Chief Okondo, Mangbetu peoples, Democratic Republic of the Congo, 1913. Photo by Herbert Lang.
One of the characteristics of rulers and leaders is "their ability to commission, control, and distribute works of art, and to inform them with meaning" (Fraser and Cole 1972: 295). This section presents arts in a variety of sociopolitical contexts in Africa ranging from dynastic kingdoms and confederacies to communities governed by councils of elders and institutions of social control. It will be seen that the arts associated with absolute authority are often confirmatory of power, while those of more democratic forms of leadership are instructional and processual, that is, intended to effect change or to assist with social transitions. Sometimes art is owned by an individual ruler, or it may be held in trust by one or more leaders on behalf of special groups or the society at large. In all cases, works of art assist leaders in their task, which is to exert "influence over other people, whether this be in the moral, military, spiritual, economic, social, or political sectors of life” (ibid.: 295).