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Wingo, Ajume H.. African Art and the Aesthetics of Hiding and Revealing
1998, British Journal of Aesthetics 38(3): 251-264
Added by: Simon Fokt
Content: This text focuses on identifying distinctive features of African art. First, African art is virtually always functional and although it can be enjoyed intrinsically, it is rarely created for its own sake. It is a part of the social and political structure and cannot be understood without an understanding of this structure. The function of such art is to ‘veil social functions’: communicate that there exist secrets available to those initiated without communicating those secrets to everyone. Wingo further focuses on masks and dance as examples of African art which are experienced in specific, culturally embedded ways. He offers detailed descriptions and a theoretical analysis of various artistic and cultural practices, showing the uniqueness of the experiences they afford and arguing that they cannot be experienced or understood without a prior immersion in the culture they are part of.

Comment: The primary value of this text lies in the detailed first-hand account and a theoretical analysis of particular non-Western art practices. Most of the other, more theoretical articles in this section talk about non-Western art in a very abstract way. But surely understanding the differences between arts of different cultures requires a grasp of what the art of those cultures is like. Wingo’s text offers a valuable insight into one such cultural context and his text can be very useful when taught alongside more theoretical articles.

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