The Red Fez

The Red Fez:On Art and Possession in Africa

  • Paperback

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 some-thing 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.