via the Guardian Unlimited (Wednesday, Dec. 28, 2005):
This year's African art exhibitions were meant to make us think again about the continent. But if admiring art was enough to change the world, African would have got justice long ago, says Jonathan Jones. He decided to go in search of the art that doesn't get into galleries, but has real function in the lives of ordinary Africans ... [read the full article]
"If the history of Africa tells us anything, it is that producing great art is no guarantee of winning anyone's respect. It seems incredible, when you look at the masterpieces of African art in the British Museum, that exploiters and imperialists could ever have dismissed the disparate peoples of Africa as lesser breeds, ripe for the plucking. Africa has created some of the greatest art that ever existed, and the brilliance of it has been known to Europeans for a long time. In the British Museum, there are ivory salt cellars carved by artists in the west African city of Benin for Portuguese trade in the Renaissance. The brass plaques that decorated the Oba's palace in Benin - which are also in the museum - with their snake-spirit soldiers and blocky, massive strength, were seen and admired by Europeans. The palace was even depicted in print in the 17th century. None of this prevented the British from eradicating the entire civilisation in a single bloody "punitive expedition" in 1897 ...
"And this is what I found myself inarticulately trying to explain earlier this year after it was proposed that I go to Africa as an art critic. I wanted to get away entirely from the art that might be presented at the Hayward, and to try to see how art fits into, and perhaps even enriches, the lives of ordinary people. It seems to me that, as African poverty continues to scar the world's conscience, it doesn't really matter whether African art makes it in London. But maybe art - the form of creativity that human beings have been addicted to longest - might have a function in the lives of the poor. I didn't want to know what was hot in Johannesburg galleries, I wanted to know what forms of visual culture might actually be of use to those who have nothing ..."