STRENGTH AND MEASUREMENT
The discovery of "primitive art": an art of strength
Shapes and shape functions
Deities and ancestors
The living wood
Force and Measurement
Develop an aesthetic of black Africa is seen as a risky business in many ways. Is it legitimate to isolate these objects, that today we call art, the general framework of their relations and their cultural constraints? Can we submit to a test that has never existed in the minds of their creators? And can we finally see in this art - if we 'take on this term - a uniform phenomenon, despite the wide variety of both regional and local styles we offer this huge continent, following lengthy Historical developments often poorly understood? Finally, remember that this approach excludes large regions, including Africa white, that is to say the Mediterranean area with its ancient history, the eastern and southern Africa whose pastoral peoples have given rise to cultures almost without images, and finally these hunting societies, which, even in our time have not passed the stage of evolution of prehistoric rock paintings which are the main evidence of an artistic production that appears at various points the continent. Similarly, we must exclude from our contribution to the aesthetics of black African art the old feudal societies, including Benin. Our discussion is therefore limited to large areas farmers, the true cradle of woodcarving.
There is a traditional art which we know only of relatively recent examples: they only date from the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. In fact, travelers who before that time, traveled to Africa have generally demonstrated little interest in these objects, especially in terms of aesthetics. The few pieces brought to Europe have been collected only as exotic curiosities.
On the other hand, the weather, termites and other insects, not to mention the role played by Christian missionaries and some African cults appeared here and there, have limited the duration
existence of these carvings. Finally, if we neglect what has been done in other materials such as metal, ivory, fiber, clay and pottery is both to avoid overloading our purpose as to reflect the that the main traditional art form of African farmers still woodcarving.
To be questionable, the approach of separating the art of the sociocultural context that determines n 'is no less valid. The fact that African art objects are most often ritual tools in the eyes of their creators in the eyes of their users has encouraged anthropologists to collect and study them has always been as functional objects among others . Ethnographic museums have not given the art a special place. It was only gradually that a change was felt long after the recognition of the specificity of this art he had earned special treatment from the rest of ethnographic material (by a process often challenged elsewhere rightly, by anthropology). However, our need for "vital" that justifies the history, design and art exhibit "primitive" as an aesthetic fact of the first magnitude eventually outweigh any reluctance of science, but nevertheless legitimate outdated today.
Have we not also done the same with respect to the art of all other civilizations? Who would deny a sculpture Egyptian, Indian, ancient Greek or medieval law to be presented outside its cultural context, in an environment dedicated to the art a-? Each of these historical periods has prompted an artistic creation that was, too, to specific cultural conditions, or even practical purposes related to religion and power.
The object described as a work of art is deprived of its raison d'etre. This same attitude we have adopted vis-à-vis the art of later periods. Its installation in the museum is still equal to an act of alienation and forgery, since the aim pursued by the artist through his creation, be it an intimate experience or openness outside, can never be realized in the galleries of museums there, do not rule that the "only" artistic value as it is attributed to the work without any consideration. If it does not go into this, we should expose anything that falls within the field of art history in its proper historical context, and this concern for accuracy would result in transforming art museums in history museums. That would mean nothing less than a return to the thought of the nineteenth century - a trend that is actually somewhat felt today.
Long ago we isolated the art in a process that one wonders if it is irreversible. This was done deliberately and shamelessly provided that such periods in which the notion of art first took shape to assert then, that is to say From the Renaissance. It showed more timidity with regard to the periods when there was no question of art and everything that we dedicate this term was still considered a craft production destined to meet specific goals. This applies particularly to crops so-called "primitive". Can we afford to consider as part of the art of craft production in Black Africa by referring to a notion that these companies ignore the point of not having a name to identify it? It is true that there has always reported in African languages, the existence of terms to describe the beauty, often synonymous with "good" or "good", well, Africans are showing a sense of aesthetics indisputable. That goes without saying, of course, because how else to explain the existence of an undeniably aesthetic production? The body adornments, or Headgear, often quite elaborate, are a good example, which does not however provide a basis for recognition of the existence of a production of "art". Quite often a sculptor enjoys considerable prestige and is a very extensive circle of customers, but even then, he sees himself in the production of everyday objects, perhaps sometimes an "exceptional quality", but above all endowed with special properties, so "particularly" effective.
Only in our modern design - and later also that this has done to the great ancient civilizations - the art of black Africa was regarded as such. In giving this quality, we have usurped to some degree, however, without distorting it, to the extent that we have not added anything to him that it was inherent. At most it we deprive ourselves of some of its contents: the beliefs attached to them, and at least its operational function. It is certain that our assessment criteria differ from those of creators. For members of ethnic African, "quality" of a cult statue is of a different order, even if their selection of the best articles covering our own choice, as demonstrated by several experiments. For Africans, an object has a different meaning than it is to us. The aesthetic feeling that emerges from a work is less important than their effectiveness ritual.
