Narratives of the 'Fetish'

Mack, John (2020) Narratives of the 'Fetish'. In: Post-Specimen. Intellect Books. (In Press)

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Abstract

Kongo figures have provoked more discussion and the attribution of a greater diversity of significance than any other object from Africa in wWestern museums. In London at present there are examples on display in the Royal Geographical Society, the Wellcome Collections, the British Museum and (until removed recently for a gallery refurbishment) the Science Museum. There they are displayed variously as trophy, as medical object, as ethnography and as magical technology. Other examples are prominent parts of permanent galleries in Manchester, Liverpool, Bristol, Exeter and elsewhere with a similar range of interpretation. They have also been taken as inspiration by contemporary artists in the Congo itself, by African- American artists (such aslike Renée Stout) and in Britain by artists such aslike Grayson Perry and the Chapman Brothers, the supposed purposes of the figures at once indulged and exoticizsed. They have appeared in New Yorker cartoons. Kongo figures are, thus, suggestive of innumerable tropes, but in no case has their agency been presented as unequivocally aesthetic. Though present in museum displays since the nineteenth century, they have continued to defy easy or singular classification. Originally described as ‘fetishes’, in contemporary language they are ‘power objects’ rather than ‘art objects’. This essaychapter explores the source of this enduring facility for provocation relating it to the historical trajectory of other tropes – —about the ‘primitive’, about the unconscious and so forth. Yet, it will be argued, the object itself with its protruding nails, mirrors, and bundles of substances is so obviously not a finished product that it resists the idea that in a museum collection it is in retirement. As displayed in a museum it is readily imagined to retain its potential and agency in defiance of museum protocols, a perception that makes it ripe for the imaginary.

Item Type: Book Section
Faculty \ School: University of East Anglia > Faculty of Arts and Humanities > Research Groups > Art History and World Art Studies
Depositing User: LivePure Connector
Date Deposited: 02 May 2020 00:04
Last Modified: 19 Aug 2020 00:08
URI: https://ueaeprints.uea.ac.uk/id/eprint/74956
DOI:

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