Allen Whitehill Clowes Chair of Fine Arts and of African and African American Studies
Department of History of Art & Architecture and Department of African and African American Studies. Office: Sackler Museum, Harvard University, 485 Broadway Cambridge, MA 02138, email: blier at fas dot harvard dot edu Contact
In this book, Suzanne Preston Blier examines the intersection of art, risk, and creativity in early African arts from the Yoruba center of Ife and the striking ways that ancient Ife artworks inform society, politics, history, and religion. Yoruba art offers a unique lens into one of Africa's most important and least understood early civilizations, one whose historic arts have long been of interest to local residents and Westerners alike because of their tour-de-force visual power and technical complexity. Among the complementary subjects explored are questions of art making, art viewing, and aesthetics in the famed ancient Nigerian city-state, as well as the attendant risks and danger assumed by artists, patrons, and viewers alike in certain forms of subject matter and modes of portrayal, including unique genres of body marking, portraiture, animal symbolism, and regalia. This volume celebrates art, history, and the shared passion and skill with which the remarkable artists of early Ife sought to define their past for generations of viewers.
How the "unique" look of African art captured the imagination of artists such as Picasso and Stieglitz is well known. But how do art aficionados today see African objects? And how does our view compare to the way in which these objects were seen in Africa? Presenting the William and Bertha Teel Collection for the first time, this book provides a chance to think about how our vision of such objects is shaped by the "ethnographic," "primitive," or "modern" labels that have been applied in the West, and to compare it to how those same works were viewed in their birthplace. Lavish, full-color illustrations of over 100 choice objects combine forces with essays by leading African art specialists Suzanne Preston Blier, Michael Kan, and Edmund B. Gaither, and object descriptions by the collector himself, to provide a thoughtful and visually stimulating examination of these important African forms--as well as of the dynamic relationship among their creators, their original cultural contexts, and the Western viewing public.
Many think that sub-Saharan African architecture is little more than mud huts. Mud, yes--but certainly not huts. Instead, these adobe buildings, many of them enormous, show sublime sculptural beauty, variety, ingenuity, and originality. In the Sahal region of western Africa--Mali, Niger, Nigeria, Togo, Benin, Ghana, and Burkina Faso--people have been constructing earthen buildings for centuries. But they remain unknown to most of the Western world. Their plastic forms--from simple stairways, to ornamented domes, to complex arches--are highlighted by subtle painting and intricate grillwork. James Morris spent four months photographing these hidden jewels, from the great mosque at Djenne--the largest mud building in the world--to small houses in remote animist communities. Butabu shows these works as both aesthetic treasures and as architecture with contemporary relevance. These are no museum pieces, but rather buildings that continue to be maintained and built, even as they are threatened by the uncertainties of weather and the encroachment of Western technology.
Blier draws on a vast range of individual objects--crowns, masks, thrones and regalia, palace architecture, painting, textiles, body decoration, and jewelry--as well as archival photographs of art works in use in ceremonies and performances, to reveal the court-art traditions of Africa in all their living splendor.
Beads, bones, rags, straw, leather, pottery, fur, feathers and blood—these are the raw materials of vodun artworks. The power of these images lies not only in their aesthetic, and counter-aesthetic, appeal but also in their psychological and emotional effect. As objects of fury and force, these works are intended to protect and empower people and cultures that have long been oppressed. In this first major study of its kind, Suzanne Preston Blier examines the artworks of the contemporary vodun cultures of southern Benin and Togo in West Africa as well as the related voudou traditions of Haiti, New Orleans, and historic Salem, Massachusetts. Blier employs a variety of theoretically sophisticated psychological, anthropological, and art historical approaches to explore the contrasts inherent in the vodun arts—commoners versus royalty, popular versus elite, "low" art versus "high." She examines the relation between art and the slave trade, the psychological dynamics of artistic expression, the significance of the body in sculptural expression, and indigenous perceptions of the psyche. Throughout, Blier pushes African art history to a new height of cultural awareness that recognizes the complexity of traditional African societies as it acknowledges the role of social power in shaping aesthetics and meaning generally. This book will be of critical importance not only to those concerned with African, African American, and Caribbean art, but also to anthropologists, African diaspora scholars, students of comparative religion and comparative psychology, and anyone fascinated by the traditions of voudou and vodun.