This episode centers on the life and customs of the Dogon people in Mali, concentrating primarily on their masks and mask rituals. After a brief introduction to the Dogon culture, the link between African and European art is elaborated upon, using works by Picasso and Braque as examples. Dogon blacksmiths are shown working on a sculpture and a monkey mask for an old woman's funeral; the funeral rites, which include masked performances and a staged mock battle, are shown in great detail.
In "Crooked Beak of Heaven", Attenborough discusses the art and cultures of the First Nations peoples of the Pacific Northwest of North America: The Haida of present-day British Columbia and Alaska; the Gitxsan of Skeena Country; and the Kwakwaka'wakw ("Kwakiutl") of present-day British Columbia, Washington, and Oregon.
Few of the beautiful golden artifacts of the Aztecs and Incas are left today. Most of them were melted down by the pillaging Spanish conquistadors. But some exquisite pre-Columbian art still exists, and narrator Sir David Attenborough describes how these were used by priests in practical and ritual fashion, including human sacrifice.
At the turn of the century Europeans refused to believe that the craftsmen of the Nigerian Kingdom of Benin could have made such sophisticated and beautiful bronze castings. This program traces the history of Beni and Yoruba bronzes, and examines the techniques used in making them, and the results. We see the beautiful and elegant portrait busts, plaques and standing figures which read as impressive chronicles of the elaborate court life under the autocratic Obas of Benin.
In a wonderful combination of beauty, function and tradition, the rugs of the Gashqai Nomads of Iran perfectly mirror their lives. Wool is gathered from sheep, goats and camels. Dyes are made from juices of plants along their caravan routes. Then the jogging of the pack animals, bearing the looms with unfinished rugs, gives the weave its beautiful irregularity. And they are used against the cold, the wind, and as saddle bags and grain sacks.
The bush people of Malekula in the New Hebrides still use the skulls of the dead to make memorable sculptures. In the Solomon Islands a powerful movement has arisen dedicated to the revival of tribal customs.
This program revisits several of the locations of the previous programs to look more deeply at the relationships contemporary artists and collectors have with the art and artists of those societies, and how they may be compromising or enhancing the older traditions.