This appears evident from the fact that we can abandon a statue as beautiful as it is, when it has fulfilled its function and in considering it now as "dead", the user indicates that African life the animated ago differs from that at all makes this same sculpture valuable to us.
So we naturally become used to separate the art of peoples "primitive" - like that of other cultures - the context which determines it, to transform it into an "art" may be collected and displayed, whether in museums, exhibitions or publications. We appreciate fewer collections where this selection has not been made and in which artistic production continues to be confused with the rest of ethnographic material. It is not possible to draw a clear separation between one and another did not matter much. Will be classified more readily in the field of art objects in a form which is reflected anthropomorphic (or zoomorphic), unlike others whose design is decorative (aesthetic?) While being fully aware that such differentiation may be justified in practice, has nothing to do with African thought. It is less distinct categories that different areas of experimentation.
The discovery of "primitive art": an art of strength
While in regard to ancient civilizations dissociation of art from its cultural environment is a practice long accepted, without being self-provided, it took a particular historical circumstance that it was so the art called "primitive". This art must first be "discovered." As we know, this happened at the beginning of this century, after much hesitation, and it is primarily a younger generation of artists in France and Germany that we should. Before them, nobody had ever claimed the shape and expression in a way too radical and too exclusive. And that was it, exactly, they discovered the art of peoples
"Primitive", a unique formal power, combined with a force of expression equally exceptional. When manifested in European art a new vitality which turned the outward appearance of things, we must necessarily look to an art whose concept of "force" was the central axis.
However, it would show too much light to see in this "force" a feature common to all "primitive" arts and one must question the validity of this view. Is there something that distinguishes this art - or rather the art of black Africa, to stay about us - that of all cultures "in excess"? Is there a test that applies to the art of each region, each ethnic group, every society in Africa? This begs the question here with as much emphasis as in other cases concerning the history of art. Taking into account both the sedimentation history of African cultures, including the overall image shows considerable differences in the vertical plane, and secondly the incredible diversity of art forms encountered in the vast spaces of the "negro sculpture," we are quickly discouraged to respond. This is particularly so as ethnology, with the results of investigation of increasingly sophisticated in recent decades, has adopted an attitude of skepticism toward generalizations, to leave only a specialized science, verified by field survey. Should we therefore, given the multiplicity of phenomena, formulate forego generalities and principles, may never move beyond the
speculation? "Is it not legitimate, even necessary, in this case, the formulation of principles characteristics of an art, as we did for that of the European Renaissance, yet individualized to the extreme, from Giotto to Titian by Jan van Eyck to Dürer? In this area, specialists have never hesitated to make generalizations. The question of a common identity of African art - which also requires a common aesthetic - arises in a way inevitable and unavoidable, and relates particularly one whose interest is not confined to art but embraces only one of All civilizations, from Altamira to the present. African identity, as difficult as it is to define urges him with evidence. If so, it is true that there is something specifically African art in the continent-or, more precisely, in the wooden statues of black Africa - it must be possible to identify despite all differences and differentiations.
The diversity of this art is great, sure. His stylistic pluralism manifests itself not only from one region or ethnic group to another, but even within the same social group. The wide range of its possibilities of expression includes both geometric stylization almost a style that could almost be described as naturalistic. While in some regions, these two extreme stylistic trends can sometimes overlap - for example in western Sudan on the one hand, and Côte d'Ivoire and Nigeria, relatively close to each other - they can also coexist so amazing, as can be seen by considering the types of masks totally opposed, like the Baule of Cote d'Ivoire. It is virtually impossible - and it is unfortunate - to establish a relationship between the geographic context and any art form (there is not, for example, a further tendency to abstraction in Savannah or more of naturalism rainforest). Too many facts contradict the classification of a seductive simplicity. Just consider the art of western Sudan and Zaire to see coexistence in savanna forms of art quite opposite - by type "geometry" is a
The diversity of local styles does not reflect more immediate and obvious diversity of forms of social organization. By cons, we note that whenever we consider a region which had a feudal past, it is found in the recent artistic activity, and this in two ways: either by a trend toward naturalism, or by a tendency towards geometric abstraction. You meet one and another, for example, among the Yoruba of Nigeria, in which the resonance of the ancient art of Benin is obvious, or even among the Kuba of central Zaire, where the existence of a powerful kingdom has also promoted the development of a "court art". Finally, let us not forget that Africa has experienced many external influences, including that of Islam, particularly oriented towards abstraction. Cons by social differences that exist within tribes or ethnic groups detect less in the style that some "quality" sculptural pieces "best" and most "significant" being held by officials, while Villagers had to settle for less elaborate sculptures. Sometimes certain types of statues and masks are associated with different grades of the hierarchy of society. But these stylistic poles do not coincide, provided with social positions.
