Visions from the Forests: The Art of Liberia and Sierra Leone

By Macaluso, Laura A. | Material Culture, Fall 2017 | Go to article overview

Visions from the Forests: The Art of Liberia and Sierra Leone


Macaluso, Laura A., Material Culture


Visions from the Forests: The Art of Liberia and Sierra Leone Edited by Jan-Lodwick Grootaers and Alexander Bortolot Seattle and London: The University of Washington Press, 2014. 240 pages. Color images, catalogue of objects, notes, bibliography, and index. $39.95 (paper), ISBN 9780989371810.

This beautifully produced catalog that accompanies the exhibit of the same name was a tribute to collector and curator William (Bill) Seligman, who died in 2011 . A native of Minneapolis, Minnesota, Seligman's efforts to document, collect, and teach the heritage of West African societies through material culture has been transferred to the major American art museums where his collection was divided and donated, including the Minneapolis Institute of Arts (organizer of the exhibit); Smithsonian's National Museum of African Art; Indiana University Art Museum in Bloomington; the High Museum of Art in Atlanta; the St . Louis Art Museum; and the Brooklyn Museum, where he was curator from 1987 to 2007. Seligman's life and work exemplify 20th century efforts of westerners to share the rich culture and heritage of a geographic region in Africa that should be understood by more of us, certainly by Americans and Britons, as both Liberia and Sierra Leone have historical ties to the US and the UK due to the history of slavery and the abolitionist movement of the early 19th century.

The catalog text stays away from overt politics, focusing instead on the social histories of the objects presented, but these are objects that survived the civil war that lasted more than a decade and that destroyed the museum collections that had been installed by Seligman in Liberia between 1965 and 1987. Seligman was part of the great political and cultural turn of the African Independence movements of the late 20th century and knew of the great atrocities committed during the war that began in 1989. His collection of West African materials is exemplary, and is part of a larger effort by anthropologists and historians to recreate and reanimate cultural heritage to include archives and documentary photography after much destruction and loss of human life .

For this catalog, which serves to present both the connoisseur behind the collection and object history as it relates to use, the editors selected essays from seven cultural historians, who discuss the role of the forest for "subsistence and sociability," including the gender distinctions of Poro (male) and Sande (female) society initiation activities, seen, for example in mask making . Artistic production thus reflects place, use, and materiality, however, Seligman included "change and historical rootedness" as well

The essays contributed by Mariane C . Ferme, Paul Richards, Nanina Guyer, Frederick John Lamp, Daniel C . …

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