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A fine Eastern Pende Panya-Gombe African mask. Coll.: David Norden

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From Congo To India

THE first ever exhibition of African art from the Republic of Congo in India will open on December 18 at the National Gallery of Modern Art. 

Seventy-two wooden and clay ritual objects ranging from the mid-18th and early 20th century have already made their way to Indian shores from Africa. 


Georgina L Maddox Mumbai, December 11, 2003

read also Congo women in Mumbai


You have to thank the young curator couple, Shifra and Noah Maurer (protegees of renowned historian, Leo Felix, director of the Congo Basin Art History Research Centre at Brussels) for bringing the show to India. 

The exhibition has been dedicated to women. In addition to their universal roles as home-makers and mothers, Congolese women play a significant part in the religious life of the community. 

“We decided to bring these ritual objects to spread the word about indigenous African art, which only survives deep in the heart of villages,” says Shifra, an Non Resident Indian who moved to Brussels in 1998 to study art. 

That’s where she met and married fellow historian Noah. 

“Traditional ways are fast dying out and the objects which are now made for tourists are not of the same quality. Contemporary Congolese are so swayed by the West and its merchandise that younger generations have lost a sense of their indigenous culture,” explains Noah. Does the plaint sound familiar? 

These African ritual objects are symbols of power. But many aboriginal Africans now associate power with material goods from the West. Many artisans have even begun to incorporate plastic beads in their creations. You’ll even find a few ritual effigies with Barbie-like features! 

But why do these objects exist? Shifra said, “Where in India there’s a very personal relationship between the gods and devotees, Africans believe that supreme beings distance themselves after the act of creation. 

The only way to connect with these beings is through the ancestor’s spirit.” 

These ritual objects are considered to be vassals for departed souls. “An object doesn’t exist until it is blessed by a diviner who confers on it with special power. The work itself is secondary,” explains Noah. 

The upper half of these figures normally sports breast-like protrusions, the lower half is normally adorned with antelope skin. 


read also on same subject Congo woman in Mumbai


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