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Modern African Art : A Basic Reading List


Western Africa : Sierra Leone

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Bender, Wolfgang. "Commerciëie volkskunst: bordenschilders in Freetown = Commercial popular art: signpainters in Freetown," pp. 53-78. In: Kunst uit een andere wereld = Art from another world; [exhibiton at the Museum of Ethnology, Rotterdam, November 1988-February 1989]. Rotterdam: Snoeck-Ducaju & Zoon, 1988. illus. (pt. color), bibliog. (page 134). Text in Dutch and English. N72.S6K96 1988 AFA. OCLC 20254165.

While "modern art" languishes in Freetown and tourist art carries on in shops and hotels, circumscribed and unimaginative, popular painting by contrast flourishes throughout the city with its own sources of inspiration, motivations, and audiences. It is this urban canvas that Bender surveys -- bar paintings, painted lorries, commissioned portraits, barbershop signs, wall decorations and signs, landscape paintings, and church paintings. For the artists, most of whom are apprenticed or self-taught, good workmanship and skill of execution are the driving forces, rather than originality.

Bender profiles several artists. Amigo is a successful bar painter; D. L. Conteh and Osman Sankoh are lorry painters who have a wide repertoire of images, including Mammy Wata. Chernor Bah is a surprisingly accomplished portrait painter. Mohammed Nuru Deen and Mohamed Bangura paint wall signs; Jacob Ebassa paints "very clever fantasy landscapes." Sahr Ellie has been commissioned to execute church murals. Economic survival is the bottom line, however; all these artists see painting as a living rather than an artistic calling.

Bender, Wolfgang. Enjoy yourself: populare Malerei aus Sierra Leone, Westafrika. Münich: Trickster Verlag, 1987. 47pp. illus. N7399.S5B45 1987 AFA. OCLC 18311990.

The vitality and appeal of street art in Freetown has found a proponent in Wolfgang Bender, who organized an exhibition of Sierra Leonean popular paintings in 1986. Truck decorations, bar paintings and barbershop signs have turned Freetown streets into a veritable art gallery, while painted portraits, studio back-drop photographs, wall hangings, landscapes and church murals cater to a variety of popular interests and tastes. Bender has an eye and ear for the most contemporary images and argot as reflected in this vox populi. Artists draw images from sports, politics (President Stevens), religion (al Burak), sex (Sugar Daddys), and imported culture (Super Fly, Concord). Bender identifies ten individual artists whose works he documents here, giving brief biographies.

Opala, Joseph A. "Ecstatic revolution!": street art celebrating Sierra Leone's 1992 revolution. Freetown: Sierra Leone Adult Education Association, 1994. 39pp. illus. (pt. color). GT3913.88.S5O61 1994 AFA. OCLC 31437646.

Freetown experienced an artistic revolution soon after the political coup d'etat that occurred in April 1992. National consciousness and cultural pride inspired a plethora of murals executed largely by unemployed youth. The enthusiasm was contagious, and within the space of a few months these self-styled street artists transformed the city. Amistad hero "Cinque" (a native of Sierra Leone) was a popular image as were portraits of Sierra Leone's new military leaders, themes of Rastafarianism and Pan-Africanism. Bannered slogans and didactics on the paintings proclaimed or exhorted. Sculptures of stacked tires patriotically painted in national colors sprouted at traffic intersections. The "ecstatic revolution" did not last long, however, as inflated expectations remained unmatched by real changes in peoples' lives. Within a year, the effervescence went flat. The murals, too, have begun to deteriorate or were abandoned unfinished.

Representations of violence: art about the Sierra Leone Civil War / edited by Patrick K. Muana and Chris Corcoran. Madison, WI: 21st Century African Youth Movement, 2005. vi, 100pp. illus. (some color), bibl. refs. N8260.R47 2005 AFA. OCLC 60805293.

The horrors of the ten-year war in Sierra Leone are captured in the art of 15 artists who witnessed the atrocities. Children’s drawings from the Child Rescue Centre in Bo, Sierra Leone, also bear witness to the trauma. They are painful to see and view, which gave pause to the curators of this exhibition in Madison, Wisconsin: Are Americans prepared to see such images? The exhibition was in conjunction with a symposium, whose papers are presented here. They deal not just with visual art, but literature and language as vehicles of addressing Sierra Leone’s civil war and its aftermath. This publications is available on Google Books.