FLASH OF THE SPIRIT: African and Afro-American Art and Philosophy by Robert Farris Thompson

FLASH OF THE SPIRIT: African and Afro-American Art and Philosophy

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The vitality and diversity of African visual art--its expressive range, its formal and technical accomplishment--has prompted various efforts to discover Afro-American offshoots; others have also urged, as Yale art historian Thompson does, the existence of music-and-dance parallels--all part (in Thompson's words) of ""one of the great migration styles in the history of the planet."" These five essays--on five African tribal traditions and their Western Hemisphere carryovers--don't so demonstrate, however; rather, they indicate an Appalachian phenomenon--the localized preservation of formal and thematic motifs--with some cult-like outcroppings in present-day US ethnic pockets. In the first and longest essay, on Yoruba art and culture in the Americas, we see votive images for the god Eshu-Elegba transmitted, via black Hispanic migration from the Caribbean, to New York and Miami. Bahia, in Brazil, stands forth with Cuba as the major conduit in the case of Ogun ironware and the hunting cult of Oshoosi. Long-noted fusions of African and Christian elements are documented in iconographic detail, while the less commonly noted, deliberate and self-conscious revival of Yoruba forms by US blacks in the Sixties is also treated. But to deduce from these various manifestations a ""Yoruba Atlantic World""--""a metaphoric capture of the moral potentiality inherent in certain powers of the natural world""--seems an overgeneralized overstatement. Kongo presence in the Americas, the subject of the next essay, shows up in charms and other ritual influences (notably, grave embellishments) and may conceivably account, as Thompson suggests, for the decorative glitter of James Hampton's widely-exhibited Throne of the Third Heaven (now in the National Museum of American Art). The book's title comes, in turn, from a previous Thompson essay on Haiti's African/Roman Catholic vodun art, which is recast here. Those whose interests are more formal will be particularly taken with the spread of Mande cone-on-cylinder architecture and multistripe, staggered strip textiles (whose ""offbeat phrasing"" might indeed have the musical analogies Thompson claims for it). In the last and most specialized of the essays, we are presented with Ejagham ideographic writing persistent in Cuba. It is perhaps remarkable that any of these traditions endures --but to make too much of their vestiges risks making too little of their origins. Still, this is Thompson's particular field, and his findings will draw attention.

Pub Date: July 16th, 1983
ISBN: 0394723694
Publisher: Random House