related: Charles Wright
African, Oceanic, and New World cultures
The DIA’s collection of artwork from African, Oceanic, and New World cultures ranks among the finest in the United States and reflects the longstanding commitment to the non-Western arts.
Showcasing many outstanding masterpieces––mainly from West and Central Africa, and Egypt––the African collection represents nearly one hundred cultures of various size and complexity. From simple nomadic peoples, such as the Tuareg and Fulani, to large, centuries-old kingdoms, such as Benin and the Kuba, the art of this collection provides a glimpse into the daily life and traditions of a wide-range of African cultures.
Height: 47 cm (18 in.)
Gift of Mrs. Walter B. Ford
A lack of written records from many lost African kingdoms sometimes prohibits pinpointing the exact meaning of a work; the true identity of this bronze horse and rider, which was placed on royal altars more than three hundred years ago, has eluded scholars to this day. The figure, which may represent a defeated king or warrior from another culture, could have celebrated a great victory in battle. Or, it could depict the divine king, the Benin oba, himself, since horses were a rare luxury reserved for royalty. Other scholars believe the rider commemorates Oranmiyan, a prince from a neighboring kingdom who founded the royal lineage and introduced horses to the new kingdom.
Works from West Africa include some significant historical pieces: early terracotta sculptures from Nok (5th century BC - 200 AD) and the medieval city of Jenne (14th-century AD); several fine Benin alloyed copper sculptures; a memorial head of a queen mother, an equestrian figure and two architectural plaques; and one finely crafted Asante gold soul-washer’s badge reputed to have belonged to the 19th-century ruler King Kofi Karakari. Of the numerous exquisite 20th-century pieces, the works by two renowned Yoruba artists— the superbly carved palace door by Olowe of Ise and a magnificent Epa mask by Bamgboye of Odo—remain by far the most outstanding.
Nail Figure (nkisi n'konde)
Wood, screws, nails, blades, cowrie shell, other materials
Height: 116.8 cm (46 in.)
Eleanor Clay Ford Fund for African Art
This Nail Figure served as doctor, judge and priest. It was carved to capture the power of spirits (minkisi, singular nkisi), which was necessary for healing and judging disputes. The figure was filled with powerful magical substances (bilongo) by priests (naganga) who tended it in a shrine and made its spirit powers available to individuals. The large cowrie shell held strong medicines that gave the sculpture its power. This nkisi n'konde would have originally worn a large beard and a straw skirt. When an agreement was reached, both sides would swear an oath before the nkisi n'konde and drive iron blades or nails into it to seal the oath. In this way the figure’s supernatural powers could be called upon to punish those who broke their oaths.
Highlights of the Central and East African collections include two breath-taking power figures from Kongo (nkisi nkonde) and Songye cultures; a Hemba ancestor (singiti); several high-status and ceremonial headdresses and royal thrones in wood and beadwork; the famous triad of Kuba royal masks; and an18th-century Ethiopian Christian triptych. In addition, an already extensive corpus of fine quality Kuba raffia-embroidered cloths acquired in the early 20th-century has been greatly enriched in the last decade by the acquisition of several Asante and Ewe woven kente textiles and one of finest stamped Asante adinkra textiles in existence.
The collection of Egyptian art is quite extensive, and represents Pharaonic and Coptic cultures. All media and materials are represented, ranging from stone and metal to papyrus and glass, including Egyptian relief carvings.
New World Art
Kwakiutl , southern British Columbia
Wood, copper, human hair, paint
Height: 29 cm (11 3/8 in.)
Founders Society Purchase, Henry Ford II Fund
A Kwakiutl clan chief wore this mask when greeting rival chiefs invited for a feast and potlatch, a ceremony which reminded the guests of their host’s great riches and their indebtedness to his generosity. This Kwakiutl mask represents a mythic ogress of the forest, Dz’onokwa, who skulked through the villages at night to steal children to eat. She was also the “master of wealth,” represented by the copper of her eyebrows, and so an appropriate symbol for the ceremonial feast.
The Department’s Native American collection includes several exquisite sculptures, ceramics and textiles from North, Central and South America. Chronologically, too, it covers a significant range, extending from the earliest prehistoric sculptures from Olmec culture (900-600 BC), including an beautiful jadite maskette, dated from the Vera Cruz era. Two famous Peruvian examples—a miniature poncho and a tunic dated to 100 BC-100AD and 800-1000 AD respectively—exemplify the spectacular textiles, clothing and dress accessories of this collection. Yet another significant portion of the corpus are the numerous outstanding painted clay effigy vessels and some stone sculptures from subsequent pre-Columbian cultures.
The relatively more recent American Indian material comprises some early religious artifacts, animal skin and bead-embroidered ceremonial attire, including full tunics, moccasins and shoulder bags, as well as a superb Navaho wool blanket dated to the 1870s. A Western Apache early 20th-century basket and several historic pieces from the Chandler-Pohrt collection substantially increases the importance of the DIA in Native American art scholarship.
DIA gets $323,000 grant for African art from National Endowment for the Humanities
“Power and Parody: The European Through African Eyes, 1500-Present”
By Sherri Begin
Oct. 14, 2004 4:37 PM. Found at : http://www.crainsdetroit.com/
The Detroit Institute of Arts has been awarded a $323,000 grant form the National Endowment for the Humanities, its largest ever from the funder.
The money will fund the African art exhibition “Power and Parody: The European Through African Eyes, 1500-Present,” scheduled to be on view at the Detroit museum in 2008.
It also will be used to fund the exhibition catalog, visitor research and educational programs.
The DIA is proud to have earned one of the grants through a process noted for its competitiveness, said DIA Director Graham Beal in a written release.
Directed by Nii Quarcoopome, curator of African art, the traveling exhibit will be the first to examine 500 years of cultural and political interactions between Africans and Europeans, the DIA said.
It will showcase 120 of Africa’s three-dimensional artworks, from 16th century bronze sculptures to late 20th century masks and figures, with photographs, film clips and recorded narrations to tell the ongoing story of Africa’s interactions with the Western world.
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