Missionary Myths, Scholarly Concerns
It was only in the second half of the nineteenth century that public collections of African art began to be amassed in response to the emergence of Anthropology as a discipline. Researchers from the global north used figurative carvings and other artefacts to map the social lives and ritual practices of indigenous African communities.
Objects were also acquired as souvenirs by explorers and colonial administrators, while missionaries used them to propagate myths about the supposedly uncivilized practices of the people they encountered in Africa and elsewhere.
Early twentieth century artists like Picasso and Matisse collected figurative carvings that challenged the aesthetic norms of European sculptural traditions.
But collectors like these generally confined their efforts to acquiring carvings from West and Central Africa, accepting the then widespread assumption that Southern African communities produced only utilitarian artefacts like headrests and meat plates.
People wear clothes for the obvious reason that it is essential to protect their bodies against different weather conditions. Clothing shields them from the sun, the rain, snow storms, and the fluctuating temperatures...more
In the early 20th century, local collectors of African art such as the internationally acclaimed South African artist, Irma Stern, travelled throughout South Africa, painting people living in outlying rural areas....more
Historically, headrests were used by both men and women throughout south-east Africa, but there is no significant evidence of the adoption of carved headrests among the Xhosa-speaking communities in the present-day Eastern Cape region....more
It is commonly assumed that African beadwork traditions emerged through trans-continental trade relations that led to the importation of glass beads to West Africa as early as the 4th century AD....more
Before the 1980s, researchers working on the ritual arts of Africa commonly assumed that there was little if any evidence of figuration among the rural communities of South Africa....more