Saturday 19 October 2013

Nok, Origin of African Sculpture

There is a special exhibition ,"Nok. Origin of African Sculpture", on show from 30 October 2013 to 23 February 2014 and realized in cooperation with Frankfurt's Goethe University, at the Liebieghaus Skulpturensammlung. This presents spectacular finds of the more than two-thousand-year-old Nok culture in Sub-Saharan Africa. The over one hundred sculptures and fragments on display were recovered by the archaeologists of Frankfurt's Goethe University from more than two-hundred excavation sites in West African Nigeria within the past eight years. Besides the sculptures, everyday objects such as earthenware vessels, stone tools, and jewellery are on show, thus conveying a comprehensive picture of this remarkable West African archaeological culture. Very little of this material is valued on the collectors' market, which sees this culture mainly through  the medium of the extraordinary looted and smuggled ceramic sculptures which are eagerly sought:

"Faced with the international art market's steadily growing interest in African art and the top prices achieved for Nok terracotta figures, dealers have increasingly come to organize illegal searches for such items, their excavation, and ways of selling them abroad. Nok sites have been systematically looted by treasure hunters for decades. Numerous objects seem to have come on the Western art market through these channels. In addition, countless forgeries and copies have found their way into the art market and into museum collections". 
In view of the venue, instead of concentrating on the specific features of the societies it is presenting, the exhibition goes for the "encyclopedic" art-centred approach. The archaeological material is thus "displayed in a dialogue with contemporary works from Ancient Egypt and Greek-Roman Antiquity from the collections of the Liebieghaus". Apparently it is not enough to inform the viewer about the culture studied, but eurocentrically: "this pointed confrontation thematizes the major conflict about the radically changed understanding of art in the twentieth century by spanning from Europe's figurative art on the one hand to the free forms of so-called primitive art on the other".

It is disappointing to see archaeology so effortlessly slipping back into an atavistic role as handmaiden of art-history under the pervasive influence of the dominant models of treasure collecting dilettantism.

'Nok Origin of African Sculpture - An exhibition of the Liebieghaus Skulpturensammlung', Kunstpedia 17-10-2013

1 comment:


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Kwame Opoku

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