In and Out of Africa
This extraordinary documentary is one of the most intelligent, perceptive, and engaging films ever made on African culture and art. It explores with irony and humor issues of authenticity, taste, and racial politics in the transnational trade in African art.
Interweaving stories of Western collectors, Muslim traders, African artists and intellectuals, and the filmmakers themselves, the film focuses on a remarkable art dealer from Niger named Gabai Barre. It follows him all the way from the rural Ivory Coast to East Hampton, Long Island, where he bargains for a sale. The film shows how (through occasionally hilarious and frequently fantastic tales about the art objects) he adds economic value and changes the “meaning” of what he sells by interpreting and mediating between the cultural values of African producers and Western consumers.
For Baare and the other African art traders, the animist “fetishes” they sell are simply commodities, bought and sold like any other. Or so they say. For Western collectors, the best, most “authentic” pieces are considered Art (with a capital A), and their economic value is purely coincidental. Or so they say.
“In and Out of Africa” is a classic work that will richly repay viewing in a variety of courses in African studies, cultural anthropology, and art. It was produced by Ilisa Barbash and Lucien Taylor; it features Gabai Baare; and it is based on original research by Christopher Steiner.