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Wild Spirits Strong Medicine: African Art and the Wilderness.

Wild Spirits Strong Medicine: African Art and the Wilderness. Martha G. Anderson and Christine Mullen Kreamer, edited by Enid Schildkrout. Seattle, WA: University of Washington Press, 1989. 152 pps., illustrated, hardbound, $37.50.

Wild Spirits Strong Medicine explores African concepts of the nature/culture, wilderness/village dichotomy as it is expressed through works of art. The opposition of nature and culture, one of the fundamental organizing principles of African cosmologies, is an old topic in anthropological discourse. It has, however, never been closely examined in African art. This text explores African ideas about the qualities of the wilderness and the village through past research and current studies on the subject. It is lavishly illustrated with relevant works of art.

The focus is mainly on five types of art that exemplify the wilderness as expressed in art. The first section introduces the subject with contrasting pairs of artworks from many parts of Africa that allude to the qualities of the wilderness and of the village. The use of space, in the next section, is illustrated by initiation rituals which invariably take place in the bush, widely seen as a source of knowledge. Denizens of the wild described in chapter three include both water spirits--typified by Ijo masks--and bush spirits--represented by masks of Burkina Faso. The wilderness as a source of medicines, herbs and game (the fourth chapter) is represented by Songye figures. Visibly covered with magical ingredients, these figures are used for divination and healing. The final chapter explores the wilderness as a source of power and the royal arts of the Cameroon Grasslands demonstrate how animal symbols function in regalia.

By providing an opportunity to explore African ideas about culture, this book refutes the naive assumption that Africans were uncivilized and lived in the wild, somehow "closer to nature" than the people of other cultures. Hopefully it will shift the discourse on African art to include a clearer recognition of the wilderness as subject and inspiration for art. This is a most valuable addition to any school resource center, library or curriculum reference collection. It is especially important for those developing multicultural curricula and teaching strategies.
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Title Annotation:Resource Center
Author:Baker, David
Publication:School Arts
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Feb 1, 1990
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