978-0-500-01870-5 / 9780500018705

The Tribal Arts of Africa


Publisher:Thames & Hudson



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About the book:

In the light of recent debates about the status of the term "Tribal Art" in relation to the cultures of sub-Saharan Africa, Jean-Baptiste Bacquart's The Tribal Arts of Africa is a remarkably bold and ambitious book, which sets out to offer a geographical and artistic synthesis of more than a hundred years of Western studies of the art of Africa.

According to Bacquart, "tribes, not countries, shape the artistic geography of Africa". As a result, the book is broken down into 49 sections, each dealing with a particular region and its tribal art, beginning with the west coast of Africa and ending with east and South Africa. A particular tribe's masks, statues, utensils, furniture and jewellery are then surveyed for their ritual and aesthetic significance. The results are striking and varied, from the remarkable Sapi and Benin sculptures which emerged from Portuguese contact with west Africa in the 15th century, to the mysterious and forbidding figures of the Nyamezi of Tanzania, all of which are beautifully reproduced in full colour.

While the book is a fascinating testimony to the variety and difference of African Tribal Art, its ambitious scope begs more questions than the book can answer. The brief descriptions of the ritual use of these objects requires more explanation. It would also be fascinating to explain the similarities and cross-fertilisations between different tribes which often seem to have occurred. Perhaps the strength of The Tribal Arts of Africa is the extent to which it unwittingly begins to unravel the usefulness of a term like "African Tribal Art" itself; but for those intrigued by these objects, this is undoubtedly the book to explore an art about which we still know very little. --Jerry Brotton

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