Shapes and shape functions
Aesthetics of the art of black Africa must embrace these extremes - the trends of naturalism and geometric abstraction - while showing that this art does not cross the threshold of naturalism, or that of geometry. Such beauty should be designed within these limits even with the insuperable nature can not be explained that under the function performed by art in Africa. What is it?
He replies to various functions, or rather a basic function, the only relevant point of view of aesthetics, which would apply to any African art or at least that which is a model in black Africa , that is to say the carving of statues and wooden masks? Today, we gladly tax romantic idea that art can respond to religious motives. Of course, in Africa, many tools profane include an artistic component. But it is likely that among the many figurative carvings, it is where the religious aspect has played a predominant role, at least initially. The dolls, for example, are much more than toys, since they are often a sign of fertility and fertility. Many articles are intended to express the social prestige and thus symbolize power.
But it is difficult to isolate in this case the notion of the sacred, if we remember in particular that all social life is impregnated and reinforced by the cult. For example, can we just talk about representation of power on these female statues that support the seats Luba South-eastern Zaire, where they found the footprint of the old aristocratic traditions? The highly sacred ceremonial surrounding the exercise of sovereignty reveals that these "caryatids" represent far more than the "staging" of power. It is likely that the idea of protection plays an important role. But the religious do not always value rule systematically, especially in cases where a formal expression of art is marked by the influence of the great civilizations, like the ancient kingdom of Benin. It is nevertheless true that the visual art of Africa is primarily associated with religious functions, worship, ritual and magic that affect the style.
The few functional areas such as ancestor worship, belief in spirits, sorcery and magic do not exhaust the inventory of all existing functions. If every object responds to a defined task, it has an area of vagueness, however, because many religious objects are "multi-functional". Sometimes an effigy of an ancestor figure is "fetish", that is to say an object of enchantment.
Many masks take on different tasks, sometimes even profane order.
The sculptures can also be protective spell or evil, soothing or threatening, or both. But they meet in each case a definite need. In the broader welfare system of socio-religious people oppose the threats to their lives, the art of black Africa occupies an important position. His role is vital to ensure security by any action or in any form whatsoever. Like any threat, including those of disease and death can be explained only by the intervention of supernatural forces, art is in Africa to avert them or other forces. If, before the inexhaustible variety of tasks it takes, we neglect this essential function and we do not deduct certain information unique to explain, it certainly would be committing an error. In other words, an object of art, beyond what it represents, has always a function of conspiracy.
African communities in which artistic activity fills his office, are generally not very extensive. Of course, great empires have existed before, but even in their time, it is likely that the lifestyle of these communities was hardly changed. When, in the capital of the sovereign, the court life gave birth to an art of representation, it did not affect the local customs and worship, therefore, artistic, because of the absence of a policy centralization comparable to the empires of the Middle East. On the basis of life and artistic production, there were social groups with limited size, which were installed in the framework of a central power light heedless of hegemony. For this reason and also because Africa is the continent of wood instead of stone, they do not meet monumental art, with few exceptions that are explained by historical factors . Alongside the art "official" functions highly representative, there were villages in an artistic production, but it escapes our decision, since it has not kept to this day. Thus, the immobility of the monumental art of the Near East and Egypt, is opposed by an African woodcarving mobile, small in size, rarely larger than life, which reflects the limits of social groups and field of religious activity.
Deities and ancestors
At the mobility of art is the mobility of religious bodies. There is no question in Africa, "great" religions Deists, with the sole exception of Nigeria where the Yoruba religious ideas "primitive", however, have survived in the shadow of the polytheistic system. There are many deities, but no real gods belonging to a distant celestial kingdom. Supernatural powers, always close, always concerned about human beings that surround their presence sometimes menacing, sometimes protective. They exist in the immediate vicinity of the men in a tree, the rock nearby waters in the manes of their ancestors and often in the effigies of wood that was carved for them. Each member of the ethnic group, every villager is directly accessible to those forces, which neither the priests nor the Wizards can not oppose a priestly power capable of ensuring the protection of the individual, if these forces manifest. The immediate and direct relationships we have with them, their everyday life and their continued presence appears decisively in the art that can communicate with them.
