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AA Prize Winners Exhibition [Thesis] - A Culture of Craft: West Africa (UN)Objectified - (2021)

Updated: Dec 16, 2021


This thesis aims to progress towards a novel offering regarding a subject matter that has grown to become deceptively familiar. One can recognise antiques as marginal objects, anomalous amongst the conventional in how they forgo modern functional tropes. Such objects of antiquity serve no pertinent immediate purpose. Beyond worldly superficialities, they are symbolic – embodying a mythological character. They can evoke bygone times, imbuing atmospheres of seemingly fading practices of the past that existed in the antithesis of conventional contemporary notions. Operating as a surviving remnant, nostalgically referring to dissolving notions of craftsmanship and quality that represent particular historical periods in time.¹

“The material world confronts us only to serve as a mirror for social relations”^2 - Bruno Latour

In addition, it is the notion of exoticism that has long pervaded the European lens that has cast its gaze on Africa.³ Thus from such a perspective, any objects (figs.1 - 4) that are held in Europe in association with the continent supersede almost all other items of antiquity in the curiosity that they have attracted historically. Such a phenomenon can begin to allow one to comprehend the broader dynamics of Western and African relations through these objects. On a typical bank holiday afternoon, one may find themselves on a trip to the nearest Museum - with an extensive area designated for African art. Endeavouring to encapsulate the culture of a whole continent within given square footage in a plan. Whilst the customary text for each item on display is somewhat informative, one must demand a far more in-depth interrogation. We must explore how and why particular objects of African craft are initially created within a specific context. Comprehending the various infrastructures that have existed and persist, allowing them to find themselves dissociated from their (often cosmological and socioreligious) premise.

The inherent vastness and diversity of the African continent make it particularly difficult and somewhat short-sighted to even use West Africa as a more specific region for academic study, coming after only Asia in terms of landmass and population.⁴ Alternatively, focus on a particular ethnic group in association with their made objects would allow such a detailed ethnography to begin to propagate the larger intended conversation. Thus, the Lobi peoples (fig. 5) - an ethnic group identified as the ideal sample size, whose culture embodies their cosmological belief system. Manifested their inherent aptitude for craft and artistry, such a trait is keenly recognised overseas – with hundreds of thousands of objects having found themselves disenfranchised. In various institutions, museums and galleries principally in England, France, Germany and North America.⁵

One hypothesises that through a more detailed understanding of these parameters surrounding African objects (or antiques or even artefacts). There will be a proliferation of a more nuanced and objective understanding of such a controversial matter most coherently. Begin to explore potential avenues towards reconciliation and initiatives that attempt to address such a controversial matter in the most provocatively coherent manner. Be it exclusively theoretical, institutional, legal, architectural (to name a few) – or a hybrid amalgamation that skilfully unifies various stratum. With hopes of detaching oneself from repeated arguments and conventional modes of discourse, investigating original and thought-provoking propositions beyond what Flam aptly referred to as “us and them”.⁶

  1. Baudrillard, J. (1996). The system of objects (J. Benedict, Trans.). Verso.

  2. Latour, B. (2000). The Berlin Key or How to Do Words with Things. In Matter, Materiality and Modern Culture (pp. 12–21). Routledge.

  3. Velasco Perez, A. (2019). L’Afrique Intime. Architectural Association.

  4. Rosenberg, M. (2020, April 11). The 7 Continents Ranked by Size and Population. ThoughtCo.

  5. CNN, K. M. (2020, December 3). A curator’s museum is filled with looted African art. Now he wants it returned. CNN. bronzes/index.html

  6. How, When, and Why African Art Came to New York: A Conversation. (2013, June 28). [MP4].


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