All the books reviews
Le corps et le sacré - (FRENCH)
Since time immemorial, man has erected monuments and sculpted objects as a testament to his beliefs or his religious creed, often using materials that could defy time and thus affirm the permanent character of his faith. Human beings have also chosen to affirm, in more or less reversible ways, their association with the divine through the decoration of their own flesh. Through modifications of his person through the wearing of a mask, makeup, scarification, tattooing, or other forms of modification, man reinvents a body that enables him to confront his existential anguish over death. Through its some 100 photos, this book offers some hitherto unexplored ways that various ethnic groups around the world have sought to embody the divine through the use of these techniques. The author, Françoise Gründ, is a journalist and ethnographer, and has traveled extensively for over thirty-five years. She was the artistic director of the Maison des Cultures du Monde in Paris for eighteen years and is the author of numerous books.
Le Griot Rouge - (FRENCH)
Cissako belongs to a young generation of Senegalese artists that is developing an encounter between the traditions of Mandingo peoples and French musical creation. On this, his second album that is a recital of vocal and Kora music, he tells the story of the Red Griot, the subject of a thousand-year-old legend. The recording is in Mandingo, and was made in the Balakos neighborhood of Saint-Louis in Senegal. The hustle and bustle of the neighborhood provides the background sound, and the words are incorporated into a real musical language. This is more than just a recording; it is an object through which the listener can be immersed in the tale's environment. The music is unique and delicate, and the ancient story in its native language can be fully appreciated through both listening and the reading of the accompanying booklet.
Le primitivisme dans la photographie - (FRENCH)
A lecturer and researcher in art history, Valentine Plisnier has produced an important book that summarizes the initial results of his doctoral research on the impact of non-European art on modern photography from 1918 through the present. The influence of the arts of Africa, Oceania, and the Americas on painters and sculptors of the artistic avant-garde such as Picasso, Vlaminck, Epstein, and Lipchitz has been discussed at length, but the relationship between “primitive” art and a medium as eminently modern as photography remains fertile ground for research. What has been the impact of these art forms on early photographic images? And what role did the latter play in the process of transforming exotic objects—formerly relegated to the field of ethnography—into works of aesthetic achievement that have been swept into the realm of art history? Think particularly of non-European masks and statuettes that are featured in the works of wellknown artists such as Man Ray, Alfred Stieglitz, and George Brassaï. How have their depictions in these images dictated the way we perceive them? These questions, and many others, form the basis for Le primitivisme dans la photographie (Primitivism in Photography). Structured into three distinct parts, each of which addresses a different facet of this very interesting two-way relationship, the book concisely addresses its subject matter while remaining rich in artistic content and useful references. It is perfectly accessible to readers who might be considering the topic for the first time, and—this is the most obvious strength of the book—it is remarkable for the number and relevance of the photographs it illustrates.
Léopoldville / Liège–Liège / Kinshasa. Les collections africaines de l’université de Liège - (FRENCH)
The collection of African art at the University of Liège is comprised of a group of objects that were assembled by Doctor Charles Firket (1852–1928) between 1891 and 1920, which were bequeathed by his heirs to the university in 1929. This book is the well-thought-out catalogue of this bequest. The entire collection has been illustrated and is accompanied by text written by a variety of historians and art experts. Within these perspectives, it examines the interaction between European and African artists from the nineteenth century to the present. Comprised essentially of pre-colonial objects from Congo, this exhaustive catalogue brings to light valuable information on the nature of the circumstances that made the collecting of objects possible in Central Africa at the end of the last century. It also clarifies, from the point of view of a collector at the time, the motivations that compelled the acquisitions.
Les cultures à l’oeuvre - (FRENCH)
This is the first book to be produced by this new publisher founded by Adam Biro. It is a collection of eighteen articles by anthropologists, art historians, and sociologists (eight of whom are English or American) on current developments in the anthropological study of both Western and non-Western art. The articles contrast the perspectives of French researchers and their English and American colleagues. The subjects vary, but an important place is given to the ways in which non-Western art is evaluated by Westerners, including travelers and collectors, both in situ and abroad, as well as institutions. Nanette Jacomijn Snoep’s “La Production et la Transformation d’un Objet Ethnographique Africain” (The Production and Transformation of an African Ethnographic Object) is a fascinating article. The case of the Minkisi collections at the end of the nineteenth century, or that of Claude-François Baudez and what is referred to as the Quetzalcoatl of the Louvre—could these be too good to be true? The book’s subjects are quite varied and it should be of interest to a wide audience.