In Africa, the meaning of art, its purpose is not to represent the universe of the gods nor to allude to the power of priests - not more than that of temporal rulers. Its role is to ensure the safety of life immediately. Such a requirement implies that art is effective in its very essence: it must contains a plot of the force which the universe is permeated. Therefore it is not enough to say that a statue is given a particular supernatural being, like a medieval sculpture represents a particular saint. Efficiency does not depend on identifying the distinctive features be represented, nor the general characterizations indicating the authority, dignity or nobility is seen in many statues. It is the result of the presence, more or less concretely perceived, of those forces that are attributed to the sculptures. It's the same for masks and for those who wear them: they either are not the mere representation of a particular being, they "are" this being. At the time of the dance, they truly embody, or at least they collect a little of its essence: the vitality that animates them is so different from the man hidden behind the mask. Regardless of the specific function of masks and statues, it seems that the essential feature of the sculpture of black Africa, at which it is fundamentally different, or if you will, by definition, the art of cultures "in excess" lies in the presence and effectiveness of supernatural beings and forces. Therefore, this art is always in a field of tension between representation and "incarnation". While it is difficult to draw clear line between one and another, it is equally impossible to cross in the favoring one over another.
The living wood
Aesthetics of the art of black Africa must take into account the "substance" not only as a factor in the form given to the objects (we shall return to this point), but also as an essential feature an art that touches our sensibilities, without which we shared the beliefs associated with it. In fact "purely" artistic reflects some specific magical force that encourages the African carving ritual objects, the "burden" of magic that is inherent part of our aesthetic perception. Besides the creative power, African sculptures contain a natural force, a vital force which animates them by secreting a special quality of artistic suggestiveness. In any case, what seems to happen when we question our way of perceiving this art. Since we are immunized against these "forces" whose reality is no doubt in the eyes of Africans, it must be that this kind of suggestiveness, that does not exist in the other arts, can be understood in rational terms. We can imagine that under the layer of immunization which protects us, still some receptivity to these driving forces. and explained the fear they instill in many of our statues and African masks, as if it was not just representations of strange beings, but instead of building "demonic" hacksaws a life that may occur outside.
This particular suggestiveness can be explained, at least in part, by the quality of vitality specific to wood as a natural material: even if the intervention does not help the sculptor to develop at least is not she not diminished.
Wood, with "strength and sap," must be considered a part of nature, artistic intervention that has not completely reduced, and, as such, is very much in the ability of expression of African sculpture, or that we consider this force as a natural phenomenon, as we do, whether we will see a supernatural phenomenon. This becomes evident when we contemplate with a wooden statue of the Egyptian Old Kingdom may, for example, be the representation of a human being, implemented in a material that is wood. The nature of wood, through this representation, is practically reduced to silence: it is expressed at the surface, probably also covered in paint at the origin. It's the same for a wooden work of a sculptor of the Middle Ages, it also inspired religious but again, the participation of the wood is minimized to the extent that artistic intervention has transformed into something "else", by the draping of a garment, for example, or the paint that covered also the most often. However, in African sculpture, you should never see the wooden effigy of a human being, even in human form, what it represents is in fact something quite different. These are wooden body, whose performance is analogous to the human body. As part of living plant and organic, wood, insofar as it remains unaltered, stands as an obstacle irreducible to prohibit the return of organic body and becomes one of the main guarantors of a certain distance, which is making vis-à-vis any form of naturalism. The African sculptor interested, too, work the surface of his works, sometimes at the expense of wood, polishing it, darken, colored, coated with oil or paint. It also adds the remains of sacrifices and everything that makes up this "patina" appreciated by collectors of African sculptures, not to mention the many signs of wear occasionally. Often, the famous masks of the Dan of Liberia or the Baule of Ivory Coast are not only blackened but still polished until the surface has the smooth and perfect metal. The traces of the sculptor's work does detect that on the inside of the object, meaning that they do not attribute any aesthetic value. Whatever the surface treatment, the wood plays a more important role as a substance that as a material: in African thought, the vital force inherent in it, as any natural feature, no only in a latent state, it is instead fully active. We feel we, too, the driving force whose concept is central to African art: it is manifested more intensely here than in an art which has artistic intervention remains the wood of his life force.
We can often detect in many statues in the form of the tree or branch with which they were derived has nothing essential. What is new is that the strength of timber growth, that is to say that its dynamic aesthetic has been submitted, through the statues in a vertical momentum imposed by both the structure of the work and stature of man. It is significant that our aesthetic perception goes so far include the effect produced by these vertical slots in which the vitality of the wood continues to occur sometimes at the risk of compromising the shape of the object.
