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146 Leonardo Reviews puzzle about sixth or ninth plates until he or she reaches p. 239 and discovers the equivalent dimensions. (The system is based on relative surface area so that a quarter plate, for example, has half the length and half the breadth of a full plate, which is defined as 8.5 × 6.5 inches. Some stock sizes only approximate this relationship; a ninth plate happens to be 2.5 × 2 inches, which is actually closer to an eleventh of the area of a full plate.) This is but one example of the extensive entry-level knowledge that the editor expects of his audience. None of the information in the first three paragraphs of this review can be gleaned from the pages of America and the Daguerreotype, and the lack of two or three beginning pages of background material surely detracts from the utility of the book outside the purview of specialists. AFRICA: THE ART OF A CONTINENT edited by Tom Phillips. Prestel, New York, NY, U.S.A. 1999. 600 pp., illus. Paper. ISBN: 3-791-32004-1. Reviewed by Robert Pepperell, Winchester Wharf, Clink Street, London SE1 9DG, U.K. E-mail: rob@ninjatune.net>. This book was first produced to coincide with the exhibition “Africa: The Art of a Continent” at the Royal Academy , London, in 1995, which marked a distinct moment in Western culture’s relation to Africa and its art. Our perceptions about the art of this huge land mass have been colored by what was at first colonial exoticism and what became , in the twentieth century, a kind of modernist idolatry. The exhibition and this well-illustrated, scholarly book that documents it provide an opportunity to consider these artifacts on their own cultural terrain as products of diverse and ancient traditions. The examples shown, and the accompanying commentary, provide vivid evidence of the delicacy, imaginativeness and complexity of these objects and dispel any lingering notions of “primitivism” or “barbarism.” What often distinguishes African art from European fine art objects (other than the level of energetic intensity they embody) is the active, practical uses to which they are put. Despite the occasional tendency by some of the authors to talk of “schools” and “masterpieces,” the book demonstrates clearly how many of the objects do not conform to our expectations of “art,” i.e. as being primarily aesthetic in purpose. Whether they are ritual masks, head-rests, shields, aprons, initiation tools or altar pieces, the objects invariably perform some social or ritual function that, to some extent, determines their appearance . A striking example is the Mande altar piece (p. 498): a stunted hippopotamus made of congealed blood and other caked organic matter. Seen “in the flesh” it unnervingly convinces one of its claim to contain large amounts of energy (nyama) from its frequent uses in secret magical ceremonies. Indeed, if there were a criticism to be made of the exhibition and by implication this book, it is that it could have done more to situate the objects in their original active contexts. Visiting the exhibition one sometimes got the sense of a natural history museum full of fantastic specimens stuffed and posed in glass cases, demanding that the artifacts be judged on purely visual criteria. A leap of imagination was required to transform these static objects into animated participants in a rich cultural process. That said, this book represents an advance in the general understanding of these incredible objects on their own vital and dynamic terms. VIRTUALITIES: TELEVISION, MEDIA ART AND CYBERCULTURE by Margaret Morse. Indiana Univ. Press, Bloomington and Indianapolis, IA, U.S.A., 1998. 304 pp. Trade, $39.95; Paper , $19.95. ISBN: 0-253-33382-2; 0-25321177 -8. Reviewed by Yvonne Spielmann, University of Siegen, SFB-240, A 13, 57068 Siegen, Germany. E-mail: . Social and culture theory in its recent inquiry tells us that established philosophical , political and cultural concepts of division, difference and dualism steadily collapse. Where the discourse takes into closer consideration the effects of the unstoppable expansion of late capitalism—such as the advance of the attributes of Western civilization at a global scale and the (virtual and literal ) fall of the last frontiers in worldwide...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1530-9282
Print ISSN
0024-094X
Pages
pp. 146-148
Launched on MUSE
2017-01-04
Open Access
No
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