Sunday, October 7, 2018

Week 7.1 - In and Out of Africa (Due 10/9)

Why is African art valued differently than European/American so-called “fine art”? Why are “authentic” pieces valued more by the American/European collectors? How do we determine the “just price” for the pieces of art sold through this transnational market? What are the socio-economic inequalities that structure these exchanges?


  1. One European in the film stated that everyone should be able to collect without loosing their pants over it. He believes that the prices are way too high even for a painting rather than woodwork. Americans on the other hand love the african wood work. Africans will travel to places like California (as they state will "buy anything") an New York. The Africans explain that there is no fixed price on art. What one person knows, another does not. That means one piece that sells for $100 one day is subject to sell for $20 the next. the market is unpredictable. Americans have even been said to buy back beads that the west once sold to the Africans for insane prices because the Africans lie and say they are precious stones from the african soil. Authentic pieces are worth so much more because nowadays, many africans are faking vintage wood and authenticity. By using a special root, they die the wood and then cover it in mud. They let that wood sit for a few weeks and when they clean it off, the wood now is black and looks older than it truly is. In addition, It looked like one african artist was spitting seeds onto a carving in order to get chickens to peck it in attempt to mimic wear and tear. It was also stated that Americans enjoy real art. that doesn't mean the art has to be old necessarily, but does entail that it has to have been worshiped or that the person who carved it had to truly believe in what they were carving. That is true authenticity. As I stated previously, price is pretty much based on knowledge and what the buyer values the carving at. If someone is not acknowledged about african wood, a newer piece worth $15 could be forged and sold for $1500. As far as socioeconomic inequalities go, I'm not positive that there are any. It was stated that "Americans do not pay more for wood, they just buy more wood in general". So to my understanding, it's not like one person is paying a higher price due to status - its distributed evenly.

  2. The film In and Out of Africa depicts the story of a merchant, Gabai Baare, who brings “wood” from West Africa to sell in the United States. It further explores what art is, and the context for which the above merchant views the work as art. The film begins with 2 merchants showcasing a “passport,” which is a medallion that was used by a leader to summon their tribe prior to written script being introduced. What was once an important part of society and held as an important tool, is now sold in common gift shops for western peoples (or anyone) to take back as souvenirs. The value of the ‘artwork’ being displayed isn’t based on the value of the raw materials alone or some intrinsic, predictable pattern-but based on what people agree to, what the artist values the work as, and what the merchant values the piece as. It was interesting that the definition of wood was given; 1. A natural material used in the production of furniture, tools, and religious icons. 2. A commodity made of wood. 3. A work of “art.” When one typically thinks of wood, it’s simply timber, or product of a tree, or building material-rarely in the context of art. It wasn’t until a few minutes into the film that it was realized that wood wasn’t the type of building material or timber that I’m accustom to-but what people consider ‘art.’ Furthermore, this art defies what is typically considered art, either-but everyday items used by peoples in Africa or relics. These items are then valued and sent to the United States to sell. The importance of value plays a role, from the bargaining for and/or purchasing of the item in the first place, to the final sale price overseas. Gabai doesn’t have a workshop, or sculpt the pieces he sells-he simply obtains them. From an economic anthropological context, I can see the value in this film. Everyday items, or items manufactured for religious or societal purposes, are recognized, given a value, bartered for or purchased with local currency/cash, transported to a far away place, and sold as artwork. At no point did the original creator of the work have this in mind nor was there an economic motivation in most cases-but eventually the item found its way into that context.


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