We see in fact an aesthetic factor. Each statue may have iconographic significance occult - even for the African consciousness - the notion of vitality capable of this natural element is wood, it is nevertheless true that we always find that combination of forces lively and active associated with wood, resistant in this living material to the intervention of a sculptor. Even for us who do not recognize them, these forces are not lost: they are instead a vital part of our aesthetic emotion.
Can we see a distinctive feature of primitive art - and especially the art of black Africa-in the fact that in masks and wooden statues, a kind of indefinable force is "embodied" in proper sense, not in a figurative sense, as when talking about an idea, ideal, etc.., incorporated into a work of art?
It is in this case the force that manifests itself in the wood way "according to its nature ', the splitting up, as these forces whose presence explosive growth resulting in objects with a voltage that not found in the stone sculpture. For Africans, these phenomena are supernatural: all kinds of rituals are associated with a tree felling and woodworking. To this, one might object that the officiating is often celebrate many ceremonies to infuse life and strength to a statue, which suggests that it was previously inanimate matter. To a Westerner, it may appear contradictory. But it is indisputable that in these African societies, the existence of an omnipresent force in nature, including trees and timber, is a concept widely accepted, despite the vagueness of concepts such as animism, animation, and dynamic vitalism which we use to describe content with poorly defined contours. The instruments of worship that we call works of art contain effective forces and active even when it is not their explicit aim. Some arguments against what is considered the incarnation of a force or of multiple forces (the antithesis of the anthropomorphic representation) as the basic principle of African art, and so much more that creators and users of objects have not finished we provide information about them. With a multitude of functions, any generalization is suspect too simplistic. However it is obvious that the aspect of these sculptures does not exhaust the content, even if their ability to respective expression is used for different purposes. There is always more, and that is what "more" above all to guarantee their effectiveness. In African sculpture, we are not only faced with some graphic content or their formal solution, but still at a very specific vitality whose origin lies partly in the wood, and consequently in the relationship that binds men to the forces of nature.
If, despite their fundamental complicity with nature, Africans, instead of just simple pieces of rough wood, choose to give it a shape inspired by nature, according to anthropomorphic or zoomorphic representations they have of various supernatural beings, this obviously means they are committed on the road to "representation". Nevertheless, they expect their sculptures a specific efficacy whose origin could be in the presence of a latent force impossible to "represent". Thus, while African art has a dialectic in which opposing forces and representation, image and incarnation. It's never just one or the other. The specific effectiveness of this art, and even how it exercises its power over us beyond that which sees the representation of something. Conversely, one who sees
that "incarnation" underestimates the significance of its various religious and mythological content, which undoubtedly gives meaning to each statue and each individual type of mask, but which, however, is not just an element of the aesthetics of African art. The principle of "representation" that is constitutive in that relates to any human or animal body.
Limitations on the creative concern in this art can be explained by the fact that it must express "something else". That's what makes impossible the individual portrait.
There are a few cases of villagers who were able to identify an individual, such as a deceased, based on certain characteristics. It has also sometimes drawn a comparison between the masks and the faces of people in the entourage of a sculptor. Such attempts - and their alleged positive results - misunderstand the nature of African art, since they are basically inspired by a temptation "naturalist" anxious to find a physical resemblance, in accordance with an artistic design that dates to a time before the "discovery" of art that interests us. Long ago that researchers specialized in the art of Preclassic periods, that is to say, the ancient Greco-Roman and Renaissance also no longer have such concerns. Nobody imagines that the famous image of the pharaoh Chephren is the "reality", or the Emperor Henry II resembled the "portrait" of him can be seen in the reliefs and the illuminations of the Middle Ages. The time of individualism - and therefore the portrait - has sounded much later, but in the course of evolution, African art "above" that of antiquity or the Renaissance. Even in Benin, older but culturally more "advanced", the picture is unbelievable. These considerations also apply to the vexed question of the individuality of the African artist. Nowadays, the theory of "anonymous" and the collective nature of artistic production in Africa is generally described as "romantic." Research is more focused on discovering the individuality of the artist, in a manner favored by the fact that we know several sculptors "famous" still alive or others whose memory lives on in memories. Of course, it is in the interest of science of collecting all the facts, including artists' names provided they are found. It remains to know the value of such data. Giving them too much weight, it inflects the African art in the sense of expectation "Western", which is all the more incomprehensible that regard ancient civilizations, we abandoned all hope of a possible identification of the personality of the artist, not only because we can not sure how to discover it, but because this is a problem that has never been relevant. He is also obvious that in Africa there is only one author for each work of art. Often, the sculptor acquires a reputation for exceptional quality of his work, or because of their educational provision to apprentice sculptors. But here there is no possible comparison with the weight attached to us the personality of the individual artist since antiquity, but especially since the Renaissance. Jakob Burckhardt had been included the term "individualism" in the title of the first chapter of his book on Renaissance culture is obviously not a coincidence. The individual as a creator of objects does not lead necessarily creative individualism. Keep names transmitted by tradition is not a more relevant concern in regard to Africa that for medieval illuminations and Russian icons.
