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Two milestones that mark documentary encounters with tribal societies 250 years apart provide the focus for the 2018 staging of Tribal Art London.

Now in its 11th edition, the fair takes place from September 5-8 at the Mall Galleries and features Oceanic and African tribal ceremonial art.

The first landmark, relating to Oceania, is the 250th anniversary of Captain James Cook’s (1728-79) earliest expedition to the South Pacific.

In three voyages, which spanned the years 1768-79, Cook mapped lands from New Zealand to Hawaii, building up a wealth of scientific and geographical knowledge as well as a collection of ethnographic items.

Oceanic opportunity

Dealers at TAL will supply a variety of Oceanic pieces. Bryan Reeves, for example, offers a ceremonial war shield from Waghi Valley in Papua New Guinea featuring a sun design, while Joss Graham brings a Tapa cloth from Rarotonga or Aitutaki that the missionary Rev John Williams (1796-1839) brought to England on his last visit back.

Marcus Raccanello, meanwhile, offers a nabwikai mask from the south-western Malekula in Vanuatu. It features large boar tusks and would have been highly prized, worn by the highest-ranking members of the culture’s secret and complex male societies.

The anniversary is marked also in two London exhibitions: The British Library’s James Cook: The Voyages, which runs until August 28, and the Royal Academy’s Oceania (September 29-December 10) which opens shortly after the fair. RA curator Rebecca Bray will introduce the show as part of the TAL lecture programme.

Tribal Art London is a rare chance for UK buyers to meet international dealers close to home

Twilight falls

The second milestone marked at the fair is the publication of a new book, African Twilight: The vanishing rituals and ceremonies of the African continent, by photographers Carol Beckwith and Angela Fisher. The book, 15 years in the making, documents 92 ceremonies from various African cultures, many of which have already disappeared.

Original photographic prints from the book will be on display and Beckwith and Fisher will appear as part of the lecture programme, introducing their work. Published by Rizzoli International in two volumes, it is available in the UK from October 16 for £115 and can be pre-ordered at the fair.


This large group showing a chief and his entourage was carved by the Ashanti carver Osei Bonsu (1900-77). It is a rare example of African art produced before 1950 that has a known maker. The group is offered for £4600 by Adam Prout at 'Tribal Art London'.

A number of African pieces associated with ceremonial use are also available to buy. Marcuson & Hall brings a 19th century container said to be used in divination rituals from the kingdom of Benin. It is deeply carved with complex imagery which includes an oba (king), servants, a leopard and a European trader.

Works at TAL are offered for prices in the hundreds of pounds to more than £20,000 and include pieces from North and South American cultures, as well as those from India and beyond.

Set one week before Paris’ major international festival of tribal art, Parcours des Mondes (September 11-16), TAL is, partly, a chance for collectors to travel to the continent by way of London and do some shopping on the way. However, billed as the country’s only specialist collectors’ event in original-purpose and ethnographic and primal art, it is also a rare chance for UK buyers to meet international dealers closer to home.