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Among the Mande-speaking groups dispersed throughout much of West Africa, certain artists — including potters and leatherworkers — form a spiritually powerful social class in which gender determines craft specialization. Ceramic water jars and cooking pots are made by the wives and female relatives of blacksmiths. Leather objects such as knife sheaths, amulet cases, and, more recently, western-style shoes and bags are produced by male leatherworkers. While these objects display features common to those of other West African groups, the manner in which they are produced has remained distinctly Mande.
In Mande Potters and Leatherworkers, Barbara E. Frank explores the complex, shifting relationships among the identities of Mande craftspeople, the objects they create, and the technologies they use. She examines their role in the rise and fall of empires, the development of trans-Sahara trade networks, and the spread of Islam, questioning the “one tribe, one style” interpretations that have dominated studies of West African art. She also discusses the pride that potters take in their healing and spiritual knowledge and the sense of difference between the craftsmen who specialize exclusively in leatherworking and those who double as bards and musicians.
Lavishly illustrated with nearly two hundred color and black and white images of tools, techniques, craftsmen, and crafted objects, Mande Potters and Leatherworkers both displays the beauty of Mande art and illuminates seldom-seen technological and social aspects of its art history.
Publication Date: August 17, 2001
Availability: Hardcover, Paperback