“Heroic Africans” is arriving in Zurich. Opening on February 26th, 2012
Heroic Africans 26 February to 3 June 2012
«If you still think that African art is not your thing, there’s an exhibition that may change your mind. It’s called «Heroic Africans: Legendary Leaders, Iconic Sculptures,» it is as beautiful to look at as a show can possibly be. It is a perception changer in other ways too, as it argues, through demonstration, against basic misunderstandings surrounding this art. African art has no history? No independent tradition of realism? No portraiture? All African sculpture looks basically alike, meaning «primitive»? African and Western art are fundamentally different in content and purpose? Wrong across the board.»
- Holland Cotter, The New York Times
Over the centuries, artists across sub-Saharan Africa have memorialized eminent figures in their societies using an astonishingly diverse repertoire of naturalistic and abstract sculptural idioms. Adopting complex aesthetic fromulations, they idealized their subjects but also added specific details—such as emblems of rank, scarification patterns, and elaborate coiffures—in order to evoke the individuals represented. Imbued with the essence of their formidable subjects, these works played an essential role in reifying ties with important ancestors at critical moments of transition. Often their transfer from one generation to the next was a prerequisite for conferring legitimacy upon the leaders who followed. The arrival of Europeans as traders, then as colonizers, led to the dislocation of many of these sculptures from their original sites, as well as from the contexts in which they were conceived; thus, today, they are seen primarily as timeless representations of generic archetypes. Heroic Africans reexamines the sculptures in terms of the individuals who inspired them and the cultural values that informed them, providing insight into the hidden meaning and inspiration behind these great artistic achievements.
Author Alisa LaGamma considers the landmark sculptural traditions of the kingdoms of Ife and Benin, both in Nigeria; Ghana and Côte d’Ivoire’s Akan chiefdoms; the Bangwa and Kom chiefdoms of the Cameroon Grassfields; the Chokwe cheifdoms of Angola and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (D.R.C.); and the D.R.C’s Luluwa, Kuba, and Hemba chiefdoms. More than 140 masterpieces created between the 12th and the early 20th century—complemented by maps, drawings, and excavation and ceremonial photographs—reveal the religious and aesthetic conventions that defined distinct regional genres.
Alisa LaGamma is Curator, Arts of Africa, Oceania, and the Americas, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.
An image slideshow and more about the exhibition and details:
Museum Rietberg (official site)
|Unkown HeroesThe first photographs of African leaders were taken by European visitors during the second half of the nineteenth century, and reflect Western biases that have indelibly shaped perceptions of the region.
: The Kingdom of Benin and Beyond
Life is short, art endures.
— Hippocrates (460 – 400 BCE)
Oral histories credit oba Ewuare (r. mid-15th century) with commissioning the prototype for this genre, which portrayed him for the ages in the prime of youth.
|Visual Poems in Praise of an Ever-Present Past about IfeTo die is to become deified; no one venerates a living person.
— Yoruba proverb
|Pageantry and Ritual
Pageantry and Ritual: The Akan
When an elder dies, it is as if a whole library had burned down.
— West African proverb
|The Golden Age of Shyáám and Beyond
: The Kuba
When they look at this statue they will be able to remember me and think I am looking at them, consoling them when they are sad, giving them inspiration and new courage.
— Attributed to Shyáám áMbúl áNgoong, as told by Kwete Peshanga Kena (Kot áPe) to Emil Torday, 1908
|Sublime Chiefs and the Persistence of Memory
: The Hemba
We ask of you our ancestors and spirits good health and fertility. Of you, Kibikelo and Kalume, Mbivu and Kabenja, and Kivilile, we ask of you today to give us many children so that we may have much bounty, assure that our eyes continue to see clearly. We ask that the children progress in the world, that they be in good health and visionary. This is our prayer today.
— Prayer to the ancestors and their spirits by a Nkuvu notable living in Sola
|Dancing figures and Effigy Thrones
: Grassfield Chiefdoms
Here is the stone where your fathers’ family have sat before they were called to the throne,and it is on this very stone that you sit to-day [;] you are therefore king. May Yoruban [God] bless you …May Yoruban grant you many children and may your war-spear be mighty and your work strong.May Yoruban give you much and good advice and increase your wealth; …Yoruban accepts you as king of the Bamum.
— Njoya, Sultan of Bamum (r. ca. 1885 – 1933)
|Kom Leaders Situated in the heart of cameroon’s Bamenda Mountain Mange, the Kingdom of Kom traces its founding to the eighteenth century with Jinabo I.
|Of Hunter princes and Cherished Maidens
: The Chokwe and Luluwa
Ilunga came where Lueji was, and she invited him to sit by her side …Lueji, surrounded by her female attendants …heard the story of Ilunga. How he intended to leave his land for ever, and here he showed them the recte chimbuia axe, symbol of his status, which was passed round and much admired.
— Lunda epic
|Enduring Markers of Greatness
character of a face does not depend on its various proportions but rather on a spiritual light that it reflects.
— Henri Matisse, Jazz, 1947
|The Golden Days of the KingdomMankon is a kingdom in the western highlands of the Cameroon Grassfields whose fon, Angwafo III, has served for more than half a century as mediator between his subjects and his royal ancestors. Celebrations of the fiftieth anniversary of his accession, documented in this short film, took place in December 2009.