Visionary Animal Cover

Visionary Animal

Rock Art from Southern Africa

336 pages

March, 2019

ISBN: 9781776142262



Add to Cart Available: 2/1/2019


Renaud Ego is a French poet, novelist and essayist with a particular interest in poetry and art studies. He has taught at various universities and art schools in France and is the author of numerous works of poetry and fiction. He is a specialist in southern African rock painting and published the monograph San: Art Rupestre d’Afrique Australe (San: Rock Art from Southern Africa) in 2000. Visionary Animal is a translation of his French work L’animal Voyant (2015). Ego lives and works in Paris and visits southern Africa regularly.

An illustrated collection that takes stock of current knowledge and proposes a new way of reading indigenous art
For thousands of years, nomadic hunter-gatherers assigned a fundamental role to the visualization of the animals who shared their lives. Some, such as the Cape eland, the largest of antelopes, were the object of a fascinated gaze, as though the graceful markings and shapes of their bodies were the key to secret knowledge safeguarded by the animals’ unsettling silence.
Renaud Ego posits that the artists sought to steal the animals’ secret through an act of rendering visible a vitality that remained hidden beneath appearances. In this process, the San themselves became the visionary animal who, possessing the gift of making pictures, would acquire far-seeing powers. Thanks to the singular effectiveness of their visual art, they could make intellectual contact with the world in order better to think and,ultimately, to act. They gained access to the full dimension of their human condition through painting scenes that functioned like visual contracts with spiritual and ancestral powers.
Their art is an act that seeks to preserve the wholeness of existence through a respect for the relationships linking all beings, both real and imaginary,who partake of it. The fundamentally ecological dimension of this message confers on San art its universality and contemporary relevance.Visionary Animal is a translation of L’Animal voyant, published in France in 2015. This rich collection of essays is beautifully illustrated with the author’s photographs of rock art from across southern Africa.


  • “This is a magnificent book, at once both a poetic and a scholarly reclamation of the authority and integrity of the art in San painting… [Ego] reanimates the paintings for us, reminding us that the pervasive forms of academic iconographical analysis have ‘decomposed’ them... It is a deeply moving  publication.”

    —Pippa Skotnes, author of Miscast: Negotiating the Presence of Bushmen