Jacket Image

Enlarge Image

246 × 189 × 24 mm
288 pages
97 illustrations, 52 in colour
11 Nov 2019

The Artfulness of Death in Africa John Mack

If weddings are the most lavish events in most parts of the world, in Sub-Saharan Africa, by contrast, it is funerals. Funeral celebrations can be flamboyant occasions, particularly those honouring prominent people. Artworks of many kinds are created to commemorate the dead, from mortuary sculptures and extravagant coffins, to elaborate headstones, memorials, monuments and cenotaphs.

This is a unique survey of the ‘artful’ nature of funerals in Africa. Drawing on a wide range of historical, anthropological, archeological, art historical and literary sources, John Mack charts the full range of African funereal art, drawing on examples from across the continent, and from ancient times to today.

Featuring abundant illustrations, some of which have never been published before, this is essential reading for those interested in African art, culture, society and history.

‘A much-needed publication relevant to the growing popular interest in death, dying, mourning and thereafter.’ — John Picton, Emeritus Professor, SOAS, University of London

‘The book is a genuine contribution to the study of the material culture and art of Africa. It is the first work (that I am aware of) that in systematic form develops a well-developed survey of the ways in which attitudes to death are made material in different instances across Africa. It brings to the fore some genuinely important questions and sets out, through a fantastic range of examples and erudite knowledge, an area of investigation often reduced or skimmed over in studies of ‘ritual’ or ‘religion’.’ — Will Rea, Senior Lecturer, School of Fine Arts, Leeds

‘Quite simply, a treat to read. Beautifully crafted and deeply thoughtful – this volume navigates complex terrain with innovation and flair.’ — Gus Casely-Hayford, Director of the Smithsonian's National Museum of African Art

‘This fascinating book provides a detailed insight into African art as it relates to death, but it is much more than this, through ranging across disciplines such as anthropology, history, and art history, the complexities of death in Africa and people’s ways of dealing with it both materially and conceptually are paradoxically, brought to life.’ — Timothy Insoll, Al-Qasimi Professor of African and Islamic Archaeology, University of Exeter

Show all

John Mack is Professor of World Art Studies in the Sainsbury Research Unit at the University of East Anglia and a specialist in African arts and cultures. His many books include The Museum of the Mind: Art and Memory in World Cultures (2003), The Art of Small Things (2007) and The Sea: A Cultural History (Reaktion, 2011).


1 Understanding Death
2 The Death of Royalty
3 The Artfulness of Funerals
4 Funerary Masquerade
5 Grave Sites
6 Relics, Shrines and Memorials
7 Modern Practices

Photo Acknowledgements