Slightly deviating from the ongoing series about African art featured in advertisements, check out this cool vintage poster from the National Coalition on Black Voter Participation urging the public to do ‘the right thing’ and register to vote. The poster probably dates from around 1980 and was part of ‘Operation Big Vote’ – on which you can read more here. This nationwide effort by 70 black organisations hoped to stem the tide of black voter apathy. How a Kota reliquary figure from Gabon could inspire people to go vote is unclear to me, but it surely made a very graphic poster! Thanks to Ciprian Ilie for the tip.
ps yes, you assume right if you were wondering if I tried to find the Kota that inspired this poster – but I unfortunately was unsuccessful. It is a pretty common type of course.
There was lots of excitement in the community of African weapons collectors a couple of days ago. A small auction house in France (Dupont-Morlaix) was offering an extremely rare Gabonese throwing knife with an early provenance. In the same French family since the 1920s, this Fang knife was previously unknown and never published before. Besides the fact it was misattributed to the Nsakara, its estimate of 60-80 € created quite a fuzz before the sale. Many collectors and dealers were hoping the knife would stay under everybody’s radar. But, as we know, the era of the sleeper is long gone – especially now that everybody is spending so much time behind his/her computer at home – and the beautiful weapon was hammered down for 9300 € – with premium 12000 €, or 200 times the low estimate! Once more a confirmation that quality always makes its price, be it in small auction or a big sale. By the way, a similar knife was sold at Sotheby’s Paris in 2012 for only 5000 € (info), so the excitement for a supposed sleeper sometimes indeed can generate inflated prices. A very similar throwing knife can be found in the collection of the Pitt Rivers museum and was acquired in 1899, attesting the old age of the type. It needs some cleaning, but I’m sure its new owner will be delighted with the purchase as the opportunity to find a knife like this is extremely rare.
ps thanks to Luc Lefebvre for sharing this news on the Facebook page ‘Tribal Ethnographic Weapons and Primitive Currencies’.
A blog reader was so kind to signal me the presence of two Bamana masks in the cult classic A New Leaf, directed by Elaine May (1971). Two Bamana masks from Mali can be observed in the living room of the main character, Henry Graham. Walther Matthau plays this wealthy playboy and I assume the set designers found it appropriate that such a character had African art in his living quarters!
In another comedy, À gauche en sortant de l’ascenseur (1988), the apartment of the lead actor, the shy painter Yann (played by Pierre Richard) is also packed with African art – below an Afikpo mask from Nigeria. A must see if you are in for a laugh…
It was only two seconds, and it is in a sci-fi movie, so there’s a big chance you missed it, but I found it very cool to see the international pop star Rihanna dance wearing a chiwara headdress from Mali in the movie Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets, written and directed by Luc Besson (2017).
Situated in the 28th century, Rihanna stars as Bubble, a shapeshifting Glamopod entertainer. Valerian, the main protagonist, needs her help rescuing his love interest Cara Delevingne from the Boulan Bathors. He meets her in a cabaret in Paradise Alley, the red-light district of Alpha, a space-traveling city inhabited by millions of species from thousands of planets. Valerian is treated to a performance by the enslaved shapeshifting alien by Jolly the Pimp. Got to love sci-fi!
What follows is a stunningly CG-assisted dance sequence in which Rihanna changes outfits about 25 times! One of the identities Bubble takes on is a bikini-clad amazone-like dancer wearing a chiwara headdress! Below is a behind the scenes look of this moment in the movie (which happens to have been the most expensive film ever made in France!)..
Kuddos to costume designer Olivier Bériot for incorporating a bit of African art in this futuristic space epic. In traditional Bamana society, women obviously wouldn’t be dancing with this headdress, and those feathers rather originate from Brazilian carnival than Africa 🙂
A bit late to catch the hype about this television series, but attentive viewers surely must have spotted that the Dothraki warriors from Essos in Game of Thrones put blankets on their horses that do look very Congolese! In fact, the costume designers were clearly inspired by the famous textiles from the Shoowa & Bushoong peoples, who were part of the Kuba Kingdom in D.R. Congo.
