Embodiments: Masterworks of African Figurative Sculpture, organized by the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, will run from January 31, 2015 to July 5, 2015 and presents 120 pieces from the collection of Richard H. Scheller. It will be composed of classic and iconic sculptures as well as more unusual examples that challenge commonly held assumptions about African art; approximately 110 cultural groups will be represented. From this interview with Mr. Scheller we learn that he has already given certain pieces to the de Young (as the Nkundu figure above), and that it is his intent that the pieces of the exhibition will be given to the de Young in the future. The collection was assembled over nearly 30 years and many of the objects have never been exhibited before – so it’s certainly something to look forward too. Turns out that the Hemba figure on the front cover of Alisa LaGamma’s Heroic Ancestors is also in the Scheller collection.
The German Günther Tessmann was one of the first to seriously study the Fang, resulting in his magnus opus Die Pangwe from 1913. Although he was not a trained anthropologist, he nevertheless may be considered one of the pioneers of ethnographic field research. The Museum of Lübeck recently has digitalized his handwritten memoirs. You can read them here – especially band 2 and 3 are of interest; they are of course written in German. More bands are following later this year, read more about the project here. All the objects that Tessmann donated to the Ethnological Collections of the City of Lübeck unfortunately still aren’t available online.
Günter Tessmann was born in Lübeck in 1884. After finishing school he did an apprenticeship on tropical gardening at the colonial school in Witzenhausen. Eventually Tessman went to Cameron and Spanish-Guinea (now: Equatorial Guinea), where he did botanical and zoological research. Moreover, Tessman developed a growing interest in Anthropology and began to collect ethnographic material and data. Between 1907 and 1909 Tessman conducted field research in Cameron and Spanish-Guinea on behalf of his hometown Lübeck, to which he donated his complete ethnographic collection (now: Ethnological Collection of the City of Lübeck). Tessmann furthermore published a two-volume monograph on the Pangwe (Fang) people in 1913, including many aspects of their culture, history, religion and arts. Due to the success of his work, he started another field research the same year, this time in Eastern Cameron on behalf of the German Colonial Department. Due to the difficult circumstances during World War I Tessmann had to interrupt his field work several times. After 1918 he more and more shifted his focus on South America. Between 1921 and 1926 he did a number of researches on the ethnic groups in Peru. After his return to Germany completed his doctorate in 1928. In 1923 Tessman had published another monograph, this time on the Bubi people. This publications was followed by his work on the different people and languages of Cameron in 1932, his monograph on the Bafia in 1934 and his two-volume monograph on the Baja people in 1934/37. Tessmann´s intense long term stationary field work was at high standard for his time. After the Nazi regime banned him from teaching at the university in Halle, Tessmann migrated to Brazil in 1936. There he worked as a botanist at the Museu Paranaense and the Instituto de Biologia in Curitiba. Tessmann retired in 1958. Günter Tessmann died in Curibita in 1969.
I just discovered the trailer of a documentary I have been wanting to see for a long time*. You can watch it here. Fang: An Epic Journey, a film by Susan Vogel, recounts a Fang figure’s journey through a century of peril and adventure, and uses the film styles of each historical period to tell its story – a whole century of Western attitudes towards African culture packed into 8 minutes. A fantastic idea if you ask me. Much more information can be found in the illustrated dvd booklet, free to download here – which also features the notes of an interesting roundtable discussion on the subject.
* The DVD is still for sale here, but priced slightly above my budget.
ps the featured “Fang” figure is currently in the collection of the Yale University Art Gallery (info).