This book opens with the question, What is African art? The answer is a brilliantly colorful and detailed look at the myriad materials and genres, forms and meanings, cultural contexts and expressions that comprise artistic traditions across this vast and varied continent. Viewing artworks in their contexts—ancient and modern, urban and rural, western and eastern, decorative and functional—the book is nothing less than a virtual tour of African culture. Masks, textiles, royal art, sculpture, ceramics, tools and weapons—in each instance, the book features examples that reveal the most significant aspects of workmanship, materials, and design in objects of wood, stone, ivory, clay, metalwork, featherwork, leather, basketwork, and cloth. Photographs of each piece alongside close-ups of fine details afford new views of these works and allow for intriguing comparisons between seemingly unrelated objects and media. The featured details evoke the hand and eye of the most accomplished craftspeople across Africa, past and present. In sum, these photographs, along with Chris Spring’s enlightening commentary, offer an experience of African art that is at once broad and deep, richly informed and intimately felt. They are, at the same time, a kaleidoscopic view of art from prehistory to gestures prefiguring the future.
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Chris Spring is Curator of the Sainsbury African galleries at the British Museum and the author of African Arms & Armor, North African Textiles, and African Textiles: Library of Style.
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