• Art and Fetish in the Anthropolgy Museum

    Sonia Silva (see profile)
    Anthropology, History of Art, Museums, Postcolonial Studies, Religious Studies
    Art, African, Anthropology, Art, Museums
    Item Type:
    museum exhibitions, African art, Cultural anthropology, Modernism
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    Sónia Silva is an Associate Professor of anthropology at Skidmore College. Drawing on ethnographic fieldwork in Zambia, as well as museum work in Europe and the USA, Silva’s research deals with materiality, material religion, the notion of the fetish, ritual and religion, divination, witchcraft, violence, and museums. Silva is the author of Along an African Border: Angolan Refugees and Their Divination Baskets (Penn Press 2011).ssilva@skidmore.edu ABSTRACT Between the 1920s and early 1980s an increasing number of African art exhibitions opened to the public in Western Europe and North America. In these exhibitions African religious objects such as masks and wooden figurines were reframed as modern-ist art. Focusing on the illustrative case of the National Ethnolo-gy Museum in Lisbon, Portugal, this article shows that these Afri-can art exhibitions offered a powerful alternative to the colonial, religious concept of the fetish. Early scholars of comparative re-ligion claimed that the primitive fetish worshippers were unable to grasp the idea of transcendence. By elevating African religious objects (the so-called fetishes) to the transcendental realm of modernist art, curators of African art helped dispel the colonial concept of the fetish, and change mindsets and worldviews. In their struggle against the notion of the fetish, these curators also engaged with the concepts of art, culture and religion. Mounted on pedestals and bathed by light, the African religious objects became modernist cult objects: cultural artifacts elevated to a higher plane of religious and aesthetic spirituality.
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    Last Updated:
    5 years ago
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