New Materials and Contexts

By Mary Nooter Roberts
University of California, Los Angeles

Malaian currency. Photo by Ecco Wang.

Sometimes nations co-opt and transform older traditions to serve as pan-African, or at least pan-regional, symbols. The currency of French West African countries, called the CFA, always incorporates a selection of traditional art forms such as masks, figures, and village architecture with contrasting images of modernity such as airplanes, scenes of construction, concrete edifices, and scientists at work in laboratories. Sometimes the art forms chosen do not belong to the heritage of the country in question, and in some cases, they are drawn from the legacies of anglophone countries, such as Ife heads or Benin Kingdom bronze plaques of Nigeria. The homogenization and commodification of traditional art forms as symbols of value and pan-African celebration is one of the phenomena of modern nation-states, as they strive to create new identities from the past and the present.