New Materials and Contexts

By Mary Nooter Roberts
University of California, Los Angeles

Islamic diviner, Senegal. Photo by Mary Nooter Roberts.

African artists are receptive not only to new media for the representation of art, but also new products for its manufacture. It is quite common today in Senegal to see Islamic marabouts turning to felt-tip pens and magic marker for the production of sacred calligraphy. This is quite surprising, because in the past it was considered essential that the papers be inscribed only with the qalam, or reed pen, that is considered to be the divine instrument of God's word and with organic ink. The papers often include prayers from the Koran, as well as magic squares that enclose the client's problem within a medicinally-charged graphic structure of the cosmos. The client purchases the paper for use at home through washing or ingestion. It is believed that the ingestion of the ink is the process whereby God's powers are reified within the human body.