Summer is finally here and the “library is open”. With so many great books on classic African art, we can use the summer break to catch up on our reading. To get you daydreaming during your holidays, and to prepare you for the African art fairs and auctions coming up in September, we’ve compiled a list of five books we can’t wait to get lost in this summer.
In Nigerian Images, William Fagg—keeper of the Department of Anthropology at the British Museum, historian of Yoruba and Nigerian art, brother to archaeologist Bernard Evelyn Buller Fagg, museum and exhibition curator, consulting fellow in African Art for the Museum of Primitive Art, and tribal art consultant for Christie’s (yeah… pretty impressive guy)—describes the pieces exhibited in the 1960 London exhibition that marked Nigeria’s independence.
In the book, Fagg states that “of the discovered works of African sculpture that are more than a century old, at least ninety per cent are Nigerian, and it is in Nigeria alone that we can trace the history of tribal art during more than 2,000 years“. This book really is a testament to the diversity and beauty of Nigerian art. Starting with pre-1800 bronzes from the Ife kingdom and archaeological terracottas from the Nok culture, and ending with masks and figures from the Ibibio and Mama, ‘Nigerian Images’ is a classic in its own right. It demonstrates, through beautiful narrative and incredible imagery from Herbert List, that Nigeria was, and still is steeped in rich history.
Son of renowned collector Robert Lehuard, Raoul Lehuard founded the magazine ‘Art d’Afrique Noire’ (AAN; Art of Black Africa) in 1972, based on his inherited love of African art. A quarterly journal that promoted stories about classic African art, interviews with collectors, and profiles of museum collections, and featuring guest writers including Pierre Harter, François Neyt, and Frank Willet, AAN soon became the go-to resource for dealers and collectors of African art.
Babembe Sculpture, written by Lehuard and dealer Alain Lecomte, profiles the miniature wooden sculptures that represent the spirits of Bembe family ancestors. The book is a visual delight, highlighting many Bembe sculptures that, until publishing, had never been seen before. Look out for Discover posts on Bembe sculptures as we too devour the information in this book.
The social and spiritual lives of the Lega people are governed by a central initiation society known as Bwami. Bwami is responsible for teaching morality through community performances, dances and objects. Each initiation society has its own associated objects and sculptures called masengo, meaning ‘heavy things’.
Art of the Lega by Elisabeth Cameron investigates the art and objects used in Bwami associations. Cameron tells a story of how initiatives learn about the secrets of Lega society via metaphors and proverbs carved in different artworks. To get you started, we have written a number of articles about Bwami initiation objects.
Many of the Lega objects profiled and illustrated in the ‘Art of the Lega’ by Elisabeth Cameron were actually sourced from the Jay T. Last collection of masks, animals, human forms, miniature tools, and spoons. Giving us a glimpse into his fifty plus years of collecting, African Art and Silicon Chips: A Life in Science and Art chronicles Last’s experiences in collecting African art from dealers in New York, Paris, and Brussels.
“You learn so much more by seeing groups of things that are related, and each tells us something about the other“. And boy did he collect groups of things. Eventually amassing a collection of over 400 Lega pieces, Jay T. Last reveals what it takes to be a great collector of African art. The book also highlights the breathtaking masterpieces Last has acquired over the years.
So, you’ve probably blown the budget on your summer getaway. Never fear, we have a freebie for you. We’ve finally found the free, English translation of ‘Und Africa Sprach’ (The Voice of Africa) by ethnologist and archaeologist, Leo Frobenius.
In 1911, he described how Frobenius discovered what he believed to be the remains of the mythical lost city of Atlantis; “Before us stood a head of marvellous beauty, wonderfully cast in antique bronze, true to the life, incrusted with a patina of glorious dark green. This was, in very deed, the Olokun, Atlantic Africa’s Poseidon. I was moved to silent melancholy at the thought that this assembly of degenerate and feeble-minded posterity should be the legitimate guardians of so much loveliness“.
This book won’t be an easy read…
…Not an easy read but a vital one. In Volume I: The Voice of Africa and Volume II: The Voice of Africa—Being an Account of the Travels of the German Inner African Exploration Expedition in the Years 1910-1912—Frobenius pens his accounts on his expedition to Nigeria. The books provide an unparalleled view into the early perceptions of Nigerian art discovered by Frobenius during his travels.