is an awardwinning film by Ilisa Barbash and Lucien Taylor focusing on aNigerian merchant Gabai Baare, who travels to do business acrossdifferent cultures and different parts of the world. Barbash andTaylor bases this film on the research by anthropologist ChristopherSteiner, who follows Barre to document the international trade ofAfrican art focusing on the mediation between merchants, traders,collectors, and artists. The film shows the bargaining prowess of thetraders and how their art gained value as it proved to be of value tothe western buyers.
Baare is originally from Niger,but he spends most of the year traversing through countries in WestAfrica trading with the locals and collecting art-carving made out ofwood. Baare later on travels to the United States and sells his artto gallery owners and collectors of African art. Baare acts as bothan art broker and cultural broker as he traverses the world having tonegotiate between different cultures and values in internationaltrade.
Through the various stories,Baare shows us the shifting meanings and how wood has differentvalues across cultures from his journey from Africa to the westdepending on the exchange values set by middlemen on both sides ofthe trade.
The various encounters betweenthe various traders highlights the ambiguity and opposing dialoguesurrounding the definition of an authentic African art leadingtraders duping each other. While authenticity is judged by thewestern traders according to an objects origin, use and age forAfricans what is important is the artists spirit in the creation ofthe art.
The traders use their knowledgeof the buyers to changes to the meaning behind, or the values ofpieces. This is in order to increase the value of art and make aquick sale. The western traders’ curiosity regarding Africa isexploited as what they view as a non religious artwork has adifferent value for the African. The movie shows how this can have animpact on how we see and what we believe is the cost of Africanculture. The film show that at times, the African traders just givethe westerners what they believe they want to picture in the art. Attimes, on that point seems to be little truth to the value assignedto the art. At times, there was little truth in the value assigned toan art, as was the case with the tourist purchasing what are cognizeas passport masks. The passport masks were made for the travelers assouvenirs and were not fine art.
Baare and other traders helpsreverse the traditional pattern of trading in the internationalmarket by shipping directly shipping to the United States skippingthe local market and establishing relationship amongst themselves andwith the buyers. Scenes of Baare arriving in his hotel room and hisremarks of the other Hausa traders in the hotel creating an ambienceas if he was back at home with his family.
Thefilm has a complete description of the trade in African art. The filmshows the difference between the use value of an art and the exchangevalue, the dealers’ and collectors expectations of the art for itto be considered’authentic’. It also shows the stages that suchan art goes through for it to reach the highs of museum status.
Staples,Amy J.. African Arts26.3 (1993): 75–88. Web…