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Red Fez: Art and Spirit Possession in Africa
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This remarkable and controversial book explores the ways in which colonial Europeans have been represented in African ritual art and drama. Through a profound re-examination of Western concepts of otherness and mimesis, the anthropologist and art historian Fritz Kramer shows that African images of Europeans - in sculpture, masquerades and, above all, spirit possession - are the reverse and also the counterpart of European images of the Other as savage, whether noble or ignoble. For Africans, Europeans belonged to the realm of nature, to a state of innocence. Rejecting the modernist view of African art as abstract, Kramer insists on its mimetic qualities. These rituals are representations of something experienced, although the experiences have been transformed into spirits. In ways which may echo nineteenth-century European realism, they reveal the power of the visible, of the telling, obsessive detail: a feather, a shirt, or the eponymous red fez which runs like a leitmotiv through spirit possession cults of the early colonial period. Just as one danced an ancestor or an animal, so one could dance a motor-car or an aeroplane, possessed by the spirit of the thing. The Red Fez is certainly a book of wonders but, more importantly, it is a study of wonderment. Fritz Kramer takes his readers through a hall of mirrors, in which can be found startling likenesses of ourselves and our culture. By different paths, Kramer leads us through another world back to our own, presenting a challenge to anthropology and indeed to social science as a whole.