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Modern African Art : A Basic Reading List


Eastern Africa : Tanzania -- Makonde Sculpture

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Art Makonde: tradition et modernité. [Paris]: Ministère des affaires etrangères, Secretariat d'état aux relations culturelles internationales, Association française d'action artistique; Ministère de la coopération et du développement, [1989]. 209pp. illus. (pt. color), bibliog. Text in French and Portuguese. NB1097.6.M6A78 1989 AFA. OCLC 20964411.

Makonde sculpture, old and modern, represents an artistic tradition which evolved in response to the historical and economic forces affecting the Makonde people throughout the twentieth century, especially after the 1930s. It is a story which unfolds in reverse chronology from the contemporary internationally known modern Makonde sculpture to its historical and cultural antecedents about which less has been written or is known. This exhibition in Paris embraces all aspects of the Makonde story. Of the six individual essays, one deals specifically with modern Makonde sculpture: that by Elisabeth Grohs, "Art Makonde contemporain = Arte Makonde contemporânea," (pp. 144-157). Grohs avers that the evolution of what we recognize as modern Makonde sculpture dates to the 1930s when the first exhibition was held at Centro Cultural dos Novos in Mozambique. However, it was in Tanzania, where many Mozambique Makonde had emigrated in search for work, that interest in their sculpture as a commodity arose. The Indian merchant Peera was instrumental in encouraging this development. Using the hard wood mpingo (Dalbergia Melanoxylon), Manguli Istiwawo, Pajume Allale, Roberto Jacobs, and others carved in what has become known as the "tree of life" or ujamaa style. The "shetani" style originated with Samaki, but was quickly imitated and soon became a popular and successful commodity in the markets of Dar es Salaam and Nairobi. Following independence in Mozambique in 1975, official recoginition on the part of the government has further encouraged this modern tradition of sculpture.

The catalog was reviewed by Eric Lehuard and Raoul Lehuard in Arts d'Afrique noire (Arnouville) no. 73: 49-50, printemps 1990. Exhibition reviewed by Myfanwy Van de Velde, "Makondé art, traditional and modern," Le Courrier (Brussels) no. 119: 94-96, janvier-fèvrier 1990; by Emmanuel De Roux, "Les malentendus de l'art africain," Le Monde (Paris), November 1, 1989; by Jacques Binet, "Art moderne, art ancien: trois expositions à Paris," Afrique contemporaine (Paris) no. 153: 82-88, janvier 1990.

Chambers, Eddie. "Makonde art," Art monthly (London) 129: 18-20, September 1989. illus. VF -- Sculpture - East Africa.

Chambers, a black artist in England, takes sharp issue with the whole premise of the 1989 Makonde exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in Oxford (see Wooden sculpture from East Africa below), which he characterizes as another in a long line of generic "exotic bric-a-brac" shows. He resents the emphasis on the (white) collectors, whereby the collectibility of the art overshadows the individuality of the artist. He asserts, "If MoMA genuinely wanted to present challenging art from Africa, they should have sought and respectfully presented Africa's truly modern art" (page 20). Far from challenging white stereotypes about what African art is -- which MoMA director David Elliott claimed in the catalog -- the choice of Makonde sculpture only confirms the limited, myopic, short-sighted view of what may be accepted as "African art." See responses to this attack by Jeremy Coote, an adviser on the exhibition, and by David Elliott and Michael F. Stephen.

Coote, Jeremy. "Makonde art," Art monthly (London) 130: 26-27, October 1989. VF -- Sculpture - East Africa.

Coote defends the choice of Makonde sculpture on exhibit at Oxford's Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), which came under attack by Eddie Chambers (see above); he challenges Chambers' notions about equating black art with art by people who happen to be black. It is limiting, Coote argues, to restrict our view of "African art" only to religious and spiritually significant art and to modern art by academically trained artists. Makonde sculpture, far from being a degenerate tradition, "is work which transcends such simple categories as `commercial' and `spiritual,' `traditional' and `modern.'"

The question of identity vs. anonymity of artists is one which raises the counterquestion as to why all exhibitions have to focus on individual artists -- which is itself a Western notion. To present the work of a particular sculptural tradition flourishing at a given time is equally legitimate. See also David Elliott's supporting rejoinder to Chambers' criticisms.

Coote, Jeremy. "Modern Makonde carving: the origins and development of a new African art tradition," pp. 13-22. In: Wooden sculpture from East Africa from the Malde collection; [exhibition, Museum of Modern Art, Oxford, April 2-May 21, 1989]. Oxford: Museum of Modern Art, 1989. illus., bibl. refs. qNB1097.A35W88 1989 AFA. OCLC 19864947.

