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Bamum: Visions of Africa Series (Visions of Africa)by Christraud M. Geary
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.
The Yaka, a tribe in the southwestern corner of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, have for over a century produced figurative statuettes, masks, and other objects that have fascinated Western scholars, collectors, and explorers. This impressive book brings together some of the earliest examples, as well as some of the most visually striking, and explores their uses in installation and initiation ceremonies and curative rituals, examining their relationship to leadership, divination, and sorcery. Colonial influences as well as and#147;anti-fetishand#8221; religious movements are studied for their impact on Yaka traditional art. The book includes 21 black-and-white illustrations and drawings accompanying the text, 62 color plates with commentary, and an annotated bibliography.
The Bamana (or Bambara) are members of the Mande culture, a large and powerful group of peoples in western Africa. The artistic tradition of the Bamana is rich, encompassing pottery, sculpture, beautiful bokolanfini cloth, and wrought-iron figures crafted by blacksmiths. They also have an extensive tradition of masks, which are used as a form of social control and community education.
This volume focuses on the aesthetic qualities of the masterpieces of Bamana religious art in Mali and resituates them in their social, aesthetic, and cultural context. The emphasis is on pieces used in rites of passage (Ntomo, funerals), or by agricultural cooperatives, and initiation societies (Jo, Komo, Kono, Tyiwara, Namakoro). The pieces are sublime precisely because they stand at the crossroads of religion, art, and politics.
Works included in the book are from the collections of The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Seattle Museum of Art, Brooklyn Museum, University of Iowa Museum of Art, Indiana University Art Museum, Museum for African Art NY, National Museum of African Art (Smithsonian Institution).
About the Author
David A. Binkley is former Chief Curator and Senior Curator for Research and Interpretation at the National Museum of African Art, Smithsonian Institution, where he developed numerous exhibitions and publications. Previously, he was Curator of the Arts of Africa, Oceania and the Americas at the Nelson-Atkins Museum in Kansas City.
Patricia Darish taught African art history in The Kress Foundation Department of Art History, University of Kansas in Lawrence, Kansas and the Kansas City Art Institute. Both authors received their doctoral degrees from Indiana University, conducted extensive research in the Kuba region, and have published widely on Kuba arts and culture.
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