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

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Textile display gives peak into African culture

Colorful costumes serve special purposes in festival rituals.

Zora Neale Fighting Asafo flag

This detail of the Fante Asafo fighting flag from Ghana shows applique figures in scenes that represent the Fante resistance to Portuguese imperialism.
(ZORA NEALE HURSTON NATIONAL MUSEUM OF FINE ARTS)

By Philip E. Bishop found at the Sentinel July 12, 2006

227 E. Kennedy Blvd.
Eatonville, FL 32751

Phone: 407-647-3307
Fax: 407-647-3959
Email: zora(at)cs.ucf.edu

With its spectacular display of African costumes and textiles, the Zora Neale Hurston National Museum of Fine Arts has inaugurated a yearlong series of exhibitions devoted to the living tradition of African textile art.

The current exhibition, titled "American Culture and African Textiles: An Enduring Relationship," offers a vivid beginning. There are 24 objects on view at the Eatonville gallery, most from the West African regions where the Americas' African heritage originated.

The objects have been selected by guest curator Eric D. Robertson, a prominent New York-based collector, gallery owner and consultant on African art.

The selection's twin centerpieces are two magnificent Yoruba Egungun (ancestor) costumes. Each is built of layers of brightly colored fringes and adornments, including spangles of pressed metal, shells and applique patches. According to curator Robertson's statement, the costumes' intense colors and adornment serve to rouse the Egungun ancestral spirits to action. Yoruba dancers wear such costumes during festivals when they contact ancestral spirits and mime ancestors' warnings and blessings. One costume at the Hurston shrouds a carved wooded bird figurine, in place of the dancer's mask.

The ancestor costumes and an equally impressive beaded dance costume share a palette of burnt orange, red and green. But color is just one of the design principles shared easily across several examples here. The Igbo dance costume shows the fluid command of abstract form that made African art so influential in the rise of modernism.

The traditional arts of the Yoruba (centered in today's western Nigeria and Republic of Benin) are a key source of African-American art and music. Two lovely aso oke cloths, used as women's wrappers, exhibit a relaxed and subtle taste for asymmetric design that reappears in African-American quilting, for example. The connection will be apparent in January 2007, when the Hurston collaborates with Orlando Museum of Art to exhibit the famous quilts of Gee's Bend, Ala.

Robertson has chosen works to showcase particular strengths of other West African textile art. A handsome man's cloak from western Cameroon shows the technique of old indigo dye resist. Against a deep blue base, applique patches create what Robertson calls improvisational motifs across the breast and shoulders.

An indigo woman's wrapper from Burkina Faso (formerly Upper Volta) exhibits the same understated invention, with its central field of opposing feathered shafts. Here, as often in this exhibition, the Western observer will encounter an exotic and mysterious iconography. As Robertson explains, the signs and symbols of African textile art often relate to ritual, secrets and social messages.

A few pieces are one-of-a-kind but still within the exhibition's rather flexible boundaries. The beaded decoration of a Masai man's leather wrapper resonates with the radiant burnt orange of a Zulu woman's hat.

A Fante Asafo fighting flag from Ghana is one of the show's few figurative works. The Asafo military "companies" preserve the memory of Fante resistance to Portuguese imperialism. In this example, applique figures are splayed across the cloth rectangle, marching with shouldered weapons, fishing with net and spear, and riding a fabulous two-headed goat.

Equally fabulous is a Haitian beaded mermaid on a cloth panel. This fanciful sea creature is the only American work in this show. In fact, the "relationship" is more the assertion of Robertson's curatorial essay than anything evident in the work at hand.

There's also some danger in samp-ling Africa's traditional cultures -- at least as different as Germans are from French -- without some attention to their diversity.

But such qualms do not distract from the exuberant splendor of these works of art. In fact, visitors more familiar with the African textiles of pop culture and fashion may find here more than they bargained for. These textiles vibrate with an artistic energy that survived slavery to charge a whole continent with the power of Africa. They ought to be seen to be believed.

Philip E. Bishop is professor of humanities at Valencia Community College.


What: "American Culture and African Textiles: An Enduring Relationship"

When: 9 a.m.-4 p.m. Monday-Friday, 2-5 p.m. Sunday (through Aug. 18).

Where: Zora Neale Hurston National Museum of Fine Arts, 227 E. Kennedy Blvd., Eatonville.

Cost: Donations accepted.

Call: 407-647-3307.

 

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The Tribal Arts of Africa

The Tribal Arts of Africa
Author: Jean-Baptiste Bacquart

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read also : Start ] Virtual Museum ] African-Americans SF ] Chicago-ceramics ] Newark Museum ] Cleveland arms ] de Young-SF ] Museum of fine arts Boston ] Brooklyn Museum ] New Orleans Museum ] Detroit Institute DIA ] SAMA Artistry ] Museum for African Art ] Barbier-Mueller ] Cleveland ] Dallas-Museum-of-Arts ] Indianapolis ] Columbia-Urhobo ] NMAA Art-Treasures ] Baltimore-museum ] Dapper postcolonial ] Fine-arts-Houston ] Menil-Houston-Texas ] Louvres-Islamic art ] Minneapolis ] Metropolitan ] Israel Museum Jerusalem ] Orlando-Museum ] Cincinnati art museum ] Philadelphia-Museum ] Polk-Museum-of-Art ] african culture Portland ] Smithsonian-Washington ] SMA fathers New Jersey ] Tervueren ] UMKC-Belger Arts ] Whitman-New-Jersey ] West-Valley-Arizona ] Kunstkamera-Petersburg ] Ethnology-Vienna ] Irma-Stern-Museum ] Appleton museum Ocala ] UCLA-Fowler ] Benin Museum ] Weltkulture ] DuSable Museum ] Cuba museum ] fineartshouston ] Bowers museum ] Museu Afro Brazil ] airport art ] Nelson Atkins ] [ Zora Neale ] branly museum ] Longyear museum ] Douglas society Denver ] Denver art museum ] Centre Black African Civilization ] charles wright ] Seattle Art Museum ] Samuel Dorsky ] High museum Atlanta ]

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