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Ancient statues discovered in Peru
A fetish (derived from the
The term "fetish" has evolved from an idiom used to describe a type of objects created in the interaction between European travellers and Africans in the early modern period to an analytical term that played a central role in the perception and study of non-Western art in general and African art in particular.
William Pietz, who conducted an extensive ethno-historical study of the fetish, argues that the term originated in the coast of
According to Pietz, the
He begins his polemic with an introduction to the complex history of the word:
My argument, then, is that the fetish could originate only in conjunction with the emergent articulation of the ideology of the commodity form that defined itself within and against the social values and religious ideologies of two radically different types of noncapitalist society, as they encountered each other in an ongoing cross-cultural situation. This process is indicated in the history of the word itself as it developed from the late medieval Portuguese feitiço, to the sixteenth-century pidgin Fetisso on the African coast, to various northern European versions of the word via the 1602 text of the Dutchman Pieter de Marees... The fetish, then, not only originated from, but remains specific to, the problem of the social value of material objects as revealed in situations formed by the encounter of radically heterogeneous social systems, and a study of the history of the idea of the fetish may be guided by identifying those themes that persist throughout the various discourses and disciplines that have appropriated the term.
Stallybrass concludes that "Pietz shows that the fetish as a concept was elaborated to demonize the supposedly arbitrary attachment of West Africans to material objects. The European subject was constituted in opposition to a demonized fetishism, through the disavowal of the object."