All the books reviews
L’Art du Tapa. Etoffe pour les Dieux. Etoffe pour les Hommes - (FRENCH)
On a Sunday in May of 1954, Emmanuel Anati, an art collector and professor of prehistory, was fascinated to discover “a piece of fabric with alternating black and white bands” in a flea market dealer’s booth on Portobello Road in London. It was a tapa cloth, a beaten bark fabric that the indigenous peoples of the Pacific have used since time immemorial for the manufacture of clothing, sails, and cult objects, among other things. This discovery gave rise to a passion that, many years later, inspired the production of this richly illustrated book, which is a complete and accessible analysis of the many uses and functions of tapa in Oceania.
L’art nègre - (FRENCH)
This is the first complete French language edition of Vladimir Markov’s classic book, which was written in 1914, and published in Russia in 1919. Born in 1877, Vladimir Matveï (1877–1914), called Markov, was of Latvian origin and was one of the founders of the Youth Union, an organization of Russian avant-garde artists. As a young artist in search of aesthetic adventure, his interest in popular European art had emancipated him from an academicism that had hampered his formal research. Passionately interested first in Chinese art and later in African art, he produced a theoretical analysis of the latter after extensive travels through Europe in 1912 and 1913. In this book, he explains how African art helped a new generation of artists of his time “come out of the stagnation and the impasse in which Europe found itself.” He professed a new vision of beauty, freed of the prejudices of his time. In the wake of Leo Frobenius, he was stimulated by newfound formal liberty, new materials, and a new approach to the “other.”
L’Art Précolombien en Méso-Amérique - (FRENCH)
This book pays homage to the ancient Mexican art ignored and partially destroyed by the Spanish Conquistadors. The pieces illustrated are the works of peoples with vast knowledge of astronomy, mathematics, and urban organization, who were guided by a profound religious sensibility. They express a unique conception of the world and rightly have an important place in global art history. They are manifestations both of the concretely human, of spirituality, and of a fantastic vision of the supernatural. Sculptures have a predominant place among these arts, all the more so because they constitute the majority of surviving pieces. The magnificent architecture has been made famous by such sites as Teotihuacan, Tenochtitlan, and Palenque to name but a few. Such sites are often damaged both by vandalism and the effects of time, and many of the ruins remain hidden in dense vegetation. There are only a few surviving examples of the rich and varied Pre-Columbian traditions of mural painting. One of the main objectives of this book is to inform its readers about the diversity of the art, while explaining what the works were intended to be and what meanings they hold. With this criterion as their guide, authors Maria Teresa Uriarte, director of the Institute of Esthetic Research at the Autonomous University of Mexico, and Leticia Staines and Beatriz de la Fuente, researchers at the same institute, examine the styles, techniques, and materials, as well as the significance and meanings, of the various traditions of ancient Mexican sculpture.
L’Empreinte noire - (FRENCH)
Beyond its epic qualities, Sergio Leone’s western Mio nome è Nessuno (Lonesome Gun in the US) is a tale that, amidst a hail of gunfire, invites reflection both upon the past and how success in life is measured. “You’ll be written up in all the history books,” the protagonist Nobody promises his aging friend, Jack Beauregard. Raoul Lehuard has long been devoted to history, and, more specifically, to African art history. He dedicated forty-six years to the so-called primitive arts and to the service of the first journal ever regularly published in this field, Arts d'Afrique Noire. This seminal publication had one hundred thirty-two issues and showcased any number of amazing articles while presenting significant scholarship. As publisher, Lehuard approached all this with immense energy, though the source of this—as he himself has stated many times—has the tendency to dry up. Having concluded producing the magazine, it was a natural step for him to publish l’Empreinte Noire, which is a sort of summary of his long career, the tone of which sometimes leans towards “literary testimony.” Unfortunately, not every effort in life is met with unmitigated success. While this work swarms with often- interesting anecdotes and is valuable for clarifying the chronology of certain events, the choice for the cover illustration is simply heartrending. The front boldly features a disagreeable carving that bears a vague resemblance to a traditional Fang mask, though it is daubed in black, red, and white paint; overloaded with decorative but improbable brass appliqués; and studded with numerous “upholstery” nails for good measure. This is a mask about which our friend, the above-referenced Nobody, would say, “You shine like the door of a whore-house. A blind man could spot you ten miles off.” A mask that, ever since it appeared on the cover of issue 105 in the spring of 1998, has made true connoisseurs writhe in fury or become paralyzed with laughter. Though this mask is identified by the author as having been collected in the nineteenth century, it is known to have undergone a carbon-14 dating test at the Federal Polytechnic School of Zurich, which categorically identified the wood as having been alive after the mid 1940s. For Lehuard, who apparently greatly enjoys maxims and aphorisms—as he has long embroidered his writing with them—a famous phrase comes to mind that no schoolboy is likely to forget: errare humanum est perseverare diabolicum. P.G.M.