Les Iles d’Anir, Esprits, Masques et Spectacles dans le Sud de la Nouvelle-Irlande - (FRENCH)
This third publication on in situ research sponsored by the Barbier-Mueller Museum is devoted to a subject that is as fascinating as it is unknown: the belief systems, ritual practices, and forms of artistic expression of the nearly 2,000 inhabitants of the Anir Islands of Southern New Ireland. This book is an extension of doctoral research done by Antje Denner, who studied social anthropology, modern history, and international law at the University of Basel in Switzerland and received his doctorate from the University of East Anglia in Norwich, Great Britain. He takes particular interest in the relationship that man has with the cosmos and the realm of spirits. He focuses on explaining how this spirit world affects the ritual universe of this Melanesian population, often governed by secret societies whose most important forms of expression are ritual chants and masked dances and on how these affect their art. In addition to the originality of the subject matter and the sound scientific manner in which it has been developed, this work has the merit of bringing to light a previously unknown body of information about the important iconographic material related to the dances, ceremonies, and other aspects of both ritual and profane life of the inhabitants of the Anir Islands, whom the author visited and observed often for extended periods of time between 2000 and 2011.
Les Indiens du Brésil - (FRENCH)
This very beautiful work accounts the sixteen-year stay of painter Jean-Baptiste Debret in Brazil, between 1816 and 1831. As a member of the French artistic mission, Debret produced sketches and watercolors over the years, which were the basis for his Voyage Pittoresque en Brésil (Picturesque Voyage to Brazil), which was published upon his return in 1834. Having received his early art training from his cousin, neo- classical master Louis David, Debret’s style straddles the rigorous principles he was taught and a more exotic romanticism that his travels aroused in him. The latter is particularly evident in his vision of the Indians, which is nourished by the myth of the noble savage. The aesthetic qualities of Debret’s work and his artistic sensibility combine to produce a valuable pictorial and historical view of the Native Brazilians as they were prior to decimation. This is the first reprinting of this book since its original appearance in 1834.
Les Lega et leur Art. Sur les traces d’un rêveur égaré au Congoland - (FRENCH)
From 1955–1958, one Mr. Georges worked in the Shabunda area of the Congo as a Belgian administrative official. The Tervuren Museum has published an account of his activities and reflections, along with interesting documentation obtained in situ. Georges was a colonial administrator by day and an attentive spectator by night. He was able to gain the acceptance of the Lega communities, who gave him the nickname Henda Usiku (he who goes about at night). The work is written in a lively, direct, and personal style, and it also offers the first glimpse of the collection of Lega art works that were given to him and which he vowed to keep intact, despite the incessant advances of various dealers and collectors. Viviane Baecke very aptly remarks in her introduction to the book, that this is “... a book which is neither an autobiographical account, nor an ethnographic or historical work, nor an art catalogue, but a little bit of all those things rolled together.”
Les Mayas - (FRENCH)
This beautiful book is from the important Great Civilizations series, which describes the ways of life, thought and prayer of vanished civilizations. The work takes us back to 1519, when the fleet of Hernand Cortez landed on the island of Cozumel off the Yucatan peninsula, and established the first promising contacts with the Maya. Cortez’s conquistadors were soon seduced by rumors of a great empire of fabulous wealth to the south, and more or less abandoned their planned conquest of the Maya. It was not until 1697 that the Lowlands—the heart of Mayan territory—were definitively defeated by the Spanish, though subsequently there was no immediate or overwhelming Spanish colonization. In the middle of the eighteenth century, a priest at Palenque reported the discovery of the vestiges of an ancient city in the tropical forest. A century later, archaeologists were able to reconstruct a true impression of Mayan civilization, which this work affords us through its rich iconography and its concise and informative text. Eric Taladoire is an archaeologist with a specialty in the Maya, professor of Pre-Columbian archaeology at the Université de Paris and a researcher at the CNRS. Jean-Pierre Courau is a photographer with a specialty in the documentation of Mesoamerican civilizations.
Les Phemba : une mère, un enfant, des influences ? - ()
Éditions Sépia specializes in the production of books that are accessible both in terms of price and content. It recently published an interesting work on the phemba figures of the Yombe, a people who inhabit the Democratic Republic of Congo and Cabinda, and who were part of the Kingdom of Kongo for an extended period of time. Westerners have long found these figural mother-and-child works appealing. Their iconography is universal, as is their naturalistic aesthetic, and both of these traits are seen as somewhat reminiscent of European art. The book’s author, Milène C. Rossi, a specialist in phemba sculptures, points out that this parallelism has been noted by many scholars, and this observation serves as the starting point for her examination of what Western influence there might have been on this type of object, which is otherwise so African in its formal constructions, its synthetic volumes, and its decorative motifs. She also explores whether it might be related to the iconography of the Western Madonna and Child. The book goes beyond discussing the importation of Western artistic concepts into Africa and delves into the thorny questions surrounding the material and intellectual appropriation of African art by the Western world.