Visionary Animal

Rock Art from Southern Africa
Author(s):
  • Publication Date: February 2019
  • Dimensions and Pages: 254 x 203mm; 144 full colour images
  • Hardback EAN: 9781776142262
  • eBook EAN: 9781776142330
  • PDF EAN: 9781776142323
  • Rights: World
  • Recommended Price (ZAR): 580.00
  • Recommended Price (USD): 80.00

Translated by Deke Dusinberre

This is a magnificent book, at once both a poetic and a scholarly reclamation of the authority
and integrity of the art in San painting. Renaud Ego has done what no one writing about
these images has managed to do before, and that is to explode the boundaries that have
contained and constrained rock art research in this country. In his extraordinary prose, and
beautiful photographs, he reanimates the paintings for us, reminding us that the pervasive
forms of academic iconographical analysis have ‘decomposed’ them, stripping them of their
vibrant wholeness. It is a deeply moving publication.
Pippa Skotnes, Michaelis Professor of Fine Art: Centre for Curating the Archive, University
0f Cape Town and the author of Unconquerable Spirit: George Stow’s History Paintings of
the San (2008)

Why were depictions of animals a crucial trigger for the birth of art? And why did animals dominate that art for so long? In order to answer these questions, Renaud Ego examined some of the world’s finest rock art, that of the San of southern Africa.

For thousands of years, these nomadic hunter-gatherers assigned a fundamental role to the visualization of the animals who shared their lives. Some, such as the Cape eland, the largest of antelopes, were the object of a fascinated gaze, as though the graceful markings and shapes of their bodies were the key to secret knowledge safeguarded by the animals’ unsettling silence.

The artists sought to steal the animals’ secret through an act of rendering visible a vitality that remained hidden beneath appearances. In this process, the San themselves became the visionary animal who, possessing the gift of making pictures, would acquire far-seeing powers. Thanks to the singular effectiveness of their visual art, they could make intellectual contact with the world in order better to think and, ultimately, to act. They gained access to the full dimension of their human condition through painting scenes that functioned like visual contracts with spiritual and ancestral powers.

Their art is an act that seeks to preserve the wholeness of existence through a respect for the relationships linking all beings, both real and imaginary, who partake of it. The fundamentally ecological dimension of this message confers on San art its universality and contemporary relevance.

Visionary Animal is a translation of L’Animal voyant, published in France in 2015. This rich collection of essays is beautifully illustrated with the author’s photographs of rock art from across southern Africa.

The Stranger at the Summit
Prologue: Observing Silence
Chapter 1 Images that Transcend Myth and Ritual
Chapter 2 A Nomadic Mentality
Chapter 3 Spirits of the Place, Spiritual Places
Chapter 4 A Fluid Tangle
Chapter 5 Animals as Prism
Chapter 6 Investing in Appearances
Chapter 7 Galvanic Bodies
Chapter 8 The Shimmer of Wholeness
Epilogue: Believing Your Eyes
Lack of Ending
Notes
Portfolio of photos
Captions for portfolio
Map
Chart: The Continuum of Pictorial Vitality
Index
Acknowledgments

Poet, novelist and essayist Renaud Ego is a French specialist in southern African rock art, which he has studied for the past twenty years. The inventiveness of the eye and the elaboration of imagery play a central role in his writings, which include poetry, La Réalité n’a rien à voir (2007), a volume of collected essays, Une légende des yeux (2010), and a study of palaeolithic art, Le Geste du regard (2017).

This is a magnificent book, at once both a poetic and a scholarly reclamation of the authority
and integrity of the art in San painting. Renaud Ego has done what no one writing about
these images has managed to do before, and that is to explode the boundaries that have
contained and constrained rock art research in this country. In his extraordinary prose, and
beautiful photographs, he reanimates the paintings for us, reminding us that the pervasive
forms of academic iconographical analysis have ‘decomposed’ them, stripping them of their
vibrant wholeness. It is a deeply moving publication.
Pippa Skotnes, Michaelis Professor of Fine Art: Centre for Curating the Archive, University
0f Cape Town and the author of Unconquerable Spirit: George Stow’s History Paintings of
the San (2008)

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