Power Objects

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Wyatt MacGaffey writes about the relationship between word and image through exploring art, Afrian art, and minkisi, with great emphasis towards the minkisi class and their concept of power objects. (217) In the English language, there is not an equivelnt word to describe Nkisi, however, fetish inadequately is often implied. Minkisi is another name for chiefs of the Congo. Grasping their origins, composition, and ritual context is complex. In Christianity, the crucifix is comparable in that it is spiritually related. Cheifs in a sense were comparable to objects in African cultrure in that they were treated in similar ways. MacGaffey begins by labeling art is a form of communication. We come across the questions of whether art is an effective means of communication and what exactly is communicated through art. The serious problem presented in art and symbolism is that it implies a relationship between the signifier and the object signified. (219) MacGaffey eludes to the importance of African masks used in dance that posse a certain power and control. This power affects the signifier and the signified. The person wearing the masks becomes one with the mask, altering their identity and encompassing the new. Freedberg addresses the understanding of images by arguing the fear power objects express. (219) The force within the objects is described as supernatural and magical. The power of the object resides with their ritual function. Art objects embody spiritual value, for they are more than just art objects. MacGuffey explains that the passage from idol to art for an African art object is detaching from its original context and transforming into a form of violence. This violence demonstrated gives new meaning and identity to the object. Violence is seen in African art through the usage of nails, iron, and spikes.

Art is more than representational it is powerful. Power has the ability to attach to certain objects, passing through the object to the human. How we...
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