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Regents of the University of California

Regents of the University of California

Segunda Bienal de la Habana Author(s): John Povey Source: African Arts, Vol. 20, No. 3 (May, 1987), pp. 82-84 Published by: UCLA James S. Coleman African Studies Center Stable URL: Accessed: 02-08-2016 23:30 UTC

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Regents of the University of California Segunda Bienal de la Habana Author(s): John Povey Source: African

Regents of the University of California, UCLA James S. Coleman African Studies

Center are collaborating with JSTOR to digitize, preserve and extend access to African Arts

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The exhibit is didactic and rich in textual in-

formation. Each section includes a general

statement that relates the images to the major

themes of the show. Large-type quotations

drawn from the writings of explorers and an-

thropologists are distributed around the gal-

lery Every photograph is accompanied by a

descriptive label that gives dates, identifies

the photographic technique, and provides in-

formation on the subject. All of the text and

photographs in the exhibit are reproduced in

a handsome catalogue distributed by Harvard University Press (see review, p. 12).

One of the more interesting trends in recent

anthropology has been a movement to

reexamine "classic" ethnographies. Rather

than read these works for what they tell us about the subjects their authors intended to study, one analyzes the texts in order to un-

cover something of the ethnographers' own

assumptions, intentions, and preconcep-

tions. This exhibition does for anthropological

photography what such studies have done for

ethnography Once displayed to reveal some putatively disinterested scientific "reality"

about non-Western culture, these images are

now exhibited to shed light on our own some-

times skewed or ethnocentric vision of the

Other. "From Site to Sight" is an important

and timely exhibition that brings to the public

some elements of the anthropological en-

deavor's turn toward reflexivity, introspec-

tion, and self-criticism.

Beginning in 1988, the exhibition is sched-

uled to travel for two years with the Smithso-

nian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service.

rounded shoulders sloping into heavy upper

arms, radial abdominal scarification, and a

ridged, round base. Ibejis from nearby Ibadan

are quite abstract, almost cubist in form.

Examples carved in the Ilorin and Igbomina

areas of northern Yorubaland frequently wear

the Islamic triangular amulet, tira. Ila Oran-

gun, capital of the Igbomina region, is particu-

larly recognized for its high-quality carving. Its long slender figures have tall hairdos and

large, lashed eyes. Some have smiling faces.

Figures from the Oshogbo region, pleas-

antly smooth and, to the Western eye, well

proportioned, are also especially sought after.

Their eyes are large and elliptical and also

have carved lashes. Males wear hoods with

ear flaps; females are given a tall coiffure.

Christopher B. Steiner

Numerous representatives of the various

Harvard University

local styles can be seen in the exhibition, but


Twin Figures of the Yoruba

Jan Baum Gallery, Los Angeles

November 1, 1986-May 31, 1987

This exhibition is marked by the exuberant

presence of over 125 ibeji twin figures from the

Yoruba of Nigeria. The Yoruba have the high-

est twinning rate in the world (45.1 per 1,000 births vs. 11 per 1,000 births in the U.S.). The

high rate of infant mortality for twins ac-

counts for the ubiquity of these small wooden

carvings in Yorubaland.

It is believed that twins bring good fortune

to those who honor them, the reverse to those who neglect them. When a twin dies an ibeji is

commissioned as a surrogate, a repository for

his spirit. The mother treats the carving just as

she does the living twin; it is ritually bathed,

fed the favorite food of beans and palm oil,

and carried on her back. At night it is carefully

anointed with palm oil mixed with camwood

powder. This care results in the rich patina

seen on many ibeji.

The figures are carved in a frontal stance,

with hands placed on the sides of the thighs. Most have carefully carved ears and scarifica-

tion and stand on a round base. Female fig-

ures are portrayed with breasts. Apart from

these common characteristics, the ibejis in the

Baum Gallery's display present seemingly

endless variation in detail and a wide range of

sculptural quality

The show contains examples of the recog-

nized local styles. Those from the Abeokuta

area of southwestern Yorubaland are distin-

guished by an upswept crescent-shaped

hairstyle, heavy protruding eyelids, and

prominent lips. Males wear carved trousers or

loincloths with a knot at the back. On some

the thumb and forefinger form an O. Ibejis

with an Oyo provenance have wide almond-

wrapped and put to bed. The carving may be shaped eyes with carefully carved lashes, AIA
wrapped and put to bed. The carving may be
shaped eyes with carefully carved lashes,
,ii k' Nr:


one ibeji pair is anomalous. Ibejis of royal

families have removable elaborately beaded

cloaks. This couple wears sewn-on beaded

hoods and shirts that cannot be taken off for

ritual feedings and washings.

