Author:Simon Dell (University of East Anglia)
Paper short abstract:
This paper explores a suite of illustrations intended for inclusion in a history of the Bamum Kingdom of the Cameroon Grassfields. Here text and illustration are appropriations, and not just of alien formats and media but also of forms of presentation and visualisation.
Paper long abstract:
Illustration may be a vehicle for conveying ethnographic data and has of course been used as such by anthropologists. Yet rather than consider how this has been done from the perspective of the anthropologist, this paper explores a counter example, of illustrations by an indigenous artist intended for inclusion in a history written by an indigenous author. Here text and illustration are appropriations, and not just of alien formats and media but also of forms of presentation and visualisation.
The case in question is that of a suite of illustrations intended for inclusion in a history of the Bamum Kingdom of the Cameroon Grassfields. The history, drafted by King Njoya of the Bamum over the period between c. 1910 and 1933, is itself an adaptation of oral histories and is in part a response to both the Quran and the Bible. The artist illustrating this work (probably working between 1927 and 1930) faced numerous novel challenges: to respond to a written text, to deploy degrees of optical naturalism, and to visualise a series of persons and events, including the ceremonies of secret societies which were not supposed to viewed, much less depicted. This paper will explore how these challenges were met, and how the illustrations mediate quite different forms of knowledge. In turn, this will lead to consideration of a larger question: why was illustration appropriated in the first place?
Art as Ethnography/Ethnography as Art