Recorded Dec. 2020. Led by Sculptor Garth Evans, and joined for the talk by Lee Tribe, Jock Ireland, and Brandt Junceau, Sculpture Forum explores the works of the Sahel, a vast and influential region in Africa south of the Sahara, through the recent exhibit of over 200 works covering the empires of Ghana (300-1200), Mali (1230-1600), Songhay (1464-1591) and Segu (1640-1861).
Here are some excerpts from this thoughtful conversation exploring the universality of the human condition and the challenges of contemplating and understanding sculpture removed from its original time and location:
“I am actually very nervous about talking about this work because it seems, to bring my criteria to it, is in some ways questionable when I don’t know the criteria the makers of these objects were using or how the audience responded to them.” – Garth Evans
“I will say some words. . .
I come to it personally as a collector and a sculptor. I’ve always been a collector. As a child I lived near the docklands of London, and I was always picking up matchbox tops and things like that. Once in a while I would see something either on the ships where I went with my father even as a little boy and where they had African crew: I would see things: masks. All the sailors who settled down in the area as well had things. You’d go into peoples’ houses and it wasn’t unexpected to see something from Africa or India or where ever. . .
There’s what they are as sculpture and what they are as a collection—and the joy of finding something that you can include and live with—that’s a very important part of it for me. . .
I don’t try to literally take anything from them in a clear and thought-out manner. If anything turns up in my work that I think relates to them I let it exist—and something does turn up quite a lot. . .
I’ve wondered how we see them now is different to how people like Picasso and Matisse and Brancusi saw them. I wonder if after the advent of non-representation in art, do we see them differently?” – Lee Tribe
“The question of invention is something that I’ve wondered about a great deal: the extent to which there was complete harmony between the makers and the audience, the viewers, the users of these thing—the extent to which there was some kind of friction as there has been in relation to sculpture in the West. We are not by any means at one with what we might consider the general audience.” – Garth Evans
“It’s the contemporary dimension of at least the clay pieces in the show that really floored me—left me feeling that this was the most significant sculpture show that I saw this year certainly.” – Jock Ireland
“This is the kind of response I’m unable to have—and am very wary of having” – Garth Evans
“I felt more like a tourist at this exhibition than I remember feeling at any other. I usually don’t have quite that feeling. . .
At the same time I’ve always really kind of prized the isolation of an art object in an exhibition. The kind of radical, stringent, almost ruinous separation of the thing from its origins. That in itself is not a problem for me: it’s more of a thrill.” – Brandt Junceau
“I should just chuck in: Alisa LaGamma is doing a fantastic job at the Met and we’re very lucky to have her there. She’s putting on fantastic, very selected and intelligently chosen shows to establish these different cultures in a particular way with a lot of respect and I am humbled by her efforts and the shows she puts on.” – Lee Tribe
“What you just said, Lee, about the power of these things existing somehow independently of the context for which they were made is the nub of the matter I think. How do they/what is it about them that enables us/you—and I don’t disagree with the statement—enables that statement to be made: that they have a power which transcends the context.” – Garth Evans
“I think it’s a multiplicity of things. But essentially it touches something of the human condition. We are all human. We’re just people.” – Lee Tribe
“One of the questions I guess I have is—I wonder if Nicole Eisenman was familiar with these things before the show. Did she see the show?” – Jock Ireland
“I was most interested in the textiles, and that one very small stone idol. And there was a slender wood piece that you, Lee, spoke of as being atypical.” – Brandt Junceau
“It was a throwaway thing, a post that was stuck in the ground to tie horses to or something—now it means something to us in the 21st century.” – Jock Ireland
“We recognize the human condition. I’m amazed how similar it is from 4,000 BC until now. We’re so much the same. I’m still astounded by that.” – Lee Tribe
“I agree, Lee, but our willingness to see what we like, take what we want facilitates that sensation as well.” – Brandt Junceau
“It does, but there we are.” – Lee Tribe
“But it was just as true for these people as it is for us.” – Brandt Junceau
“I just want to say in closing that some of these things I found really quite scary.” – Garth Evans
“Perfect.” – Lee Tribe
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