Though they have not always been appre-

ciated for their sculptural richness, ibejis today

are cherished by collectors. The exhibit at the

Jan Baum Gallery provides a unique opportu-

nity for the professional and the layman to

experience the power and charm of this facet

of African art.

Justine L. Kreher

Beverly Hills, California


Havana, Cuba November 24-30, 1986

In late November the Cuban government

sponsored a second biennial of art. The first,

in 1984, drew only Latin American artists. The

second, organized by the Centro Wifredo

Lam, was more ambitious. The intention was

to bring together artists in all fields from

numerous countries in the Third World.

Given politics, it was inevitable that there

would be some selectivity either in invitation

or acceptance; equally, given politics, the oc-

casion indicated a dramatic national commit-

ment that non-socialist countries rarely at-

tempt to match. The entire city of Havana

seemed to be at the service of the occasion.

Among the inevitable tedious displays of

Czech and Russian social history, there were

numerous galleries and theaters that pre-

sented works from a wide spectrum of artists

and from regions rarely airailable to an Ameri-

can audience. The number of exhibitions and

performances was astounding. Several were

of special interest to readers of African Arts.

The major event was the display at the

Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes, the result of a

competition that had attracted submissions from around the world. The press package

proclaimed that 2,451 works from 690 artists

living in 58 countries had been received. The

results were varied. The inner courtyard of

the impressive building provided space for the larger projects - those familiar monu-

ments of modern art, meaningless conglom-

erations of shabby second-hand material or


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Oil i ,. !iit~~~~~i. ........... "; .. ? " ' installations of indeterminate structure and intention.
i ,.
!iit~~~~~i. ...........
installations of indeterminate structure and
intention. These were flavored with the fash-
providentially he had retained a selection of
his painting that could be shown on this occa-

ionable proclamations of political grievance

that were more vigorously contentious than visually convincing.

Upstairs the galleries were hung with pic-

tures from many countries, including fifteen

from the African continent. Some of the Afri-

sion. It was sufficient to detail the develop-

ment of his remarkable talent up to the time

when, falling afoul of the revolutionary re-

gime, he was for a period exiled and silenced.

The extraordinary thing about Malangatana's

work is the variety that exists within so spe-

Fakeye, Emokpae, Enwonwu, Ogundele,

Onobrakpeya, and Wangboje. In a sense these

are the classical artists of modern Nigeria, once pioneers and now the established fig-

ures. This is understandable because the works were derived from the collection of the

Nigerian National Gallery of Modern Art,

which intends to establish a comprehensive

history that emphasizes the importance of art-

istic continuity. Other countries - Zimbabwe

and Tanzania for example - display some of

their artists in their national museums, but this is the first attempt in Africa to provide a

specific location for such modern art.

In actual fact the National Gallery exists as a

concept and a collection rather than as an

edifice. The enterprise began originally with

the inheritance of 60 pieces from the offices of

Nigeria Magazine. Since then, under the direc-

tion of Osague, the Federal Government has

purchased a further 250 pieces. In the heady oil-rich days, plans were made for a suitable

building. Alas, there were hinderances - the

rapid sequence of governments, the plans for the resiting of the capital at Abuja - but the

concept remains established, and temporary

space in the foyer of the National Theatre in

Lagos allows some display and reminds one

can artists were quite familiar; others were

less well known. My stays in Togo had not

alerted me to the work of Do Mesrine, but

Ghana was represented by the established

painter Saka Acquaye. The Tanzanian pre-

sentation included the inevitable Makonde

carvings and paintings that indicated that the

influence of Tingatinga long survives him. If

there is repetition in the borrowing, at least

the source is so innovative and delightful that

it remains fully enjoyable even at one remove.

Amir Nour of Sudan contributed new work:

heavy geometric bronzes. Zambia was repre-

sented by Henry Tayali's prints. Ethiopia

submitted work by Worku Goshu. Zimbabwe

offered only two Shona carvings and included

the work of Helen Lieros.

