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Igbo: Visions of Africa Series (Visions of Africa)by Herbert M. Cole
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 Baule descend from the Akan peoples who inhabit Ghana and the Ivory Coast. Three hundred years ago the Baule people migrated westward from Ghana when the Asante rose to power. The Baule now reside at the center of the Ivory Coast and possess one of the most diversified of arts cultures. They employ different media, including wooden sculpture, gold and brass casting similar to their Asante ancestors, and mask and figure carvings. Their art is so varied that one might imagine some works originate from different cultures: what is there in common between a flat mask-disc and an idealized face mask which nevertheless come from a single ceremony? Or between a glazed statuette of a man or woman, and a monkey figure with the head of a dog, coated in coagulated blood? Their art encompasses every form of creation: not only masks and statuettes, but also sculpted doors, decorated divination boxes, gold jewels. The book presents a selection of Baule masterpieces from public and private collections worldwide, including The Metropolitan Museum of Art, the National Museum of African art (Smithsonian), Art Institute of Chicago, Yale University Art Gallery, Fowler Museum of UCLA, University of Pennsylvania Museum.
Igbo art is famous for its diversity, inventiveness, and aesthetic quality. This wide-ranging survey of art made by the 15 to 20 million Igbo people of southeastern Nigeria focuses on the 20th century but also takes a look at the extraordinary 9th- and 10th-century bce cast copper alloy and ceramic finds that influenced Igbo artworks created 20 centuries later. Ceremonial contexts and meanings are explained, covering art associated with individuals as well as communal works and ranging from personal decoration to architectural forms, from household objects to cult sculpture, title regalia, and public shrines. Many little-known objects are included alongside a generous sampling of the thousands of masks that are perhaps the quintessential forms of Igbo art.
About the Author
Herbert M. Cole taught African art history at the University of California, Santa Barbara, for 35 years and is now professor emeritus. He has written, cowritten, or edited nine books and more than 60 articles on African art and curated many exhibitions. This is the first title focused exclusively on Igbo art since his 1984 book Igbo Arts: Community and Cosmos, now long out of print.
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