In and Out of Africa is an amazing, profound, and instructive film that depicts a how African culture and art are portrayed. Using humor and irony, the documentary investigates such concepts as authenticity, style, race, and politics in the international trade in African art. The leading place in the film, among the interviews of Muslim traders, Western collectors, and African artists, belongs to the Nigerian dealer Gabai Barre. Being actually a traveler and vendor of art works, Barre draws a particular picture of African art in its initial beauty and wealth. Furthermore, Gabai Barre embellishes his stories with fun and fantastic tales about the art works that add an economic value to the objects he is going to sale. Sometimes, Barre might change the meaning of what he was selling by intervening into the cultural traditions of African manufacturers and artistic interests of Western consumers. In addition to this, the film conveys certain beliefs and attitudes of African producers and vendors to their works, and shows how they consider their culture. Therefore, In and Out of Africa is a thrilling documentary that argues that the cultural value of African art as well as its diversity is great and important because it combines information about African heritage and contemporary Africans’ perception of themselves.
To start with, the major film’s argument is about ethnographic authenticity of African art that keeps the history of African nation. For example, in the film, African vendors note that white people usually buy slave bracelets that are more than 100-300 years old. Hence, these bracelets state of horrible pages of enslavement in African history. However, there are no more slaves in contemporary Africa; thus, old slave bracelets are real evidences of past times. Furthermore, in the film, African art is regarded from the perspective of Gabai Barre, a professional wood trader, who knows the authenticity and value of African art works. Gabai possesses true information on the cultural meaning of African art in his native land, unknown to the Western people; thus, customers might value these art works more than they are appreciated in Africa. Thereby, the Western people give new value to common African objects because they have been always in search for something new and made rather by hands and imagination than machines. Additionally, while African traders observe art works as wood for which they receive money, in the West, collectors view them as a fetish. Although Muslims from Nigeria like Gabai Barre do not like their art trading activities, life conditions force them to trade. Therefore, African art has become a source of profit for African traders, when he Western people place more value on its authenticity.
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At the same time, some travelers might make false assumptions about African culture and things that they buy considering them old art works. For instance, at the beginning of the documentary, African vendors offer a particular souvenir to every white tourist. This reminder of a journey to Africa is recognized as passport masks – when there was no writing in Africa, the chief had summoned his people with this tool. Thus, travelers suppose that they might buy not only something particularly African but also a piece of history. However, these passport masks do not carry any artistic value because they have been made specifically for the tourists. Furthermore, the history of the creation of the artwork, as well as its purpose is highly valued. The caving could be made by members of the tribe and used in traditional manner or purposefully stained with root, mud, and chemical products by carvers to transform a new art work into an old one, which would increase its price. Thus, only attentive and experienced customers and collectors can defect a fake. This purposeful transformation of new creations into old ones in order to gain more money suggests commercial nature of contemporary African art. Therefore, although modern African art works are made for sale, artist's spirit remains in the creation as it has been many years ago when carvings have been performed by traditional artists.
In addition to this, spiritual aspect in the creation of African art works has an important part. African producers of wooden masks of gods might speak to their works, and they believe that these masks respond back. Thus, African carvers believe in the power of a divine mask. Therefore, this special detail claims that African manufacturers are very spiritual people, which is a rather typical feature of African culture. Although white people value energy of African art works, they are particularly interested in old African colonial figures. It should be noted that it is difficult to find old colonial art works; thus, African producers create new ones. The production of colonial art works states that contemporary Africans have distanced themselves from the past. Additionally, “colon” art bears witness to this essential change in Africans’ perception of themselves and their culture. Nowadays, Africans look at their tough past through sarcastic and humorous perspective of their art works.
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Personally, I had certain preconception to the traditional African art until I have watched a documentary In and Out of Africa. Thus, this film has opened me a world of mysterious and intriguing African art and culture where carvers speak to their works observing them as living beings. Moreover, although life circumstances force African art dealers and vendors see art works only as a way to obtain money, all these creatures bear artist's spirit. Undoubtedly, times, when carvings have been used for traditional or ritual purpose within the tribes passed away, but contemporary African art continues to possess a powerful message of its ethnographic authenticity and rich history.
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