Saturday, November 11, 2006

What is the Concept of Fine Art in Africa?

I am a visual artist besides being a musician. I received a fine arts education and I have been an elementary school art teacher. When I travel I always look for indigenous art work, authentic pieces by local artisans. It can be difficult to sort through the mountains of generic souvenir art to find that unique piece. In every third world country I have been to, there has been a movement to exploit local art and culture as a cash commodity. The economic burdens of third world countries lean heavily upon local artisans. I have toured the back alley souvenir factories where men and women churn out cloned artwork by the hundreds. Sometimes there are only slight deviations from an ancient artistic formula. For western thinkers and art collectors there may be a sense that these arts pieces are devalued by their sameness. Yet upon further examination we find that the style of many art pieces has been ritualized over time.
In many instances we will find that the artistic style of everyday objects have been codified into a handful of designs. For instance, there may only be two or three print patterns for a Nigerian gourd bowl. The question becomes; are these pieces considered perfect recreations of classical works? Do these art pieces represent the power of African apprenticeship, family traditions that never stray from the past?

1 comment:

  1. Anonymous4:39 PM

    Interesting question. I mostly have traveled in Central America and (nicaragua, costa rica) and Panama and Peru. I saw this in most of these places with art. Looking at the prints you would think they were all originals, the paper is less "store bought" look
    but then you start seeing that in city after city these prints
    are at different "markets" and you hear some people saying "this is my original artwork". I was floored at first because "productioned" art in America would be glossy, standard
    with zero variation but the very nature of people reproducing does create variations that make commodity art unique on some level.
    Since I am not flush with cash being able to purchase a representive art peice of a countries style is one way I can participate in owning a peice of a countries culture. Granted, I have been able to get a few truly original prints- it meant going to
    an art school in nicaragua and talking to and watching the artist and going through his entire portfolio and it also required
    heading to an offbeat village to an artists pottery studio. At least I knew it was done by the artist and that the creator was
    getting the full benefit of the purchase. bill at