A fine Eastern Pende Panya-Gombe African mask. Coll.: David Norden
'African Art, African Voices'
at Cincinnati Art Museum
Friday, October 14, 2005
Lion stool, Asante, Ghana, 20th century (after 1957), Gift of Katherine White and the Boeing Company, 81.17.545 © Seattle Art Museum, Paul Macapia
A colorful array of art objects mostly from West Africa, but also selections from the Congo in Central Africa, the Maasai people of Kenya East Africa and South Africa, are collected in "Art, African Voices: Long Steps Never Broke a Back," now at the Cincinnati Art Museum through Dec. 31, 2005
Sculpture, often celebrating the woman in African societies, intricate beaded and golden jewelry, decorated hunting jackets, ceremonial thrones, geometric Kente cloth from Ghana and even an intimidating ceremonial mask and robe designed to scare away possessing evil spirits populate this handsome show.
Cincinnati Art Museum: Wood and pigment piece from Republic of Benin (1920-40)
Most of the 200 art objects are from West Africa (the region south of the Sahara that includes such countries as Ghana, Ivory Coast and Senegal).
The West African artistic creations come from the distinguished African collection held at the Seattle Art Museum. But to augment the show, Glenn Markoe, who curated the Cincinnati exhibition, also borrowed work from the National Museum of African Art at the Smithsonian.
The Smithsonian loans were selected to show contemporary art and the continuing African cultural influences upon it.
"Art, African Voices" is based largely on the collection of Katherine White Porter, "who amassed this enormous collection," Markoe said. "She assembled this amazing collection of 2,000 pieces over a period of about 20 years, 1950-1970."
But a decision was made to expand the show beyond Porter's West African art. The Seattle curator, Pamela McClusky, wanted to found the show on native African voices, including the Maasai people of Kenya in East Africa.
"So, there are 11 sections, or more properly chapters, to the show. Each one is narrated by a different African adviser," Markoe said.
The art from the various African cultures, with few exceptions, has a limited time span. Most of this art goes back only to the 19th century.
"Many of the pieces date from the early to the mid 20th century," Markoe said. "With African art, it is very rare to get pieces that pre-date the 19th century. The majority of African art is of such perishable materials that they just don't survive."
In addition, so many of the art objects receive considerable use in African cultures.
"These are all objects that are functional and of ancestral importance, so they wear out and they are replaced," Markoe said.
Unstable materials used in African art include wood, fabric, feathers, leather and straw.
The "Art, African Voices" opening in Cincinnati is concurrent with the reinstallation of the Mount Adams museum's collection of West African art, one of the earliest in the country.
The exhibition receives an added dimension through the use of videos on African culture, such as ceremonies and dances. They are shown on five monitors spotted through the show.
Some art highlights from the exhibition:
Weights for gold: These copper weights for the measurement of gold for trade are made by the Asante people of Ghana. They are not the usual non-figurative metallic rounds, but actual figures.
These exquisite miniature figures, including a scorpion, a shield, and leopard, are representative of Asante proverbs.
Coronation throne: This 20th century wooden throne from the Kom Kingdom in Cameroon has a height of only 39 inches. A nude woman holds the heads of a two-headed serpent. This configuration forms the back.
The stool-like seat rests between the serpent's two necks and body and is supported by the remainder of the serpent's body curled beneath.
Costume for Basinjom ceremonies: This fearsome Basinjom (literally God's Medicine) mask and robe is made by the Ejagham people of Nigeria and Cameroon. The masquerade is used in medicinal ceremonies for the removal of witches and the exorcism of corruption from among the people.
The costume has a headdress of feathers. The mask has a crocodile-like snout. The mouth holds a knife. The eyes are metallic discs to see into other worlds.
Beaded jewelry: Twenty women of the Maasai people in Kenya meticulously labored over the colorful beaded jewelry that reflects a beautiful talent for geometric, and carefully plotted color schemes in necklaces of varying sizes, headdresses and medallions. The jewelry in the exhibition was made for a bride.
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