African Art, African Voices, on view at the Philadelphia Museum of Art from Oct. 2, 2004-Jan. 2, 2005, is accompanied by a major publication that explores a variety of complex issues surrounding the collection and interpretation of African art. Art from Africa: Long Steps Never Broke a Back (2002), written by Pamela McClusky, Curator of Africa and Oceania at the Seattle Art Museum, explores the meaning of African art beyond museum walls, inquiring into the complex roles it plays in African lives.
In Art from Africa: Long Steps Never Broke a Back, McClusky aims to blur the line between "cultures that curate and cultures that are curated." The book demonstrates in 12 case histories how mistakes can be made when interpreting objects that are collected without consent and without their attendant meanings. Each history provides contextual information about objects from the collection and the cultures that created them, following the search for meaning through to the present day and resisting the tendency to talk about African art in the past tense. At the end of the book, it calls for the involvement of contemporary African artists, patrons and scholars in the process of collecting, exhibiting and interpreting African art for museums. The exhibition evolved alongside the book, and demonstrates what can happen when cultures "curate" as equals.
The publication includes sections on Asante and Kom objects, Mande shirts, Dan, Gelede and Mende masks, Basinjom costume, Ivwri figures, Kongo fetishes, Maasai adornment, Bamako photographs and a Mercedes-Benz coffin.
Published by the Seattle Art Museum in association with Princeton University Press, the 304-page book includes 225 color and 100 black and white images. It is authored by Ms. McClusky and Robert Farris Thompson, professor of African and African American art history at Yale University, who will also serve as an advisor to African Art, African Voices. The book ($49.95; cloth, and $35.00 paper) will be available in the Museum Store, by calling (800) 329-4856 or via the Museum’s website, www.philamuseum.org.