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Re: Africa Direct - selling Africa's treasures


From: Melissa Enderle (melissa_at_TeacherArtExchange)
Date: Mon Feb 14 2005 - 08:47:15 PST

I just finished looking at the Africa Direct website. Living in Africa for 4
years, I am very familiar with many of the pieces, particularly the beads,
mudcloth, Bambara masks/carvings, and the Dogon carvings/masks. Truthfully,
I believe the prices are very high, even when taking in consideration
shipping costs to get items to the US. I'm sure the local artisans are not
getting those higher amounts.

I also noticed that many items had the word "old" on it. Even though it is
illegal to sell antiquities in Mali, I did see it happen. I even had Dogon
people come up to me, unwrap a crumpled newspaper or burlap bag to reveal
Tellem artifacts that clearly belonged in a museum. When we indicated that
we did not want to buy them, the man was surprised. Selling these artifacts,
Dogon "doors" and masks used in ceremonies provide more income than they
could ever hope to get - just one mask might be equivalent to an entire
year's earnings as a farmer! Even though I did see some old Dogon "doors"
still in their proper places (on the homes and granaries of the Dogon), they
are becoming less rare, as Western tourists come in and buy them up.
Although you could blame the local people for selling their national
treasure, they wouldn't do it if they didn't have the customers.

At the end of one of my trips to Dogon country in Mali, we were invited to
see the collection of a Dogon man - it turned out to be the same man who
offered to sell us the Tellem artifacts. In his storehouse were two rooms
full of old Dogon artifacts, any of which should have been in a museum.
While we exclaimed at how beautiful the items were, we suggested that he
should clean things up a bit and charge admission - that way the items could
be kept in the region. His reply: "but my family needs to eat today."

I would like to see more money invested in quality museums to protect
artifacts (many pieces, even in the museums are riddled with termite and
other insect damage) and document things properly, both on location and in
the rest of the world. I'd also like to see more of the profits going back
to the local artisans. More programs such as the USAID project in which an
art dealer works with locals to create works for export (with the profits
going back to the artisans) should be set up and supported. And as
consumers, we should be satisfied with newer items made by the particular
ethnic group for trade - not an ancestral treasure.

Hope this provides a little food for thought - and perhaps another topic for
debate in your classes.

Melissa Enderle

On 2/14/05 3:32 PM, "Judith Decker" <> wrote:

> Greetings Art Educators,

> I have been exploring the site and just LOVE what I
> see... I have collected many images for my own
> enjoyment (Ndebele dolls and Zulu Dolls).