Modern Makonde art derives from the Makonde people living on the plateau south of the Ruvuma river in Mozambique (rather than from the Tanzanian Makonde). They migrated north into Tanzania and entered into the curio trade that began to emerge in the 1950s and 1960s in Dar es Salaam and Mtwara. Their new sculptural forms grew naturally out of older traditions of woodcarving (again, unlike the Tanzanian Makonde, who had no real carving tradition). Modern Makonde sculptures range from curios of the airport variety to truly fine sculptures of imagination and artistry, but the reality of their production for commerical purposes is one that cannot be ignored.

Coote discusses the materials, techniques, styles and genres. In addition to traditional carving (especially masks with typical Makonde scarification), there are three identifiable modern styles -- binadamu, ujamaa, and shetani -- which correspond perfectly with the characteristics sought by Western art consumers of "erotic" art: a move to naturalism, giganticism and grotesqueness. Shetani sculptures were once thought to be the invention of one man, but Coote clarifies the story and adds refuting evidence from the Malde collection that this is not so.

Elliott, David. "On misrepresenting Makonde," Art monthly (London) 131: 29-30, November 1989. illus. [and letter by Michael F. Stephen]. VF -- Sculpture - East Africa.

Elliott, director of the Museum of Modern Art in Oxford, rises to the defense of his museum's decision to exhibit a collection of Makonde sculpture, responding to a sharp critique by Eddie Chambers on the very idea of such a show. The Makonde corpus of the 1940s and 1950s featured in the exhibition legitimately reflects the birth of an autonomous modern art tradition; that it is not ritual art or that it became commercial are insufficient grounds for dismissing it as Chambers did. The quality of the sculpture stands on its own and should be assessed as such. That this exhibition is a substitute for showing black artists in the U.K. is, Elliott asserts, preposterous.

A second letter by Michael F. Stephen ("Venomous disinformation," page 30) follows Elliott's letter. In it Stephen also defends the scope and purpose of the Makonde exhibition and in so doing rebuts Eddie Chambers' "venomous disinformation." Stephen, who wrote one of the essays in the exhibition catalog (see below), defends his own experience in Mozambique in response to Chambers' implied slur against the credentials of authors of the catalog. The exchange of letters continued in Art monthly: Eddie Chambers, "Eddie Chambers on Makonde," Art monthly (London) 132, December 1989-January 1990, and a final sally by David Elliott, "Out of Africa," Art monthly (London) 133: 35, February 1990. With that, the editor called a halt.

Herold, Erich. "On some problems of the modern art of the Makonde people," Annals of the Náprstek Museum (Prague) 11: 93-109, 1983. illus., bibliog. GN37.P8N21 AFA.

Modern Makonde sculpture poses problems of classification, evolution and authorship. The early proposition of two "styles" of Makonde sculpture -- shetani and ujamaa -- has proved unsatisfactory because it really refers not to "style" but to subject matter; moreover, it fails to cover all examples, especially recent ones. To understand Makonde sculpture it is necessary to return to the source: the artist. The corollary to this line of research is the study of themes, their origins and evolution, and the influence of one work upon another, one sculptor on another. The difficulties inherent in stylistic comparisons of individual works are illustrated and discussed by Herold using ten sculptures from the Náprstek Museum.

Kammerer-Grothaus, Helke. Skulpturen aus Ebenholz: Kunst der Makonde; [exhibition, Museum im Kornhaus Kloster Heiligkreuztak, 1991]. Heiligkreuztal: Verlag aktuelle texte, 1991. 96pp. illus., bibliog. NB1255.A353K15 1991 AFA. OCLC 23297617.

Kammerer-Grothaus, whose essay is the centerpiece of this catalog, discusses all aspects of the contemporary Makonde sculptural tradition: its origins, its forms (e.g., the ujamaa-style figures), its iconography relating to myths and folklore, portraiture, the grotesque, and Christian imagery, and the market for Makonde sculpture. Giselher Blesse's essay "Traditionelle Makondekunst" sets the art historical background out of which the contemporary sculptural tradition grew. Elisabeth Grohs also contributes a general essay on Makonde art in Mozambique and Tanzania. Also included are interviews with two sculptors, Pajume Alale and Joseph Francis. The Makonde sculpture featured is that of Marion and Hans Eberhard Aurnhammer. Many of the sculptors are identified by name, and a complete list of artists (some with biodata) is appended.

Kingdon, Zachary Edward. Host of devils: the history and context of the modern Makonde carving movement. PhD dissertation, University of East Anglia, 1994. iv, 205 leaves, [115] leaves of plates, maps, bibliog. (pp. 199-205). Glossaires. qNB1097.6.T3K5 1994a AFA. OCLC 37014162.

