South of the Sahara opens with general observations on the immensely rich and diversified artistic heritage of sub-Saharan Africa. Constantine Petridis examines the relationship between contemporary and so-called traditional African arts, and presents examples showing that many African works were originally part of an ensemble or one element of a performance. He discusses how works relate to ideas about leadership and the supernatural and then relates the many misunderstandings that still exist concerning the history and the chronology of African art. Afterdissecting the complex issue of style, he concentrates on the relationship between styles and both time and geography. Finally, Petridis considers the little-known issue of African aesthetics, investigating how the aesthetic preferences of the makers and users of the works differ from those of the Western museum audience and art lovers.
Forty-two important works from thirty different cultures are featured in color, including objects from the ancient kingdom of Benin and examples of two of Africa's oldest archaeological art traditions: Nok in Nigeria and Djenne in Mali. Enriched with many field photographs and much ethnographical information, this presentation emphasizes the extraordinary formal invention and spiritual power of the objects.