African Art in Transit / Edition 1

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Based on extensive research in West Africa, Christopher Steiner's book presents a richly detailed description of the economic networks that transfer art objects from their site of use and production in Africa to their point of consumption in art galleries and shops throughout Europe and America. In the course of this fascinating transcultural journey, African art acquires different meanings. It means one thing to the rural villagers who create and still use it in ritual and performance, another to the Muslim traders who barter and resell it, and something else to the buyers and collectors in the West who purchase it for investment and display it in their homes.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
" important contribution to African studies as a whole, and anthropology of African art and economics in particular. It is a detailed and lucid ethnological account of the way in which middlemen construct value in the art markets in Abidjan, Côte d'Ivoire. A vital study for anyone interested in contemporary African Art, it is, for the field to date, the most theoretically informed study of authenticity as a construct, and as it is used in the market to create value. For African art, it is a landmark study..." International Journal of African Historical Studies

"...a welcome contribution to the anthropology of art and transnational markets." Times Higher Education Supplement

"African Art in Transit is one of the most important works published in African studies in recent years; it is a work to be celebrated." Journal of African History

"[Steiner] can conjure the social milieu and dynamism of the African market as effortlessly as he can negotiate, with a souffleé lightness yet unerring insight, among the heavyweights of social theory." Antiquity

"A long needed, landmark volume which draws attention to an area of research generally neglected in both the art and sociological literature....I shall eagerly assign it in courses I teach." Anthropos

"The work is written in a clear, creative style, with eloquent descriptive phrases, making this important theoretical as well as factual and analytic study a reading delight. The bibliography and index are very complete; the references are meticulous in providing solid field documentation and other sources; and a 30-page section of notes contributes a wealth of additional, related information....This study fills a critical gap in the fields of anthropology and art history; it also contributes valuable cross-cultural materials to political economy and sociology." Choice

"Steiner has written an important and comprehensive description of trade in West African art objects...Steiner's book is very valuable to both anthropologists and art historians. He is an excellent fieldworker besides being thoroughly versed in the 'literature'." J. R. Rayfield, Canadian Journal of African Studies

"...specialized but illuminating work." Publishers Weekly

"'African Art in Transit' is an important contribution to African studies as a whole, and the anthropology of African art and economics in particular. A detailed and lucid ethnographic account of the way in which middlemen construct value in the art markets in Abijan, Cote d'Ivoire, it is, for the field to date, the most theoretically informed study of authenticity as a construct, and as it is used in the market to create value. For African art, it is a landmark study for the ways in which it brings social and economic theory to bear on the creation of surplus value through bargaining processes, that is, through the competitive 'meditation of knowledge' in the art market." Jonathan Zilberg, The International Journal of African Historical Studies

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
In this specialized but illuminating work, Harvard-trained anthropologist Steiner analyzes the assumptions behind the work of native African art traders in Cote d'Ivoire, who serve as the link between African artists and Western collectors. He describes the trading process as not only a complex economic system but one of shifting cross-cultural exchange in which the image of Africa is continually redefined. Steiner classifies the range of sources and art objects available in the trading city of Abidjan, then describes how traders work. He analyzes different forms of bargaining (from careful negotiation with Western dealers to staged performance for tourists). More intriguingly, he argues that Western scholarship has influenced classification of art objects by ethnicity rather than by region, and observes how Africans seek authenticity in things Western, while visitors want symbols of a ``primitive'' lifestyle--as when he witnesses the barter of a mask for a Seiko watch. In the West, he notes, the practical value of African objects like baskets is ignored, while an obsession with the growing value of African art tends to negate appreciation of its beauty. Photos not seen by PW. (Dec.)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780521457521
  • Publisher: Cambridge University Press
  • Publication date: 12/28/2003
  • Series: Studies in Social and Cultural Anthropol
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 220
  • Product dimensions: 5.98 (w) x 8.98 (h) x 0.55 (d)

Table of Contents

Introduction: the anthropology of African art in a transnational market; 1. Commodity outlets and the classification of goods; 2. The division of labor and the management of capital; 3. An economy of words: bargaining and the social production of value; 4. The political economy of ethnicity in a plural market; 5. The quest for authenticity and the invention of African art; 6. Cultural brokerage and the mediation of knowledge; Conclusion: African art and the discourses of value.

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