This dissertation on the Makonde Blackwood carving movement focuses on the life histories of two sculptors Chanuo Maundu and Dastan Nyedi. Unlike previous studies which concentrated on issues of patronage, art market, and ascribed meanings, Kingdon places the artist as creator at the center of his investigation. The sculpture of Maundu and Nyedi and three others with whom they worked in Dar es Salaam "represent a specific development within the Makonde Blackwood carving movement which took root in Dar es Salaam during the 1960s" (page 1).

Kingdon presents a rich, layered background of Makonde culture and social organization and early history of the sculpture movement in the Portuguese colony of Mozambique. The role of Mohamed Peera in the birth of the modern movement as it emerged in Tanzania is examined in depth; Peera was interviewed extensively by Kingdon.

The shetani style of Makonde sculpture typifies the work of Maundu and Nyedi. Both artists are interrogated as to the meaning and significance of their shetani work within the context of aesthetics, innovation, and originality, or what Kingdon calls the "aesthetics of originality."

Kirknæs, Jesper and Jørn Korn. Makonde. Copenhagen: Rhodos, 1999. 156pp. illus. (pt. color), bibliog. (pp. 153-155). NB1255.A353K5713 1999 AFA. OCLC 56494189.

In 1974 Korn and Kirknæs published Modern Makonde art, following their sojourn in Tanzania where they met Makonde sculptors and made a substantial collection of Makonde sculpture. Now twenty-five years later, they have published this second tome on the evolution of Makonde sculpture during the 20th century from indigenous carving tradition to an international commercial art form. Much of this was driven by economics that first forced migrations of Makonde people from Mozambique to Tanzania (and later to Kenya) where commercial opportunities and patronage were more abundant, though fluctuating. Certainly economics and patronage shaped the aesthetics and style of Makonde sculpture as the century wore on.

All the sculptures illustrated in this book come from the collection of Korn and Kirknæs and date to the late 1960s. Out of their fairly extensive collecting emerged a few significant sculptors, who are singled out and profiled: Rashidi bin Mohamed (ca. 1930-1974), Kashimiri Matayo (born ca. 1930), Joseph Francis (born ca. 1930), Nafasi Mpagua (born ca. 1933), and Hossein Anangangola (born ca. 1935). The two main Makonde styles – shetani and ujamaa – are discussed along with a few other less well known styles. Most of the sculptures here are in the shetani style.

Korn, Jörn. Modern Makonde art / photographs by Jesper Kirknaes. London; New York: Hamlyn, 1974. 95pp. illus. (pt. color), ports., bibliog. NB1255.A4K67X AFA. OCLC 03090273.

Korn began collecting Makonde sculpture in the mid-1960s when stationed in Kibaha, Tanzania. This book showcases his collection, but it focuses in depth on five sculptors, all of whom were born in Mozambique and migrated to Tanzania: Rashidi bin Mohamed, Kashimiri Matayo, Yoseph Francis, Nafasi Mpagua, and Hossein Anangangola. Korn also includes short essays on the origins of Makonde art, the artist, and the wood used in the sculpture. The works illustrated are all in the shetani style.

Mohl, Max. Masterpieces of the Makonde, Vol. II: ebony sculptures from East Africa, a comprehensive photo-documentation = Meisterwerke der Makonde, Band II: ebenholzskulpturen aus Ostafrika, eine Bilddokumentation (Erganzung zu Band I). Heidelberg: Museum in der Au, 1990. 150pp. chiefly illus. (pt. color). Text in English and German. NB1255.A42M69m 1990 AFA. OCLC 21933737.

Eschewing the stigma of Makonde sculpture as nothing more than tourist art, Mohl asserts that the discerning eye can identify Makonde sculptures which are, as his title suggests, masterpieces. He admits that the task is made more difficult by the flood of imitators, copyists, and hacks. In this second volume of his photographic documentation of Makonde sculpture, Mohl includes more than 350 photographs. He largely excludes ujamaa (tree of life) sculptures from this survey. Thirty-two sculptors are represented.

Reviewed by Enrico Castelli in Africa (Rome) 48 (4): 671-672, Dicembre 1993.

Mohl, Max. Masterpieces of the Makonde, Volume III: ebony sculptures from East Africa, a comprehensive photo-documentation = Meisterwerke der Makonde, Band III: Ebenholzskulpturen aud Ostafrika, eine Bilddokumentation. Heidelberg: Max Mohl, 1997. 348pp. chiefly illus. (pt. color), bibliog. (page 248). Text in English and German. NB1255.A42M64 1990X volume 3 AFA. OCLC 26053941.

