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Yoruba: Visions of Africa Series (Visions of Africa)by Babatunde Lawal
Synopses & Reviews
Situated in the south-west of Gabon, the Punu are part of a group of peoples known essentially for their white masks. These objects, which continue to impress collectors and enthusiasts of African art, fascinated Western artists at the start of the 20th century. The idealized realism of the face covered with white clay, the slightly narrowed eyes, the mouth with finely-edged red lips, and the sophisticated head-dress composed of several locks of braided hair are some of the stylistic features of these masks.
The volume explores the context of ritual use of these important objects, which the Punu and related peoples would bring out for their dances, one of which is called mukuyi. The masks belonged to the bwiri, a secret society of men, and those wearing them were only chosen among initiates. They would perform acrobatic dances on stilts, most frequently at funerary rites and in honor of the ancestors embodied by the masks. This study of the Punu traditions and of their overlapping with other peoples in this region of southern Gabon is also pursued through an examination of other, far less well-known objects, such as the guardian statues of the bones of the deceased, amulets, musical instruments, and other elements of their material culture.
Objects featured in the book are drawn from international collections, including the Brooklyn Museum, The Baltimore Museum of Art, Cleveland Museum of Art, The Natural History Museum of Buffalo, New Orleans Museum of Art, The National Museum of African Art (Smithsonian Institution), Art Institute of Chicago.
Art features prominently in the culture of the Yoruba, a people numbering more than 25 million and subdivided into different kingdoms in Nigeria and adjacent regions. It both enriches life and is used to venerate and influence deities. This new book explores the archaeological and historical evidence that suggests that by the beginning of the second millennium, many Yoruba kingdoms had become major urban centers with highly developed economic, cultural, political, and religious institutions. Drawing on field observations, contextual analyses, oral sources, and published materials, this book offers insight into the poetics and dynamics of Yoruba art and the belief that the “beautiful” or “well-made” generates a special power that commands attention.
The latest volume in the Visions of Africa series explores the intriguing sculpture and decorative art of the Kuba people of the Democratic Republic of Congo. Best known for their king figures (ndop), considered among the greatest sculptural achievements of Sub-Saharan Africa, the Kuba actually produced little freestanding sculpture. Instead, they focused on a variety of decorative works that indicated success and achievement, and initiation-related pieces such as masks. The first book on this subject, Kuba examines the tribe's artistic development, from the 17th century through the turbulent colonial and post-colonial periods. The authors also explore the impact of Kuba beliefs on their art and discuss the pervasive concerns that inform the tribe's art-making. With fifty beautifully reproduced examples and an engaging, informative text, Kuba is a fascinating introduction to African art.
About the Author
Alain-Michel Boyer, professor of African art, became a member of the Conseil National des Universites in Paris after teaching at a number of American universities. He lived in a Baule village for three years and spends several months a year in Africa. He is the author of several books including Les Arts d'Afrique (Hazan, 2006).
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