UMFA-Arts of a Continent
Republic of Congo, Kuba kingdom, "Ndop Figure of King Mbopey
Mabiintsh ma-Kyeem" (wood).
If you go
What: "Africa: Arts of a
Where: Utah Museum of Fine Arts,
University of Utah
410 Campus Center Drive, Salt Lake City, UT 84112-0350
Museum hours: Tuesday-Friday, 10 a.m.-5
p.m.; Wednesday, 10 a.m.-8 p.m.; Saturday and Sunday, 11 a.m.-5 p.m.
How much: Adults, $4; seniors, and youth
ages 6-18; $2, children 5 and under, free
Phone: 581-7332 (group rates available)
read also Umfa-Utah
African art from the permanent
collection returns for public viewing at UMFA. The exhibition, Africa: Arts
of a Continent, is a permanent rotating exhibition, and includes
several new acquisitions never seen before by the public. Africa: Arts of a
Continent focuses on four cultures: the Dogon of Mali, the Baulé of the
Ivory Coast, the Yoruba of Nigeria and the Kuba Kingdom of the Congo. Africa:
Arts of a Continent also incorporates several ancient Egyptian burial
objects from various dynasties and explores the importance of the Nile.
The Utah Museum of Fine Arts
offers a stuning primitive-art exhibition
By Dave Gagon Deseret
Morning News july05
visual art of Africa is primitive, fetishistic, abstract and diverse. Its
designs run the gamut from gaudy to minimalist, and seeing it on display at a
gallery or museum can excite, inspire and occasionally alarm viewers.
For the next few months, the Utah Museum of
Fine Arts (UMFA) is offering "Africa: Arts of a Continent," an
insightful exhibit of African art culled from the museum's own collection, in
storage for the past few years, along with several new acquisitions never before
seen by the public.
The tastefully installed exhibition focuses on
four cultures in sub-Saharan Africa: the Dogon (doh'-gahn) of Mali, the Baule (ba
ou le' or BOW-lay) of the Ivory Coast, the Yoruba (your'-a-bah or yoh-roo'-bah)
of Nigeria and the Kuba Kingdom of the Congo. There are also several ancient
Egyptian burial objects from various dynasties.
Exhibition curator Bernadette Brown has selected
diverse and noteworthy pieces of immense interest, some of which cannot help but
remind viewers of the African art influence on early modern-art movements in
Europe and America. (According to art historian Lori Verderame, Picasso
incorporated the ceremonial masks of the Dogon tribe into his groundbreaking
cubist work, "Les Desmoiselles d'Avignon," 1907-09.)
Art has been created in sub-Saharan Africa for
hundreds of years, said Brown, but because artists do not sign or date their
pieces, and because they are made of wood, which decays rapidly due to the
environment, precise dates for the works aren't available. (Be sure to read
Brown's exhibition essay when visiting the show, a concise and absorbing history
of the cultures' religious, political and social workings.)
Wood sculpture is generally considered Africa's
greatest visual-art achievement, but objects are also made in metal, stone,
terra cotta, ivory, mud and beadwork. Some pieces from these media can be seen
in the exhibit.
Created as a visual language, the art reflected
social and religious beliefs. "Art objects served to give shape, form and
content to the invisible and abstract concepts of African philosophy and
religion," said Brown.
Coast, Baule culture, "Glin Mask" (wood and
pigment) used in the "Masquerade Ceremony."
Traditional art forms consist of masks, figures,
decorative objects used for personal adornment and objects made to show a
person's rank or status.
From the Dogon tribe, museum visitors will
encounter several engaging works, such as "Togu Na Houseposts" (wood).
A "Togu Na" or "House of Word" stands in every Dogon village
and serves as shelter for the men as they discuss village affairs. An exhibit
label informs viewers that the symbolic images carved on the "Togu Na"
express themes of fertility and procreation. Many of the carvings are of women's
breasts, for, as the Dogon proverb says, "The breast is second only to
There is also a Dogon "Granary Door"
(wood), which served to protect a family's store of millet. The figures on the
door have been interpreted to represent the Nommo, male and female ancestral
beings. The carvings on the door demonstrate the innate design sense of the
artist and are exquisite.
The "Glin Mask" (wood and pigment),
from the Baule culture, is used in the "Goli Masquerade Ceremony," a
daylong dance spectacle that involves the entire village. The mask from the UMFA
collection is that worn by the senior male during the dance. The museum's "Kpan
Pre Mask" is that worn by a junior female. However, men dance both the male
and female roles in the ceremony.
A "Waka Sran Spirit Figure" (wood),
possibly a "Blolo Bian (Spirit Spouse)," is also from the Baule. The
"Blolo bian" and "blolo bla" represent the spirit mate that
each person has in the Other World. Exhibit information states that, according
to the Baule, before you were born, you were married in the spirit world. When
you are born into this world, the spirit of this spouse follows you. It helps
you throughout life.
However, if the statue causes trouble for you, a
diviner has you make another one. The spirit spouse must be kept well-fed, clean
and protected with a covering of white cloth.
Dogon people, "Tellem-style Ancestor Figure" (wood), above
left. "Figure of Horseman" (wood), right. Dogon
"Earrings" (silver), top right.
The "Divination Bowl" (wood) of the
Yoruba people would hold kola nuts as offerings of hospitality or as receptacles
for 16 sacred palm nuts used in divination. The exhibit also has a "Ose
Shango Dance Staff" (wood) and a "Eshu Elegbara Dance Staff"
(wood). The staffs were employed in dance to worship the gods Shango and Eshu
and used to invoke help.
The beautifully crafted "Ere íbej“
Figures" (wood and pigment) are statues representing twin children. "íbej“"
is the cult of twins and represents the strong values of family that
characterize Yoruba society.
Another magnificent work from the Yoruba is a
"King's Headress" (fiber and beads). The mythology of the Yoruba's
first king will delight viewers.
Republic of the Congo, Kuba kingdom, "Kuba Dance Mask" (wood,
copper, beads, cowry shells).
All Kuba masks belong to the king. The "Bwoom
Mask" (wood, beads, raffia and copper), with its bulging forehead and nose
and sharply angled cheekbones, symbolizes maleness.
The "Mukyeem Mask" (wool cloth, cotton cloth,
raffia fiber, skin, beads and cowry shells) is a stunning piece. The
superstructure of the mask represents the trunk of an elephant, which is a royal
emblem. The two beaded strips at each side represent the animal's tusks. The
eyes represent those of a chameleon. The white fur, attached below the chin of
the mask, signifies wisdom gained from experience. The cowry shells signify
wealth. According to Brown, Kuba designs are varied and complex, each pattern
having a name and symbolic meaning.
"Africa: Arts of a Continent" is not a
physically large exhibit, but it is a true gem, attesting to all who see it that
the African artists who created these items of mystic and spiritual significance
were truly visionary craftsmen.
The Egyptian pieces in the exhibit are sumptuous,
but they are so visually different from the work of the sub-Saharan artists that
it almost seems to be part of another show.
read also UMFA Utah
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Tribal Arts of Africa
Author: Jean-Baptiste Bacquart
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