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'The major weakness of Materials of Africa is that it revels in anachronistic and somewhat offensive misconceptions of identity in Africa.'

Trevor Getz


s. Ivins, I am very disappointed that you and Gambit Weekly are apparently defending the Al Qaeda prisoners being held in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba ("Keeping POWs at Bay," Jan. 29). Your article ignores the fact that these people are not American citizens, therefore neither you, nor they, can legally call for their protection under America's Constitution. Additionally, of the thousands of Al Qaeda "warriors," what's so special about these 20-plus "detainees"? I'll tell you what's special about them; every one of them has been interrogated and identified as someone who knows the next office building to be destroyed or the next airplane to be exploded. That's why they're being protectively housed halfway around the world from fellow "warriors," who would kill them in order to know that their lips are sealed. That's because where they come from, if it were up to them, Molly Ivins would be wearing a burka, but you're more worried about their rights.

"But the caissons keep rolling along" as you irreverently pointed out. Has it ever occurred to you that, but for the hundreds of thousands of American men and women who died rolling those caissons for the last 300 years, you wouldn't have the right to write for a "newspaper" like Gambit? Of course, you could relocate, but I doubt that Gambit would have much appeal in Japan, Germany, the USSR, Arab TV, The World Trade Organization, and all of the other places and institutions you talked about aimlessly in your article.

Those detainees you are so eager to defend have gone on record as saying that their goal while they are in Cuba is to "kill as many Americans as they can." These are the words coming from the mouths of the people you're defending. I sincerely hope that no one reading or writing for your newspaper, nor their loved ones, ever falls victim to terrorism, but, if that does happen, I'll bet those held "at Bay" had something to do with it or knew about it. I doubt you'll continue to pursue your righteous defense of them if they ever hit you where it hurts.

Jack McDougall

exhibit nay

was dismayed to read D. Eric Bookhardt's uninformed review of the Newcomb Gallery's Materials of Africa exposition ("Material Evidence," Jan. 29). The author seems to swallow the inadequacies of the exhibit, as well as the excuses provided by its organizers, without any real questioning or understanding of the issues at hand.

The major weakness of Materials of Africa is that it revels in anachronistic and somewhat offensive misconceptions of identity in Africa. This perspective is based on three central items of misinformation. The first is the image of a timeless and stagnant quality about Africa prior to the modern period, of "tribal African" societies that once existed but are now "vanishing" (Bookhardt's words). This "barbaric gyrations" theory, taken from the famous quote by H.R. Trevor-Roper, has been thoroughly discredited, but apparently this has not been brought to the attention of the exhibitors who make no effort to truly date their pieces or create any type of chronological context.

This question of context leads us to the second major weakness of the exhibit. Not only are the objects not placed in time, but neither are they truly given a place in Africa 's human geography. The section on "gold," for example, places Baule pieces from the Ivory Coast and Akan pieces from Ghana in the same display cabinet, without noting the close relationship between the two peoples. Even worse, some Akan pieces are labeled 'Asante' -- a pre-colonial Akan polity and a complex modern identity, but not actually an ethnicity. Information as to the relationship between these various groups would certainly be useful, especially in deconstructing the notion of 'tribal Africa ' upon which Bookhardt leans so heavily but which is essentially a colonial construction of dubious real value. Very few Africans ever lived in "tribes" -- looser ethnic affiliation being the rule -- and the term has yet to be rehabilitated in terms of many of the peoples whose work is on display.

Finally, one must engage the notion, promoted by Bookhardt, that "in tribal Africa these were not art objects as we think of them in the West, but items that served a particular function." It may be true that some scholars of the arts make this distinction, but cultural anthropologists and historians tend to take a much more nuanced view in which both aesthetics and utility are present in art both in the West and in Africa. Certainly, one wonders at the function, other than decorative, of the complex designs on Ndebele houses. If "decoration" is a function, then is not all art functional? The distinction made by the author is, I'm afraid, rather bogus and slightly demeaning.

Thus I must admit to my disappointment, and that of many of my students, at what might have been a very interesting presentation of some magnificent modern and antique works of African art. I do not accept the exhibitors argument that the emphasis of this exhibit is on the materials being used and that therefore it is acceptable to present the works entirely without context. Nor do I believe that Bookhardt does justice to the complex issues surrounding African art and its presentation.

Trevor Getz

Assistant Professor of African History

University of New Orleans

new sounds for new orleans

ello from New York City. As a former New Orleans resident and active musician, I was overjoyed to see a cover story about Electrical Spectacle ("Live Wires," Jan. 22) with copy about Permagrin. It's wonderful to hear and see N'awlins cultcha getting mixed up with contemporary tools such as sequencers and laptops. This is a mix that simply couldn't happen any place else in the United States. The musicians you interviewed have all my respect for their forward thinking and creativity, and I hope more locals will check out the new sounds going down right under their noses.

Chris Becker

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