The movie In and Out of Africa is a well respected and award winning film by Barbash and Taylor. The documentary is based on actual research of African art and culture. The movie follows a Nigerian art deal named Gabai Barre. Gabai travels the world, spanning from the Ivory Coast to Long island as he does business, selling art. Gabia travels in areas that he is both very familiar and areas of which he knows little. The viewer witnesses him as he must do business across cultures and in different economic and political worlds. Gabai and other African art dealers show how they use the cultural difference to bargain and mediate sales.
The movie is funny and shows how the art dealers use their perception if the western buyers in order to increase the demand and value of the items they sell. The movie focuses on the international trade of African art. It shows the deals and bargaining prowess of the traders and shows how items of little consequence to the traders gain values as fine and collectable art with the anxious western buyers. The traders use their knowledge of the buyers to make sometimes not so subtle changes to the meaning behind, or the values of pieces. They do this in order to increase value of pieces, and make a sale.
The western curiosity regarding Africa is exploited to some extent, though it comes across as funny and not necessarily mean spirited or dishonest. The traders are businesspersons and have finely honed sales skills. What the western accepts as cultural artwork, may in fact have a different value in Africa. The movie shows how this can have an impact on how we see and what we believe in terms of African culture. The story begs the questions at times, are African traders just giving the westerners what they believe they want to hear, or what they want to buy. At times, there seems to be little truth to the value assigned to the art.
The beginning of the story is of a tourist purchasing what are known as passport masks. These passport masks are made solely for the travelers and are really just souvenirs and not fine art. This scene provides a good example of how travelers make assumptions about what is being sold. Travels make assumptions about the culture that may not be true or accurate. Gabai is a wood trader, and he as well as other traders what seem to have insider information on westerners and essentially supply the “authentic African art “that the western world demands, though in reality, the items do not have similar value or meaning in Africa.
The movie shows the traders dealing with every day travelers as well as influential art gallery owners and executives of Sotheby’s. In and Out of Africa examines art, culture, personal taste and authenticity of art. The film also examines issues of race, politics, and the international trade market. The movie is an excellent illustration of supply and demand and the business world. It is as much a documentarily of sales skills as it is on art and culture. The film is easy to watch and entertaining as it follows Gabai and other traders. The story is engaging and entertaining as well as informative and eye opening.