"Classical African Images"
Welcome to Classical African Images, one of our series of educational online exhibits. We hope you have enjoyed our offerings over the past years. Our exhibitions are designed to teach as well as entertain, and of course, as a gallery we welcome sales. Judging from your kind comments and purchases, I think we have reached our goals. We offer our sincere thanks for your support.
The theme for this show is "Classical African Images." This means that items chosen for this exhibit must meet stylistic parameters that were established by African societies many years ago. These images are the types that are used as examples in textbooks and are easily found in museum exhibitions. This does not mean that the styles have not changed over the years. It siimply means that the changes, if any, have been gradual and moderate, so that the artifacts can be easily recognized as belonging to the same genre for which the older pieces were created.
African art is not static. It does and has changed over time. Sometimes the changes occur because a new master carver exerts his influence. sometimes change occurs because the carver has a vision. Sometimes change occurs because new materials or tools are introduced into the society. One carver friend of mine makes frequent trips to this country. While he is here, he scours the land for wood bargains at lumberyards. He has these items shipped home to be used in future carvings. While the old, traditional tools for woodcarving may still exist, some of my carver friends use the finest German tools available. Many artisans have abandoned the use of pigments and paints that were created locally using berries, clay and other substances. Instead, they use more readily available commercial stains and paints that are purchased at local markets run by Africans, or commercial establishments operated by Europeans. Often, the newer pigments are more durable and brighter than the older ones. Their durability often makes it unnecessary to repaint items, as was often the case in the past.
In some cases, changes occur because new items are introduced into African society, as was the case when airplanes, television, and satellite dishes were introduced. Changes also occur as individual artists attempt to exercise some creative innovation.
However the changes occur, the artisans who created the images used in traditional African ceremonies are bound by one constant: the items they make must fit into clearly established stylistic norms or parameters. A Mende Sowei mask must look like a Mende Sowei mask. A Yaka boy's initiation mask must be recognized as such. A Songye power figure must bear a strong family resemblance to other Songye figures. Items used in ceremonies involving ancestors and God must look like the older items that were presented in ancient ceremonies. To present items in ceremonies that do not meet the stylistic norms is to risk harm from neighbors, the forces of nature, and God him/herself. In addition, if an item is not recognizable, it may simply not work in the manner it was intended.
It is sometimes very easy to tell when an item was not intended for indigenous use. The special colors may be absent. The mask may be too large, too heavy, too small, or too bizarre to have ever been danced. The style may be incorrect. These items, however beautiful, were intended for sale in the local art market for Europeans. Such is the case for many Makonde figures that have no relationship to the items carved for use by the Makonde people themselves.
The items presented here, whether old or new, are classical images of African art/artifacts. As usual, we offer our appreciation to the unnamed African artisans who created this work. We also offer appreciation to our very talented web technician who created this site. The praise goes to them. the blame for mistakes is mine alone. We hope that you enjoy the exhibit, and that you will invite others to visit.