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Saturday December 20, 2014
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David Doris

 

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Until recently, most Western scholars of African art studied objects used in rituals or worship. Doris is one of a newer group who examine everyday objects with complicated meanings. He's especially passionate about aale, objects that, he explained in a 2005 article, ordinary Nigerians create from found materials "to protect their properties--farms, gardens, market goods, piles of collected firewood--from the ravages of thieves." A corncob tied with a strip of cloth to a handmade broom, for example, declares the power of the property's owner--who tore the cloth, swept filth off the floor, and stripped the corncob. The implied threat is that this same power can be used against thieves.

Not all repurposed objects threaten retribution. Disney motifs, especially Mickey Mouse, often appear in Nigerian fabrics. Doris explains that heavy, low-grade discards from American textile manufacturers are shipped to Africa as scrap. Many Nigerians find delight in the animal images, and the broken, uneven patterns of the prints correspond with their country's own artistic themes. Doris was the first to write about this instance of American commercial iconography being incorporated into a Third World culture.

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