morellian approach to identify and define the unique and specific visual aspects found among Basotho arts. This type of analysis is based solely on the external physical characteristics of a work of art, and focuses on the identification of similarities and differences within a group of objects. The resulting data provides a taxonomy for the classification of cultural, regional, and local styles through the isolation of the visual aspects of individual objects. However, because the Morellian methodology takes a morphological approach, I use historical literature and contemporary interviews to connect the function and social context to the objects in order truly to develop an art history of the Basotho. Through this analysis, I identify visual aspects that are unique to southern Sotho arts, and further locate visual signs that assert one's specific clan lineage within the broad "southern Sotho" cultural grouping. This allows me to clearly define the meaning and significance of the "Basotho" cultural moniker, and develop a nuanced understanding of identity amongst southern Sotho peoples.


Art, Basotho, Lesotho, Moshoeshoe, South Africa, South Sotho


xxxiii, 690 pages


Includes bibliographical references (pages 684-690).


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Copyright © 2011 David Riep