The showing is drawn from the private collection of longtime Africa researcher and New York University professor Marshall Mount and his wife, Caroline Mount.The items on display, ranging from stools to tobacco pipes, offer insight into the cultural and social practices of different layers of Cameroon's society.
The Republic of Cameroon, bordered by Nigeria to the west and the Central African Republic to the east, is home to more than two hundred different ethnic groups and is recognized for its traditionally well-performing soccer team. Its name derives from a name given by Portugese explorers which translates as "River of Prawns." Its history is steeped in colonial ownership and rebellion involving the Germans, French and British, but more recent tensions include those between French and British-affiliated groups, as well as Christians and Muslims.
"There are a lot of special pieces here," said QCC Art Gallery Director Faustino Quintanilla. "What is very nice about it is its completeness. Everything from textiles to music to ordinary objects of everyday use is here."
One of the more imposing items available for viewing was a large elephant mask, used for ceremonial dancing purposes by the elite.
According to the explanatory text provided by researcher Donna Page, class and regional distinctions are a defining hallmark of the dress and art of Cameroon.
Tobacco and terra cotta pipes, for instance, are considered objects of prestige and are used in a variety of rituals and ceremonies. Dozens were on display and encased in glass, boasting finely-carved geometric patterns and figures.
Short dancing skirts made of beetle carapaces, seeds and cord hung freely from a wall near pictures showing dancing and smiling women who donned similar attire but little else.
A number of other pictures depicting daily life across Cameroon were also interspersed throughout the gallery, taken by Marshall Mount during his visits to that country. The professor has visited the country five times over the course of his career, and in 2004 he received a fellowship to investigate the status of traditional art in Cameroon's Grassfields area.
Much of the jewelry on display at the exhibit was made of multi-colored beads and chains of impressive size. Pendants and necklaces took on almost exaggerated proportions, and the level of diversity was evident in individual detail.
More utilitarian fare was also presented. Giant watermelon-sized dried calabashes, which women use to carry rice and water, were juxtaposed with pictures of them in use.
Sizable storage containers with decorative lids also stood out. One imaginatively carved handle was shaped like a lizard and could be gripped from either side.
The exhibit was a significant feat for QCC, former teacher and volunteer Barbara Rothman explained. Several years ago, the museum building was merely a clubhouse for a golf course, but after $10 million in grants, extensive renovation and a sophisticated climate-control system, she noted, it now houses a major African art collection and numerous rotating collections.