L’Histoire Singulière de l’Art Bamoum - (FRENCH)
Artistic production in the Bamum area of Cameroon enjoyed a renaissance beginning at the end of the nineteenth century, largely due to King Njoya. With the help of his entourage, he both developed a written language at the beginning of his reign and adapted it for ease of use. He encouraged art in his court and commissioned many works. The arrival of the Germans in 1902 allowed him to obtain paper, ink, and paint, resulting in the development of the art of drawing in the Bamum kingdom. Even long after King Njoya had lost political power as a result of conflicts with the French colonial administration, artists grouped together on a particular street in the town continued to develop their art and to market it to a both regional and international clientele. It is a unique story, one that includes changes in manufacturing techniques, and the development of new art works and new markets. All the information provided in this book is well documented and it allows insight into the history and the way of life of the Bamum. This is not the author’s first effort on this subject, having already published Le Royaume Bamoum, (Ed. Armand Colin, 1980) and Le Palais de Foumban (1985). This work constitutes the fruits of his most recent research.
Magic Feathers. Textile Art from Ancient Peru - (ENGLISH)
This is the first complete study devoted to the superb feather textiles of pre-Hispanic Peru. The work is sumptuously produced and thoroughly delves into the aesthetics of these textiles and the cultures that created them. The often-abstract designs and the vibrant colors and textures that these works display give them unquestionable appeal to an artistic eye. They are witnesses to a world long disappeared, in which magic and mystery were blended. For the most part unearthed in the course of excavations in tombs, these feather textiles remain in a pristine state of preservation. Superb full-page illustrations do their wondrous beauty justice, and enhance the text. An article by John O’Neill also supplies information on the birds and the types of feathers used in each illustrated piece.
Magic Masks and Figures from Greenland Magiske masker og figurer fra Grønland - (ENGLISH)
Faith, hope, and fear are a fertile soil for magic—and for unique art. For thousands of years, the Inuit have lived in isolation at the edge of the world, where they have adapted themselves to the changing, violent arctic weather; the laws of nature; and the migration of whales and seals. Similar to other indigenous peoples, faith, hope, and fear have caused the Greenlanders to practice magic and create unique art in the form of masks, figures, and tupilaqs. The Greenlanders did not know the meaning of the word “art” before meeting the Europeans. To them, objects and ornamentation of hunting tools were made for specific situations. The mask was a part of many types of ritual ceremonies and cult functions, and it was an important implement in connection with shamanism and drum dances. The book Magic Masks and Figures from Greenland by Leif Birger Holmstedt is full of illustrations, telling in words and beautiful color photos about the different types of masks and tupilaqs, and about their function in the lives of the Greenlanders.
Magnificent Objects - (ENGLISH)
This is the catalogue for a small anniversary exhibition held at U-Penn’s Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, which highlighted some of the more important pieces of the institution's vast collection. Its breadth is wide, covering the better part of the non- Western world as well as ancient Egypt and the Classical Mediterranean. The book opens with a brief introduction, after which the objects are allowed to speak for themselves with only minimal identifying information. The strengths of the collection are the strengths of the publication: the pre-Columbian material is very good, as are most of the Oceanic objects. This is at heart an anthropological study, so the works illustrated are a mixed bag—a remarkable masterpiece sometimes falls on a page opposite one that is remarkably commonplace, but this too reflects the nature of this rich university collection.
Makishi - Mbunda & Old Mbunda: 1967–1970. - (ENGLISH)
After forty years of being professionally active in the private sector, P.andré Vrydagh is celebrating retirement with a return to his first love, anthropology. Here this takes the form of a publication in English of the field notes he compiled in Zambia from 1967 through 1970. These formed the basis of the doctoral dissertation he submitted in 1970 at the Université Libre de Bruxelles, under the supervision of Luc de Heusch and Marie-Louise Bastin. It was the fi rst comprehensive study of the makishi of the Mbunda people. Used primarily in the ceremonies associated with the mukanda, Vrydagh presents the makishi as the complex entity that they embodied in their original contexts, where the term referred not only to masks but also to costumes, dance, a music repertoire, etc. His explanations are supported by both color and black-and-white fi eld photographs that depict the makishi and their interactions with the members of the community. This publication is interesting and informative, and its tone is reminiscent of that of the major academic studies of its time.
Mami Wata: Arts for Water Spirits in Africa and Its Diasporas - (ENGLISH)
A significant fixture in the many traditional festivals and masquerades throughout the African continent, Mami Wata, the water spirit and snake charmer, appears in many representations. She is frequently depicted in masks and performance costumes, as well as in numerous sculptures, as an arbiter of good fortune. At times she offers inspiration and assistance to those in need, but can also be responsible for spells and other supernatural powers of control over women and young girls, much to the benefit of young men. This volume, which accompanies an eponymous exhibition shown at the Fowler Museum at UCLA this summer, offers a fascinating view of this revered spirit, both in Africa and the communities of the African diaspora. The abundant illustrations feature a broad scope of objects, ranging from tribal works hundreds of years old to modern paintings that interpret them for the present day.