While the monks who created these works existed as individuals and their artistic differences had surely. But that never led to a controversy involving fatally entire artistic personality.
The sudden projection of names of individuals detached from the anonymous mass of artists by the pressure history, such as personal signatures being discovered on Greek vases painted in the late Archaic period, is one of the adventures the most fascinating in the history of art. By attaching too much importance to the names of African sculptors, left by chance, we do not take into account the dynamics of history. In this regard, it is not surprising that the land where the pursuit of individual artists was the most successful or Nigeria, that is to say, a region whose history of high civilization is quite remarkable. Just consider the dialectical relationship exists in all African art between body image and strength embodied in understanding what has in practice prevented the producing regions of masks and statues to create a dimensional art without neglecting a number of other obvious reasons. Few exceptions, like Nigeria, Ghana and Cote d'Ivoire mainly explained by their feudal past. The principle of incarnation is embodied in the plastic body. The flat surface, by cons, lends itself primarily to the representation of an anecdotal content. She is particularly true whenever the art is to represent the main function of power. This is the example we provide not only crops such as those of Egypt and Assyria, but also that of Benin: in the latter region, the relief has played an important role as an instrument performance. Certainly, in the rest of Africa, the art serves the same kind of functions, but they are not essential. What is new is the presence of "substantially", whether represented beings or forces: in one case as in the other, the plastic body is essential.
One might think that there is a contradiction between the general attitude of African sculpture static and dynamic, but in fact it is its condition.
The representation of physical activity, that is to say that of a being in action, taken either singly or as a participant in a scene from everyday life, it rarely occurs if n has an exceptional character. The masks are also immobile, although they often represent the expression of a more vibrant and more fantastic than the statues: the frenzy of the dance makes them appear more static. The frontal and symmetrical components are generally constant, the static nature of African statues. When anthropology became interested in art "primitive" and we saw them in their essential characteristics, we forgot the role that both played in the art of ancient civilizations. They almost always means the power and authority in art history, as in the African ethnic groups, they also symbolize the authority, dignity and nobility. However, we refer here to more tangible data of the human being at rest and authoritarian rule such as that necessary to the art of feudal and ancient cultures, of course, Benin. In Africa, the static attitude of the majority of seats or standing statues main purpose to bring a special quality of their work, an entirely different order from that of the human body. This special force that drives can not resort to physical forces, under pain of compromising its effectiveness. While the statue depicts a physical activity if they participated in a staged, mysterious diminish their effectiveness, to vanish completely. However, describing them as mere receptacles of spiritual force or ingredients do not suffice, because it would not reflect their dynamic nature. On the one hand, any presence of a force of some kind is a function of physical passivity on the other hand, it is absolutely necessary to express it effectively. The essential character of this art is thus not static, but rather the ambivalence of two opposing principles, calm and agitation. The presence of a being that worries people, or just an active force, requires the immobility of the body, but it, as deep as it is, must not lead to paralysis of the forces contained in object - such as the vitality of the wood itself: these forces must remain available to the state reserve potential.
The foregoing will be other consequences as the droop on the mode of representation. As a form of expression search of another kind, one can use natural means of expression of the body, such as gestures and facial expressions. Yet this expressive art, any gesture is excluded.
When found in Africa's representation of a gesture, it freezes into an attitude that takes symbolic value. This is illustrated by the example of fetish statues of the Bas Congo, brandishing their spears in a threatening attitude. In the physical effort, you can never notice the play of muscles in a statue, even if they are heavily accented. He who sees a sculpture representing a human being will often find that emerges from the latter a curious feeling of weakness, surrender and humility. Of course, there is always the resource to use the human face as a field of spiritual expression. But in this case too, the sculptor takes refuge in stereotypes, ie it conforms to a standard agreed repeatedly. A set of animated face is equally inconceivable that the play of muscle-moving. Many statues and masks were mostly an expression calculated to inspire fear, but we never n'attentera the balance of the work for such an effect. Often, treatment of the face helps to reinforce the impression of tranquility body that emerges from these statues. And closed eyes of a face give it an expression of intense introspection, highly spiritualized and some statues seem to possess.