Certainly the most original contributions

came from those embattled states, Angola

and Mozambique. Afonso Massongui pro-

duced haunting, simplified forms in cast

metal, while Antonio Ole, working with

acrylics, received one of the several first prizes

for his painting Animal herido. Mozambique

offered brightly colored works by Bertina

Lopes that were near caricature and strong in

impact. Another prizewinner was Alberto

Chissano for his sculpture D6nde voy a dejar

mis orlocos elegantes. Its highly stylized form

was somewhat reminiscent of the stone birds

of Great Zimbabwe. The quantity was all but

overwhelming, particularly in view of the

wide range of quality and styles, which pre-

cluded ready generalizations. Examined in

juxtaposition with the presentations from

more exotic and differentiated cultures, the

works by Latin American artists seemed visi-

bly European.

Outside the main exhibition there were

three important specialized shows of African

material. Casa de Africa hosted a retrospec-

tive of the work of Malangatana Ngwenya of

Mozambique. Though much is in Europe,

cific a style. No one can fail to recognize one of

his paintings: those circular faces that writhe

into patterns, the wide-open eyes, aghast as if

at some horror that constantly affronts them. Yet there is no duplication but rather the reit- eration of a particular vision that examines the

world through the images imposed on the

canvas. In some complex manner, the vision

of his characters becomes the personal experi-

ence of the painter. The sequence spanned the

period from his early experiments to the year of his exile. Ironically, only now has the revo-

lutionary government recognized his distinc-

tion, seeing that the respect in which he is

held redounds to their reputation. Malan-

gatana is to spend some time in Sweden,

where there will at last be opportunity to re-

turn to the creative work denied him for

years. The results could be impressive in-


In another section of Casa de Africa was a

show of contemporary Nigerian art prepared by F.I. Osague. Many of the names will seem

familiar enough from features in African Arts:

Oil i ,. !iit~~~~~i. ........... "; .. ? " ' installations of indeterminate structure and intention.
Oil i ,. !iit~~~~~i. ........... "; .. ? " ' installations of indeterminate structure and intention.






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of its existence. Here at least is the nucleus of a

national collection, and indicatively The Nu-

cleus is the title of the lavish catalogue that is the present record of the holdings. Africanists are always uncomfortable when

they move north of the Sahara into the Arabic

Mediterranean coast, but if one accepts the

delineation of continental geography, the art-

ists of the north are part of the African herit-

age. A most remarkable one-man show fea- tured the work of Nja Mahdaoui, a Tunisian

artist who uses infinitely detailed calligraphy

as a means of creating wondrous designs

richly delineated in gold and red, which are

strikingly contrasted against black

backgrounds. They become both verbal

statement and pure form, a remarkable tour

de force of artistic precision and visual organi-


There were numerous other presentations

and, as a gesture to scholars, a formal confer-

ence on Caribbean art was convened. It was

attended by Robert Farris Thompson, whose

own research interests began with Caribbean


All in all, Havana's second biennial of art

was an awesome congregation of art and art-

ists. Its celebratory banners and posters deco-

rated the entire city. Politics may have been an

element in the conception, but the artists

themselves made sure that it did not limit the

opportunity to share with others the univer-

sality of human creativity

John Povey

books Continued from page 19

broad overview of the field


This is a very

exciting time for students of the relation of art

to all the rest of culture, because of good field work interacting with new theoretical insights

from many disciplines. Anthropologists and art historians not closely involved may not

realize how rapidly or how profoundly the

field is changing. Often work done as recently

as the 1960's seems surprisingly naive both in

ethnographic information and theoretical in-

terpretation" (p. xii).

It is, indeed, as current as one might rea-

sonably hope, incorporating works published

into the early 1980s. The tremendous amount

of data, and the great number of perspectives Hatcher wants to introduce, are all extremely

well organized. Key words are italicized and

further annotated in a glossary. Major subject

headings within chapters are repeated in

boldface at the top of every right-hand page;

the chapter title appears at top left. A thirty-

page ethnographic index provides page refer- ences to discussions in the text, historical and

cultural notes, and two or three central bib-

liographic references, for each of the major

ethnic groups, and local and regional var-

iants, discussed in the book.

