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407 12. The Intermediality of Portraiture in Northern Côte d‘Ivoire T I L L F Ö R S T E R Art works are not bound to a particular environment, nor do they exist in isolation from other art works. They relate to other objects in all phases of their life— during production, distribution, and consumption.1 And they also relate to what the artists, spectators, and other actors know about these objects. African artists are well aware that other media and modes of expression now complement what they had learned when they were young. They know that spectators will appreciate a sculpture or a painting in different ways when they are familiar with other visual media. The modes of seeing African art are thus related to the cultural practices of seeing the world and of appropriating it by various media. Cultural practices and the sensational experience of specific objects merge in the mediality of a societal and historical context. A sculpture of a spiritual being becomes something else if you may also see it, say, on the screen of a TV set. Once you have seen a deceased person on the TV screen, you cannot approach ancestor figures as if you did not know about the video.2 The image that a young man has in mind of his deceased relative is affected by the various representations and the practices that relate to them. The portrait of a relative on the cell phone may be an object of exchange between peers while his painting on a canvas is confined to prestigious parlors to which only invited guests have access. The image that the spectators will have in mind is, however, affected by both pictures. Till Förster 408 Pictures and practices inevitably relate to each other and to what the participants of a particular visual culture know about them. We sometimes use onesided or even pejorative terms to talk about the many complex relationships between media, practices, and artists: An artist “copies” the posture of an antique statue into his portrait of an African businessman. A web designer “borrows” the former pictorial representation of ancestors to address a wider audience. The human face as the subject of a portrait is, in this strand of thinking, a symbolic form that is heavily indebted to the modern notion of the person and its individuality . Nonetheless, the usual assumption that newer modes of representation replace older ones does not hold in most African societies. Old and new conventions of representing the human body coexist and influence each other, and they are also informed by the culture in which they are embedded. Describing and analyzing these complex interactions calls for a thorough theoretical framework that recognizes both media and culture in their own right. In his seminal work on the difference between images and words, William Mitchell distinguishes between the visible aspects of images and the ideas that the beholder has in mind.3 The visibility of images, he writes, requires material— concrete objects such as frames, pigments, and adhesive agents that provide phenomenal appearance to the spectator. This deliberate act of representation is best captured,hecontinues,bythewords“todepict”and“picture.”Imagethenpointsto the activity of the spectator, i.e., to his ability “to imagine,” to create a mental image out of the phenomenal appearance.4 In his earlier work Iconology,5 Mitchell examines the ways the word “image” is used in different disciplines and criticizes the implicitunderstandingsoftherelatedterm“imagery”togrounditinsocialandcultural practices. He continues a millennia-old debate about images that culminated, according to him, in Erwin Panofsky’s iconology.6 Indeed, Mitchell’s understanding of picture and image could be read as a revision of Panofsky’s iconology.7 The tension between image and language (or text) in Mitchell’s work echoes to some degreethethreelayersofinterpretationinPanofsky’siconology,i.e.,thedistinction ofaphenomenologicalsenseormeaning(Phänomensinn)ofthepicturefromalayer of conventional, cultural meaning (Bedeutungssinn, the domain of iconography), and finally the picture’s intrinsic meaning (Wesenssinn, the domain of iconology).8 The differences between Mitchell’s and Panofsky’s approaches may be traced back to the two languages in which they wrote. While English has two words, Intermediality of Portraiture in Northern Côte d’Ivoire 409 “picture” and “image,” to address the tension between phenomenal appearance and the spectator’s activity, German has but one word: “Bild.” The merging of the two aspects into one is perhaps a heuristic disadvantage because it does not offer a means to distinguish between materiality and human agency. But it also has...

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Additional Information

ISBN
9780253008725
Related ISBN
9780253008602
MARC Record
OCLC
847949587
Pages
472
Launched on MUSE
2013-10-21
Language
English
Open Access
No
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