But while the agitation is transcended into a statue of Buddha, it remains here in the state of virtuality, as a principle of action which has not been tamed. It is therefore important not to be fooled by Asian or European features the faces of some statues and some masks, like those of Pounou Gabon and the Ibo of eastern Nigeria, or masks and statues of the Baule, because we did not seek this. What we wanted is to make a certain aspect of beauty or a particular spirituality. Masks, rather than statues, offer a wide range of expression, ranging from introversion to extroversion. But such a characterization might primarily reflect our vision of "western". One can indeed often found in Africa these two opposing forms of expression within a single region, as demonstrated with a special glow, the example of ethnic and Dan Guéré in Liberia and Cote d Ivory.
Is there a fundamental difference between the aesthetics of the masks and statues in Africa?
This seems to support most of the authors, who point out that one can not readily separate the masks with their costumes or dance and music. to do them justice, they should be regarded as a total work of art ("Gesamtkunstwerk"). Is it really so? It is indisputable that the masks are part of a whole, at least during the course of the ceremony - apart from which they do not appear elsewhere. But they are also objects themselves, who were executed as such, and that as such, regardless of everything else, their own "aesthetic". When addressing a sculptor at work, be it a mask or a statue, he gives form according to predetermined rules. It will be the same whether one or two sculptors, performing one or both kinds of sculptures. Our vision of legitimate things piggybacking onto this fact leads us to disassociate from their environment not only masks but also what we see as a work of art. In this perspective, the mask is also an object, even if not worn or used, and that its form, expression, beauty, strength, which give it its aesthetic value. These qualities we also appear more clearly when we see him stripped of his costume and all accessories. In our opinion, the masks did not differ statues, they are also objects of art. This definition, which is inconsistent with their function, into account, however the manufacturing process that gave them birth. If there is tampering, it is exercised in their use and not their visual form. By diverting them from their normal, we are depriving these masks, in itself perfectly static, as the contrast effect they can offer when they are immersed in the dynamic environment of a ceremony. But we do justice to both their form and their ability to express plastic which combines the static to what can be opposed, that is to say, a stirring "invested", comparable to that of the statues.
The sculptures, by the very fact that they are made of wood, and contain life force is not always enough to the African, although he does not think about the thing: it is indeed highly unlikely that or even just aware of this aspect of power and efficiency that the importance here is paramount, since it ignores the general concept of a purely representative art. But it consciously that it seeks to increase the effectiveness of its statues by all sorts of artifice. To do this, it will use the resources offered by the human anatomy which emphasizes a particular element by the specific functions assigned to it by some religious or mythological conceptions: the breasts, navel, genitals, but naturally also the head will be oversized . Often is added to the sculptures of the "foreign" presumed effective, like teeth, hair, cowrie shells, beads, pieces of metal, nails and so on. In the offering sacrifices to a statue and coat it with oil, soot, covered with paint, sprinkle with blood and other substances, there is not a simple homage ritual, and even less willingness to ornamentation: this is to increase strength.
The most significant example of this accumulation of power is offered by the statues of sorcery or "fetish", which can force load magic using all sorts of processes. In this case, it seems quite clear that the natural potential contained in the statues is not fully absorbed by the formal establishment, and that part of the aesthetic power that emerges. Some, believing that fetishes are more about the magic of art, emit a doubt as to the merits of an approach that deprives them of their magical context. Nevertheless it is indisputable that the effect of these statues is also a result of an artistic nature, which owes as much to form as the expression.
Perhaps this reluctance to consider the "fetish" as objects of art is often explained by the fact that the location of a repulsively ugly, implying a narrower view of the notion of beauté6. Certainly, the art object to the object of worship, the transition is insensitive. Be assigned more readily to the field of magic some objects in which no formal will not be allowed to detect. But even among the nail fetishes and mirrors the Bas Zaire, large or small, he would find many whose bill seems neglected, even though in these works by the intervention of "medicine -man "is equal to that of the sculptor, one can not challenge their strength of expression, which is inseparable from the formal realization: the latter, by contrast, contributes greatly.
