Circuits of African Art / Paths of Wood: Exploring an Anthropological Trail

By Stoller, Paul | Anthropological Quarterly, Spring 2003 | Go to article overview

Circuits of African Art / Paths of Wood: Exploring an Anthropological Trail


Stoller, Paul, Anthropological Quarterly


Abstract

In this essay, I argue that the economic and social forces of globalization have altered spaces in which art, commerce and scholarship are negotiated. In the first part of the essay I demonstrate how the historical and philosophical forces have shaped the space of African art. How has the history and culture of Western art affected the perception of and commerce in African sculpture, masks and textiles? In the second part of the essay, I consider the impact of a different set of historical and philosophical parameters-the history of long distance trade and the impact of Islam-on West African traders' perception of "wood," the term they use to denote African Art. In the third part of the essay, I analyze what happens when these two universes of meaning intersect in contemporary transnational spaces. In the conclusion, I argue that this continuously negotiated and renegotiated picture of perception and reality, art and commerce will have a significant impact on twenty-first century practitioners of ethnography. [ethnography; globalization; transnationalism; art and commerce; African Art; New York City]

The Seventh Regent Armory at Park Avenue at 67th Street on the Upper East Side of Manhattan is hallowed ground in the history of twentieth century art. It was the site of the famous Armory Show of 1913 that introduced to North American art lovers the works of, among others, Marcel Duchamps and Pablo Picasso. It has also been the site of one of the most prestigious annual shows in the "tribal" art world: "Tribal Antiquities: The New York International Show," which in 2001 was held between May 20-23. Given its renown and its opportunity for profitable exchange, the event draws an array of well-known "tribal" antiquities dealers, who display their treasures with great panache. These professionals present their jewelry, textiles, masks and statuary with proper mounting and proper lighting-presentation that not only augments desire for an object's "allure," but also increases its perceived value.

In 2001, 52 dealers paid substantial fees to present their antiquities in New York. Of the 52 dealers represented at the Tribal Antiquities Show, 17 offered works of African art. Some of the dealers showcased West African masks and statuary, including some old terra cotta figures; others featured Central African pieces: masks and statuary fashioned from wood, old carved ivory and iron weapons. One dealer displayed neolithic projectile points from West Africa.

Propelled by various agendas, five groups of visitors streamed through the dimly lit corridors. Several dealers, who decided for various reasons not to display their pieces, trickled through the crowd. Perhaps they'd find a bargain. Maybe they'd size up the market. A swell of collectors moved through the aisles, hoping to add important pieces to their private fine arts collections. A strong current of curiosity seekers coursed through the aisles, intending to look and learn rather than study and buy. A few students of the art market in New York-including, of course, myself meandered through the crowd, hoping to arrange future interviews or gather pertinent information. Finally, a small group of African art traders steered through the corridors, looking for opportunities. During one of my visits a group of collectors gathered around a particularly compelling display of Central African masks and statuary. At these antiquities shows collectors are often distinguishable by age and manner of dress. They are usually middle-aged people dressed in dark suits. This particular group of collectors talked in hushed tones. One collector asked the dealer about patina and provenance. After several moments of informed exchanges, an African trader, dressed in a stylish tweed sport coat and black dress slacks, approached one of the collectors, a tall silver-haired gentleman dressed in a navy blue suit.

"Sir, I notice that you are admiring the Fang pieces," he said, in heavily accented West African English, referring to rare reliquary statues that had been long ago carved in Gabon. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Circuits of African Art / Paths of Wood: Exploring an Anthropological Trail
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Oops!

    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.