The hundreds of illustrations are all line

drawings, most produced by Hatcher herself,

of items from the world's great collections, all

well selected as representative of major style

groups. They are positioned close to their tex- tual discussion, and the location of their orig-

inal is given a concise boldface caption. This

clearly allows a lot of illustrations at low cost;


but the author also claims that the drawings

focus attention on style and they do not "in-

ject an irrelevant esthetic as some color

photographs do" (p. xv). I agree with her; the

aim of the book is the appreciation of art

within the context of the culture that pro-

duced it, and gallery photographs tend to de-

tract from such appreciation. Moreover, she

says, "they have proved to be useful aids in

learning to identify styles," and given the au- thor's experience and reputation in the field,

we can trust this assertion. The drawings are

good, clear and uncluttered, and true to the

salient stylistic features of the object and the tradition of which it is representative. Purists

will express dismay at such free-hand repre-

sentation of some of the greatest art treasures

of the "primitive" world; but I applaud the

method, and I believe it will work just as

Hatcher plans it to. All should keep in mind


her purpose, and my recommendation of this as a reference tool, a handbook.

The University Press of America is estab-

lishing a reputation for making available

Warri Boards available at:

The Studio Museum In Harlem; N.Y., N.Y. 10027

144 West 125th Street; (212) 864-4500

cheaply priced (and cheaply produced) books

(of varying quality) on an incredibly wide

range of subjects. This is one of their very best

bargains. It is sharply and clearly produced,

For Commercial or Research Information contact:

Robert Obatunde Cullins - IWS:IWMC

P.O. Box 1768 Manhattanville Station

New York, New York 10027. (212) 283-4035

on good-quality stock. Its perfect binding is quite strong and should stand up well to the

regular use (and abuse) students will give it.

However, an unfortunate result of the appa-

rent desire to produce scholarly books cheaply

is often to rush through the proofreading

stage, leaving too many "typographical" er-

rors. (That word is in quotes because we can't

be sure how much blame should rest upon the

author.) Evidence of sloppy proofreading in

this case is found in many obviously careless

errors, not only in the text, but in italicized

key words and boldface captions to illustra-

tions. This is too bad; but it is my only crit-

icism of production, and does not modify my

assertion that this book is good, a terrific bar-

gain, and ought to be purchased by all stu-

dents of art.

Hatcher introduces the anthropological

focus of the book quite competently, giving a

fairly adequate presentation of "wholistic"

anthropology as the recognition of a complex set of interrelated systems operating at vari-

ous levels simultaneously, many of which find

expression in the art object. As I began read-

ing I sensed that her style was a bit wordy, rambling, and "dry," and when she stressed

her aim of "simplification" on one page (p. xii) and the necessity of recognizing "a multiplici-

ty" of patterns affecting cultural forms on the

very next page, I felt some apprehension; but

after the prefatory pages she settles down to a

patient, orderly, step-by-step (but not tedi-

ous) presentation of the various aspects of this

view of art. The structure of the book, in eight

chapters, is built around detailed answers to

several questions frequently asked by stu-

dents about art objects: Where did it come

from? How was it made? Who made it? What

does it mean?, and others.

Art is approached in terms of three compo- nents: aesthetic, technique of production, and

meaning. This third has five (or six) sub-

categories: representation, identifiable form;

iconography, or specific representation (Sym-

bolic I); interpretation, or iconology, the

broader range of representation (Symbolic II);

metaphor, meaning through analogy to some

set of cultural values; and ambiguity, the valid-

ity of different, even apparently conflicting,

meanings being derived at different levels.

Citing Philip Lewis, she adds the possibility of a sixth category of meaning, social context.

A strength of her approach, expressed in

the title, emphasized throughout the book, is

exemplified here in her insistence that none of

these components should be viewed as

background to the art form, but rather as inter-

related but separable and identifiable realms

of meaning, right up front, with and within

the object. Anthropology stresses culture as a

system, and Hatcher's approach is always

systemic, stressing avoidance of monocausal

explanations or direct linear progression.

One word came repeatedly to mind as I read

this book: rich. It is a rich book, rich in data and

in insight. It is the product of a well-informed

but obviously patient and orderly scholar,

and apparently a good teacher as well. A lot of

the history of anthropology, and of variant

theoretical and methodological approaches,

often very dry stuff to try to teach to beginning

students, is skillfully interspersed throughout

the book, interwoven with discussions of the

various approaches to art, so that it seems in-

tegral to those approaches.

The thorny subject of aesthetics is saved for


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