While the sculpture of black Africa is not seeking only a simple visual effect but also some real effectiveness, based on a "power" defined - the same one that has the natural wood working - the overall formal appearance must necessarily be affected. The representation of human anatomy can be enough to exhaust is an essential element. This concerns first of all proportions, which generally are modified. it is at this stage that manifests the first intervention "artistic" whose importance is that it immediately reveals that the creative intervention is not only the simple object body. This alteration of natural proportions can go very far, to a great distortion of the human body. This is so in the Grassland of Cameroon, in Eastern Nigeria and Mumuye yet elsewhere, but this is particularly noticeable as regards the masks of many ethnic groups. On the other hand, it is a rule that meets a certain extent the performance of the body. Found so rarely in African sculpture, a body with natural proportions that when this happens, it is perceived as something "unnatural". There is not actually a new Africa-wide proportions "valid" and there are not more African gun there in case of formal laws Orthodox different. The scale of proportion adopted can be very variable, sometimes even within a single type of statue. But many items are repeated with some regularity. Thus we see that the statues were often, for various reasons, too big a head, neck, exaggeratedly long torso rigid as a column, a posterior prominence, particularly large feet along very short legs. But the sculptor is evidence of such artistic sensitivity, ordering the articulation of the body, we are constantly overwhelmed by the sense of rhythm that emerges from his work.
What "chants" and a statue rhythm is always the result of an aesthetic decision, which must nevertheless have the original well beyond. It also draws on the expertise and technology. With his adze, the sculptor first practical large cuts to determine the main sections of the human body which, however, alter the proportions. This basic structure plays a decisive role to a greater or lesser extent, to the finished product. Such a principle sculptural not found only in areas where the art is expressed by an almost geometric abstraction or, as is sometimes said, "Cubist", that is to say, in western Sudan or in Songye Zaire. It is also found in areas where style favors rounded volumes and is very close to nature by the gentle contours of the body. In art, most never reached the degree of naturalism by an artist: what matters is the time chosen by him to declare himself satisfied. For the African sculptor, just as the joint is preserved in its original statues, without being masked by a faithful reproduction of the anatomy. That the initial roughing role entirely or partially determinant does not explain why the artist accepts it as such, and similarly, the change in proportions do not let explain the technical procedures of work, even if they are the the highlight. If naturalism was here the major concern of the sculptor, it would also have the necessary technical resources.
African sculpture to represent each anatomical detail, but always with the restriction insurmountable: the body should never be abandoned to its organic functionality. To force a bypass to occur, we must break the continuity of the organic body, even without the aid of specific substances. It is for this reason that each body part is always more or less clearly defined in relation to another. This is not the rule of continuity, but discontinuity. The separation of the volumes is an essential feature of African sculpture that does not differ fundamentally in that, the art of ancient cultures high. What distinguishes the is the persistence of the organic continuity of the wood, despite the discontinuity of parts of the work. The dynamic of organic wood combines therefore the articulation of the body rejecting the organic. One might add that the vitality and strength of wood growth, including the irresistible current passes through the object from the bottom up, do not take into account the separation of volumes and thus opposes the action of the discontinuity. Conversely, the dynamic created form a counterweight to the dynamics of wood. Forms extracted from it one after the other does not jeopardize its vitality.
The separation of the volumes may be more or less marked, but it is always indicated, making it one of the plastic core principles of African art. Each case reveals that the various body parts are treated as more or less autonomous forms: head accentuated chin, neck, shoulders, arms and forearms, hands, breasts, torso, buttocks, thighs and calves, feet. This distinctive structure, sometimes specifically "Architectonic," is accentuated by the oversized portions. Some details, such as facials, are also designed and isolated as separate entities, even where the surface treatment is extremely advanced, as can be seen in ethnic groups in Côte d'Ivoire or in the upper Luba Zaire. And eyes appear as independent forms, often in a joint redivided very accurate. The nose is often a form stereometrical highly prominent, while also breaking down into separate parts like the bridge and the wings. Mention must also often quite elaborate hairstyles, and scarification marks. All this resolves itself in a clear plastic construction resolutely formal, a "development rate" which has as its corollary the strict negation of the organic unity of the body. This art that animates any instinct of life, shows no relaxation or physical recreation, which always brings us back to the same conclusion: here, the force is accumulated rather than channeled by physical forces and equipment. Before these statues, the viewer has the impression that rarely contemplate the representation of a human body in standing posture, with weight distribution between the two legs of which serves to support, according to the attitude of "contraposto" from the Greek classical antiquity. In Africa, represented body disappears behind the wooden statue that is imposed on us as such, standing with the more force she often bent knees. This decline, if it was natural compromise the stability of the posture. But most often it helps to reinforce the foundation, which means that the eye interprets the "correct" in not seeing a naturalistic representation. According to the same "logic" is often observed that the arms do not really hang up the trunk: in fact, they are rather "stretched down". The same applies in the case of ancient Egypt, it is true, but contrary to what is happening in black Africa, the physical strength that goes from arm to muscle clenched fist is clearly perceptible: c ' is already an organic force, although not yet released. Under this same day that we appear to the statues of the Greek era ephebes Preclassic, which are the source of the attitude of relaxation that we encounter in the fifth century, which was originally submitted to the imperatives of formal canon.