African Impressions

African objects have always had purpose in everyday life, for instance, as ancestor figures or power objects to which magical forces were attributed, or as masks or insignia for secret societies. The significance of these objects to Westerners has altered in the course of history. They were first seen as having an ethnographic value and, as such, part of the realm of 'natural history'. Subsequently they were considered a form of historical documentation of the beginnings of art, and finally they were recognised as works of art in their own right. However, the art of African people cannot be understood on grounds of stylistic and aesthetic considerations alone; the objects must be evaluated in terms of age, artists' workshops or migrations of people and art. People moved, ideas moved, styles moved and, as the photographs in this lush volume show, rivers were an important means by which this movement took place. The works shown here come from regions rarely visited by Westerners. But just a glance at the map reveals how the main rivers flowing through this vast area, and their tributaries, played a significant role in the shaping and spreading of the world views of the people who inhabited it. The art of sub-Saharan Africa is complex and rich with interrelated stylistic and other components.