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This strikingly unusual and beautifully illustrated book represents a turning point in African art history. The authors draw on personal memories, interviews, and oral narratives to present twelve "case histories" of objects--or clusters of objects--in the Seattle Art Museum's renowned collection of African art. Each case history is enriched by comments from artists, art historians, writers, community members, and patrons who guide readers back into the markets, palaces, ceremonies, shrines, and streets where African art originated.
Often sitting still and silent in a museum display case, African art is frozen in an alien frame. Vibrant music, movement, debate, and cryptic voices are among the missing elements that once surrounded the mask, sculpture, ring, or stool. Reframing the objects, Art from Africa proposes looking at what was once done with them while also listening carefully to what was once said in their presence. As the case histories reveal, the gross mislabeling of objects as "fetishes," "idols," and "devil masks" dissolves as art becomes better known as medicine, philosophy, personality correctives, and blessings for the future.
Known for his scintillating analyses of African art, Robert Farris Thompson devotes his opening essay to introducing the missing dimension of motion, exploring the meaning of postures and gestures in various African cultures. A curator dedicated to telling the stories behind such art, Pamela McClusky explores subjects ranging from royal art of the Kom and Asante kingdoms, masquerades from the Yoruba, Dan, and Mende cultures, hunters' shirts from the Mande empire, sculpture from the Kongo kingdom, Mercedes-Benz coffins fromthe streets of Ghana, photographs from Mali, and Maasai body ornaments. This book accompanies a special exhibition of the museum's collection, but, as all art lovers who look beyond museum walls will appreciate, it is much more than an exhibition catalogue.
Philadelphia Museum of Art
October 2, 2004 - January 2, 2005.