THE HORSE RIDER IN AFRICAN ART by George Chemeche, with essays by John Pemberton III, et al. Antique Collectors Club, New York, NY; antiquecc.com. 2011. 381 pages. $90.00 hardcover, 10-3/4″ x 9-1/2″ ISBN 978-1- 85149-634-1 color photographs, notes on collections.
Chemeche opens this learned study with bountiful color photographs by contrasting the African art incorporating horses with Western art. A statue of Alexander the Great, for instance, in Greece displays this Greek conqueror with sword drawn and cape flowing on a rearing horse representing Alexander as heroic and individual. Similar statues often of military figures are familiar throughout cities of Europe. By contrast, the African carvings incorporating horses represent beliefs about humanity, power, and society found throughout African tribal society in terms of particular tribal or regional styles or forms.
Horse and rider in African art compare with carvings of mother and child to depict the physical interaction and social significance of each; with the former representing power, protection, and rulership and the latter, nurture and bonding. The four following essays expand on Chemeche’s introduction by closer study of particular regional or tribal art with horses in terms of historical examples as well as elements of the carvings and tribal values and beliefs. John Pemberton in his essay on Yoruba carvings discusses the role of cavalry in the expansion of one empire, and how different terrains from open plains to thick forests affected this expansion. Permberton’s credentials as a professor emeritus of religion and African studies at Amherst College typify credentials of each of the authors.
After the essays come over 200 works of African art with horse riders (pages 41-377) grouped by their material of wood, metals, terra cotta, stone, ivory, and beads. There’s a page for each carving except for a few pages where there are close-ups of a part a particular one. The high-quality photographs of the individual art works against a plain background allow for appreciation of color, details, and integration of elements as well as overall form. Points from the essays are found to be instructive in appreciating and understanding the many, varied sculptures ranging in style from naturalistic to abstract.
The expertise of the essays on basics and background of this field of African art is welcome. In addition to this the usually taken-for-granted visual matter is noteworthy. Notes at the back list the varied, extensive sources for this. Among these sources are museums, galleries, and auctions, but also reference to 24 private collections which are not named. Thus an extra effort has been made by the editor and the publisher to present an exceptional gathering of African sculptures which is not likely to be superseded or repeated. The authoritative essays with a direct, useful relationship to study of the sculptures of the book as well as supplementary content and the incomparable visual matter assure the book to be a permanent central, fundamental work in this area.