A fine Eastern Pende Panya-Gombe African mask. Coll.: David Norden
Yatura beaded gourd housing fertility secrets, Tanzania gourd. glass beads, shell, wood 16" h
April 19 - June 18, 2005 African receptacles of wood, gourd, fiber, leather, clay, metal, and glass, either crafted or adorned by hand, range from the humble to the highly decorated. These containers, designed to hold things as diverse as meat and magical medicines, snuff and secrets, evoke societies and ways of life far removed from our here and now.
RECEPTACLE: AFRICAN CONTAINERS
found at the NY Times
Sometimes a receptacle is just a receptacle, but usually it is much more: an instrument of ritual, an expression of communal aesthetics, an ingenious use of material or an occasion for surface decoration.
All conditions apply in full to "Receptacle: African Containers," a stunning exhibition at the Axis Gallery in Chelsea. This nearly continental survey excludes ceramic vessels to concentrate on containers made of natural materials, especially gourds - and on man-made objects transformed through decoration.
The latter include a Ndebele diviner's bottle that is a glass jug encased in beading and a Mpondo canister, beaded in red, ochre and yellow that gives new life to a discarded paint can and lid. The show includes four Zulu beer baskets with woven bands of zig-zags or diamond shapes, whose grasses swell when wet, forming a watertight seal and an effective cooling system.
Some techniques create illusions. The gleaming, swelling surfaces of five Yatura ceremonial wedding gourds from Tanzania might be glazed ceramic or worked leather; they have been stained dark red and decorated with staccato incisions and geometric and zoomorphic motifs in black. A tall Gurunsi gourd from Burkina Faso, golden in color and incised with a grid of x's, suggests ivory. Two small Kwere medicine gourds with carved finial heads have matte black surfaces suggestive of basalt. Meanwhile, a rose-tinted tsonga diviner's gourd (above) gets its power not only from its fierce finial head, but also from the gourd's protruding pustule-like bumps.
Also made from gourds are the large lightweight bowls, or calabashes made by the nomadic Fulani of the Sahara region and two ceremonial vessels with woven-grass coverings that suggest colossal wine jugs.
Closer to its natural state is a bark Fang container that almost might be freshly cut from the trunk of a slender young tree. An unexpected bonus is a scintillating display of snuff containers that reiterates the show's variety and quality in miniature.
An invaluable lesson: the prevailing sense of economy and respect for nature, two things in disastrously short supply these days. (Axis Gallery, 453 West 17th Street, (212) 741-2582, through June 18; free.)
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