An object is a thought in concrete form.
The traditional creative arts in the cultures of sub-Saharan Africa – which boast an exceptional wealth of form and function – serve as the support for a thought system that is based on a vision of a world teeming with invisible forces. These remarkable powers act via a network of connections which man must do his best to decipher and control.
It is this necessity that has driven specialist practitioners to set up complex processes in which objects occupy a central role, both revealing and directing reality. Masks, statues and fetishes all serve as vessels for spiritual forces and are activated using mechanisms that bring together disparate elements, combined with sacrifices, incantations, music, dance and trances that bind man to the universe. The skill here lies in ‘organizing and reuniting’, not in order to ‘represent’ occult powers but rather to ‘make them present’. The material object that is activated during this process constitutes a being in its own right.
To try to penetrate the complexities of such a concept, we can consider each of the major strands of African creativity by examining the main attributes that form their link with the invisible – always remembering that their character is by nature non-exclusive and multi-purpose, within a universe that is essentially ‘tangled’.
Masks, objects of knowledge, teach and order the world.
Statues, objects of duty, bring together the living, the dead and the spirits.
Fetishes, objects of power, alter the course of events.
By making the invisible known, African art offers a different way of interpreting the world.