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NB: as of 23 September 2008, all new artSMart articles are being published on the site news.artsmart.co.za.

AFRICAN DREAM MACHINES (article first published : 2008-04-2)

Anitra Nettleton’s book African Dream Machines, Style, Identity and Meaning of African Headrests covers fifteen years of research into African Headrests.

Eight chapters cover theories of aesthetics, style, methodology, geographical and chronological distribution, authenticity and history, anatomy of meaning. The author also aims to undo stereotypes which have existed around the understanding of African objects as historical material, but also on their construction and usage, particularly as a means to reach spiritual realms.

For those with interest, the book is hugely impressive in its detailed research and will, without doubt, become a desirable and important reference book for museums, scholars and collectors.

Visually, the book is pleasing as Nettleton has illustrated her examples with line drawings. This representation of the objects started when two museums refused permission for her to take photographs. As she proceeded, the process of drawing allowed the analysis of different views or aspects of the headrests which photographs would not have been able to show. The drawings are beautiful and informative, but they do not show the weight, patina and other traces of usage on the pieces, that perhaps a photograph could capture.

The book is summed up by Nettleton who writes “Headrests from Africa thus, were never mere pieces of furniture – objects of intense desire, made with care and attention to detail, they had social and religious functions that gave them a deeply human and spiritual significance.”

Anitra Nettleton’s African Dream Machines, Style, Identity and Meaning of African Headrests is published by Johannesburg: Wits University Press, 2007 in Soft Cover, (488 Pages) - ISBN 978-1-86814-458-7. - Anthea Martin (Director - The African Art Centre Durban)




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