“There are so many Africas, and so many arts of Africa. Picasso and Matisse thought they had hit on the essence of Africa during the first decade of the 20th century. The African masks and sculpture that influenced such works as Les Demoiselles D’Avignon (1909) seemed to be the very embodiment of a youngish Spaniard’s priapic idea of the primitive: wonderfully, savagely stylised; bursting with a toe-curlingly alien erotic charge. How patronising of Picasso to think that that’s what African art amounted to. Well, perhaps that’s a little unfair. The point was that Picasso, ever grasping, ever restless, was seeking out new ways of representing the female body.

Yes, anthropologists quickly began to prove that Picasso was either wrong or telling just one tiny part of an immensely complicated story. In 1910, the first major excavations took place at Ife, a site in what is now south-western Nigeria, not too far from Lagos. (The walled city-state of Ife, legendary homeland of the Yoruba, flourished for 300 years, from about 1100-1400 AD). Thirty years later, in 1940, another great cull of objects from the same site hit the headlines again: “Worthy to rank with finest works of Greece and Italy”, shrilled the Illustrated London News.

Many of the works that those anthropologists found are now on display in this major show of north-west African sculpture, and the works here lend credence to that headline writer’s claim. At the same historical moment that Andrea del Verrocchio was doing his wonderfully painstaking, high-Renaissance drawing of a female head which can be seen elsewhere in this building, anonymous artisans in Ife were working with brass, bronze – yes, these Africans knew all about bronze casting long before the Europeans arrived to show them how – copper and terracotta to produce a series of exquisite heads that are not only the equal of Donatello in technical brilliance, but also just as naturalistic in their refinement. So much for African primitivism.” – Michael Glover (The Independent) reviews Kingdom of Ife: Sculptures from West Africa, British Museum, London – read the full article here.

Howard Zinn dies at 87

A real American (Brooklyn!) hero has left us. I dated a girl who had a brain crush on Dr. Zinn, so I was exposed to some articles, and People’s History‘s significance cannot be understated.

“From the start, my teaching was infused with my own history. I would try to be fair to other points of view, but I wanted more than ‘objectivity’; I wanted students to leave my classes not just better informed, but more prepared to relinquish the safety of silence, more prepared to speak up, to act against injustice wherever they saw it. This, of course, was a recipe for trouble.” – from You Can’t Be Neutral on a Moving Train

“Let us imagine a man who stumbles into an alien ritual in its closing stages when the devotees are winding down to a concluding chorus of amens, and who immediately and enthusiastically takes up the singing with such loudness and gusto that the owners of the ritual stop their singing and turn, one and all, to look in wonder at this postmodernist stranger. Their wonder increases tenfold when they ask the visitor later what kind of modernism his people had had, and it transpires that neither he nor his people have ever heard the word modernism.” – Achebe, Home and Exile

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DJ Sprinkles  – Sisters, I Don’t Know What This World Is Coming To

From the incredible album Midtown 120 Blues by DJ Sprinkles (aka Terre Thaemlitz) which the always fascinating Word The Cat put us up on several months back.  That photograph of Tina Turner is what comes to mind now when I hear this track.  Perhaps because the image (that expression) of Tina Turner (from the Brooklyn Museum exhibition Who Shot Rock & Roll: A Photographic History, 1955 to the Present) is somewhat similar to the Midtown 120 Blues artwork, or perhaps because whenever this track comes up I’m always on the A train looking at an ad of the aforementioned photographic exhibition.