[Re:]Entanglements is an exhibition to open at the Museum of Archaeology & Anthropology (MAA) in Cambridge later this year. It will be the fourth major exhibition of this project, previous ones having taken place in Benin City, Lagos and Nsukka, as well as many smaller ‘pop up’ exhibitions in towns and villages in Nigeria and Sierra Leone where the British colonial anthropologist Northcote Thomas, who’s archives are the subject of the project, worked. The above door graphic is taken from the Faces|Voices film, and articulates the curator’s hope that the exhibition will provide an opportunity to confront/interrogate/debate colonial collections and archives in our decolonial times.
Funded by the UK’s Arts & Humanities Research Council, the [Re:]Entanglements project has been re-engaging with a unique ethnographic archive – including objects, photographs, sound recordings, botanical specimens, published work and fieldnotes – assembled by the colonial anthropologist, Northcote W. Thomas, in Southern Nigeria and Sierra Leone between 1909 and 1915. As well as better understanding the historical context in which these materials were gathered, the project seeks to examine their significance in the present. What do these archives and collections mean for different communities today? What actions do they make possible? How might we creatively explore their latent possibilities? The answers to those questions can be found on the project’s website here. A beautiful and very relevant endeavour if you ask me.
The blog features interesting posts about an Igbo alusi statue collected by Thomas here, the restoration of an ikenga statue (here), and a most interesting article on sacred stone axes on Benin altars (here) – and there’s much more to discover on the blog! Below a short clip as an introduction to the wealth of the Thomas archives.
While not African, it’s too chic not to share: an old advertisement from a Parisian fashion magazine featuring an Uli statue from New Ireland. Its original caption read: “Yellow wool dress by Grès, hat Barthet, gloves and bag Hermès, photo by Philippe Pottier at the home of art dealer Hélène Leloup“. The sculpture nor painting were identified – although they surely contributed to the success of the composition. On the topic of these Uli sculptures, you might be interested to know that the French scholar Jean-Philippe Beaulieu is preparing a monograph on them – surely a publication to look forward too!
I haven’t often touched on the subject of authenticity and fakes on this blog in the past, yet the above picture was too interesting not to share. It is an image of a “Mangbetu” vessel photographed by Lorenz Homberger fourteen years ago in Machutvi, Bamoum province, Cameroon. While this type of vessels originally was created a century ago in Northern Congo, this well-executed example was made by the Bamum potter Kotu Idrissou Mache! The potter was transparant enough to reveal the source of his work: a black&white picture copied from an old publication (which I was unable to identify). It is impressive to discover that such a small image was sufficient to create this elaborate copy – nonetheless, it explains why many such works often show mistakes in areas of which the craftsman did not have a picture (for example, the top of the head). Unfortunately the potter picked a later a-typical Mangbetu vessel as a model, with an European-style hat. Additionally, most of those original Mangbetu anthropomorphic vessels were already created to be sold to Western visitors – without having any local use, as described in “African Reflections” (Schildkrout, 1990). If the potter would have had a bit more market intel, he probably would have picked a different object. Yet, it is fascinating to study how these workshops in Cameroon respond to the demands of the art market. Caveat emptor!
After the Pernod advertisement, another liquor including African Art in an ad. Here we find the musician Herbie Hancock enjoying a glass of Chivas Regal with a collection of African Art in the background. I spot a janus Hemba kabeja statue, a Bembe statue from Congo Brazzaville, a Luba rattle, and a Gabonese Vuvi mask. Searching on the photographer’s name, Bobby Holland, I found two other images from the same photo session, see below. I haven’t been able to find out who’s house was used for the photo shoot, but I did discover that the big red Chokwe figure would later be sold by Bonhams, and once was in the Bronson collection (info).
Could it be Hancock’s private collection? He did use an image of a Baule mask for the famous cover of his Head Hunters album. Read more about his album art here.