african masksUMFA-Arts-of-a-Continent
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A fine Eastern Pende Panya-Gombe African mask. Coll.: David Norden

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UMFA-Arts of a Continent

Utah Museum of Fine Arts, University of Utah 
410 Campus Center Drive, Salt Lake City, UT 84112-0350

umfa utah african art

Democratic Republic of Congo, Kuba kingdom, "Ndop Figure of King Mbopey Mabiintsh ma-Kyeem" (wood).

African art

If you go

      What: "Africa: Arts of a Continent"
      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

      The 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.
Ivory Coast, Baule culture, "Glin Mask" (wood and
pigment) used in the "Masquerade Ceremony."

      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.
      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 God."
      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.
Mali, Dogon people, "Tellem-style Ancestor Figure" (wood), above left. "Figure of Horseman" (wood), right. Dogon "Earrings" (silver), top right.
      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.
      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.
Democratic 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.
      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.

      "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.

E-mail: gag*

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