Monday, April 2, 2012

Heroic Africans: Legendary Leaders, Iconic Sculptures, September 20th, 2011-January 29, 2012 The Metropolitan Museum of Art. by craniv boyd

Heroic Africans: Legendary Leaders, Iconic Sculptures, September 20th, 2011-January 29, 2012 The Metropolitan Museum of Art. by craniv boyd

During the fall and winter season of the Metropolitan museum of art on Fifth avenue, a significant exhibition of modest gallery space, took place, on the ground floor of the museum. Heroic Africans: Legendary Leaders, Iconic Sculptures, brought together, artworks from sub-Saharan Africa, art collected in major European institutions. The artistic production of eight groupings of peoples, kingdoms and civilizations who lived where present day nations of Angola, Nigeria, Congo, Cameroon, Zambia and the Democratic Republic of Congo, are currently. The arts of: Akan of Ghana, Ife and Kingdom of Benin in Nigeria, Bangwa and Kom of Cameroon, Chokwe of Angola and Zambia, Luluwa, Hemba and Kuba of the Democratic Republic of Congo, were presented in galleries with subdued lighting, in glass cases, housed in rooms with walls painted deep earth tones. 

The Metropolitan Museum, had this exhibition, and extensive coinciding event programming, to foster understating for these artworks and the stories of said artworks. Many statues were on view in New York, by way of loan agreement from private collections, or from prominent museums in Belgium, Portugal,Germany, and the United Kingdom. The gathering of all of these artworks dating from, approximately the 17th to the 19th century, in a few rooms, was powerful. In that several, excellent wooden carvings of chiefs of the Chokwe peoples, in varying dimensions, could be seen at once, all artworks were presented with an impeccable dignity. The exhibition attempted with close analysis of art works, to tell the stories and histories of the leaders which the art works represent. 

An carved  ivory mask,  of the Queen Mother of the Kingdom of Benin, present day Nigeria  shared a room with a terra-cotta Head of the civilization of Ife in Nigeria. The wall text in this entrĂ©e saal, was respite with photo reproductions of Greco-Roman funerary, commemorative statuary. This was an effort, doubtlessly, to make an analogy, that has been made before, between, the arts of Benin and Ife, with classical antiquity. A parity, made due to common faithfulness to naturalistic portrayals of the human face, which all of the afore mentioned arts possess, despite vast measures of time when all arts were made and gross distances between geographic localities where each of the arts and cultures were. This may seem as a provocative gesture to some.  A way to hitch up artworks from sub-Saharan Africa, to the par of that lofty white marble ensconced pantheon of Attic Greece, perhaps? Somehow, this motion with the photographs rang false, why not place the real objects, next to the Benin Ivory Mask, or the Ife terra-cotta bust, considering that the Metropolitan Museum has such significant holdings in classical art? 

On the whole, one  should be happy that the artworks presented in the exhibition Heroic Africans, are in a museum for Art, and not one for ethnography, simply because as art, in my humble opinion, their rightful place is in a museum of art. It is commendable that the Metropolitan Museum of art, places the arts of Africa within walking distance of arts from other world cultures. One hopes for more, bigger exhibitions in the same institution that highlight more arts from sub-Saharan Africa. by craniv boyd.

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