The Art of Benin, Part 1, Option A
Look closely at Plate 3.1.16 which shows a figure of a Portuguese man holding a manilla. What can this work of art tell us about cross cultural encounters?
Cross cultural encounters happen every day, in business, people holidaying abroad, even in schooling and banking. These encounters can take many forms, the way we deal with other ethnicities problems, the way we greet people from other cultures, the different clothes worn by different cultures, even the art produced by other races form our understanding of “Cross Cultural Encounters”.
Benin Art, dating from the 15th Century, when Fernao Gomes first discovered Benin on his exploration of the Guinea Coast, as Africa was then called, (AA100 Cultural Encounters 1.1 page 8) is a prime example of Cross Cultural encounters by two very different civilisations and cultures.
Typical of Benin art, relating to Cross Cultural Encounters is the brass plaque shown in Illustrations for books 3 and 4, plate 3.1.16. This art piece displays a Portuguese soldier, or trader, carrying a manilla (bracelet) and a rifle. The plaque is set in brass and is very detailed, showing ornate patterns on the clothes and helmet worn by the subject. The background is similarly detailed with what appears to be flower petals. If we look closely at the background of the plaque, there are obvious signs that holes have been cut in the work of art. These holes would have served a very practical purpose, inasmuch as they were designed as fixing holes for the plaques. Once completed, the pieces would be hung on the outside of the Obas (King) house to display his status. Sometimes lesser works would be given to the Obas Chiefs. In the fullness of time, as the Portuguese traders started to admire these artefacts, the trade in art works between the Benin people and the traders began to escalate.
The manilla was a much prized piece of jewellery for the Benin artists, not just as an adornment but, as it
Bibliography: OU(AA100 DVD) Wikipedia Allafrica.com Tropicalmarkets.com Forafricanart.com