Mohl's crusade on behalf of Makonde sculptors is rachetted up several notches in this defiant and petulant presentation. The flood of sculptures marketed today in Tanzania and abroad as "Makonde" are in Mohl's estimation "depressing." The true old masters of Makonde sculpture, most now deceased, are being forgotten. The photographs in this volume are attributed to these master sculptors, including John Fundi, Felix Mali, Christiano Madanguo, Atessi, and Samaki Likankoa. Mohl, a German art importer, lays claim to thirty-five years experience traveling around southern Tanzania, getting to know these individuals, and becoming a champion of their work. He wants to set the record straight and promises yet another volume to discuss the origins and development of the Makonde sculpture movement.

Mohl, Max. Masterpieces of the Makonde; an Eastern African documentation. Heidelberg: Museum in der Au, [1974]. 68pp. chiefly illus. (pt. color), bibliog. NB1255.A42M69m 1974 AFA. OCLC 10353659.

This "Eastern African documentation" was supplemented in 1990 by a second volume (see next entry). Even taken together, Mohl does not claim that these sets of photographs constitute an exhaustive treatment of the subject.

Stephen, Michael F. "`The stone horsemen have been defeated': politics in Makonde sculpture," pp. 23-26. In: Wooden sculpture from East Africa from the Malde collection; [exhibition, Museum of Modern Art, Oxford, April 2-May 21, 1989]. Oxford: Museum of Modern Art, 1989. qNB1097.A35W88 1989 AFA. OCLC 19864947.

From the early 1960s many Makonde farmers in northern Mozambique took up woodcarving to sell and supplement their incomes; this was encouraged by the FRELIMO liberation movement, which organized cooperative marketing of these carvings in Tanzania. Of course, the modern Makonde woodcarving tradition goes back well before the war of liberation, but the war and its aftermath served as a genuine impetus. The style of the figures also changed, going from the earlier naturalistic rather benign figures to more distorted, satirical or somber depictions. The so-called ujamaa sculptures (or in Portuguese "unidade de povo") date from the days of the liberation struggle.

The shetani sculptures from Mozambique differed from those in Tanzania; the latter were more sexually explicit and grotesque, being solely for the foreign tourist market. Stephen sees the more "puritanical" shetani of FRELIMO carvers as a direct result of FRELIMO's position against all forms of sexism and racism. The FRELIMO philosophy also mitigated or "tamed" the influence of the male masquerade mapico (mapiko), which came to be seen as essentially oppressive to women. The mapico was "liberated" and became a cultural symbol for Mozambique; it is danced on national days and has even appeared on a postage stamp.

Stout, J. Anthony. Modern Makonde sculpture / foreword by Elimo Njau. Nairobi: Kibo Art Gallery Publications, 1966. xviii, 121pp. illus., map, notes, bibliog. NB1097.A35S8 AFA. OCLC 1020281.

A pioneering book on Makonde sculpture, originally intended to accompany a 1965 exhibition in Kilimanjaro, Tanzania, Modern Makonde sculpture documents the collection of Anthony Stout, acquired between 1958 and 1965 in Dar es Salaam and Nairobi. In his essay Stout dwells at length on the economics of Makonde sculpture and the market relationships of the sculptors and middlemen, already a concern in 1966. He provides long descriptive captions for the sculptures illustrated. Multiple views and detail photographs are included. Stout concludes with an essay on "Sculpture suggestive of magic practices and the ritual use of drugs." Looking back at these Makonde sculptures of thirty-odd years ago offers an instructive baseline from which to assess subsequent developments.

Wooden sculpture from East Africa from the Malde collection; [exhibition held at the Museum of Modern Art, Oxford, 2 April-21 May 1989] / foreword by David Elliott. Oxford: Museum of Modern Art, 1989. 48pp. illus., map, bibliog. qNB1097.A35W88 1989 AFA. OCLC 19864947.

This exhibition and its catalog are important for three reasons. One, the venue of the exhibition itself at the Museum of Modern Art in Oxford marks the first time Makonde art has been shown (in Britain) as contemporary art in a museum devoted to modern art. Secondly, it is a collection assembled by a couple living in Tanzania, who knew many of the artists and who were collecting actively from 1942 until 1968; so it reflects a particular historical period before the great commercialization of Makonde art. Thirdly, the exhibition and catalog, particularly the essays by Coote and Stephen, raise a number of important issues about perceptions, preconceptions, ethnocentricism and about art and politics. This exhibition also sparked a lively debate in the art press. See Chambers, Coote, and Elliott, above.