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African Dream Machines. Style, Identity and Meaning of African Headrests

African Dream Machines. Style, Identity and Meaning of African Headrests

African Dream Machines. Style, Identity and Meaning of African Headrests discusses the assumed one-to-one relationship between formal styles and ethnic identities or classifications.
Nettleton, Anitra
african-dream-machines
978-1-86814-458-7
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Title: African Dream Machines
Subtitle: Style, Identity and Meaning of African Headrests
Author: Anitra Nettleton
Publisher: Witwatersrand University Press
Johannesburg, South Africa 2008
ISBN 9781868144587 / ISBN 978-1-86814-458-7
Softcover, 17 x 24 cm, 352 pages, many bw-illustrations

Description:

Scholarship on sub-Saharan Africa is very thinly theorised. Few scholars seem to have the range to make connections with art practice elsewhere and generally offer interpretations which struggle to get beyond ethnographic documentation. African headrests have been moved out of the category of functional objects and into the more rarefied category of 'art' objects. Styles in African headrests are usually defined in terms of western art and archaeological discourses, but this book interrogates these definitions of style through a case study of headrests of the 'Tellem' of Mali. "African Dream Machines" questions the assumed one-to-one relationship between formal styles and ethnic identities or classifications. The notion of 'authenticity' as a fixed value in relation to African art is de-stabilised, while historical factors are used to demonstrate that 'authenticity', in the form sought by collectors of antique African art, is largely a construct, which has no basis in historical reality. The final chapter seeks to understand the significance of African headrests in relation to a number of different perspectives: The western fascination with the headrest as a synecdoche for "otherness"; their iconography in terms of subject matter (human and animal figures); and the ways in which headrests are used as support to the head of a sleeping person. Each of the many headrests discussed is illustrated in a drawing by the author. Anitra Nettelton is a Professor in the Wits School of Arts, Johannesburg. African Dream Machines. Style, Identity and Meaning of African Headrests was awarded the University Research Committee Publication Award in 2006.


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