This Is How We Roll: The Status Economy of Bus Portraiture in the Black Urban Periphery

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Jordanna Matlon


The absence of formal employment opportunities in African cities leaves many men unable to achieve an idealized, modern wage-earning masculinity, such that socially they remain boys. They may contest their denigrated status by investing in practices that supplant this dominant narrative of masculinity. Specifically, images of iconic black men invoke an experience of modernity-as-alterity, shared across the global black diaspora. As men assert their common blackness through visual expression, they fuel lucrative economies. In this transatlantic interplay, the urban periphery transforms supralocal cultural references into material practices that buttress local identities. This article introduces the concept of status economies to examine the politics of representation and to track the dollars and dreams on Africa’s urban periphery. The author discusses the practice of gbaka (bus) portrait art as an example of a status economy in Abidjan, Cote d’Ivoire. She explores the nexus between gbaka art, changing work regimes, and masculinity to understand how peripheral men’s search for status generates a cultural movement and an associated economy. In English, extended summary in Russian.


African Urbanism, Blackness, Cote d’Ivoire, Informal Economy, Masculinity, Status, Vehicular Art

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