For my exhibit I chose African art because it is very interesting and it is a direct reflection of the culture of the people. I chose art from 1800-1900 and most of what I found are sculptures and carvings in wood or other materials. The African people created sculptures as illustrations of family, spirituality, or some sort of power. Their art contains many symbols, as even the smallest detailes in the carvings have strong meanings. It is neat to see how the different cultures, even within Africa have different styles of representation. I chose three sculptures from three different groups within Central Africa. Enjoy!
Standing Male and Female Figures
The first piece I have chosen is a wood carving from The Democratic Republic of Congo; Tabwa. It was created during the 1800’s from wood and beads. The piece is a depiction of a couple from Lake Tanganyika. They are respected ancestors of a Tabwa ruler. Sculptures such as this are to represent enduring dynastic power and were passed down from generation to generation. Every detail including the markings on the faces have meaning. The beading around the neck, wrists, and ankles shows great character, and making someone into a sculpture indicated intelligence and wisdom. Tabwa people usually didn’t wear much clothes, but jewelry was important to them. The woman’s waist belt is passed down from elders and symbolizes ancestral continuity and family identity.
The second piece I chose is also a sculpture, but a little different from the first as it is made of wood, metal, and oil patina. This piece comes from the “Fang peoples” of Gabon, Africa in the early 1900’s. These people obtain a “communal cohesiveness” nowadays through an ancestral cult called bieri. Fang people have certain qualities that they praise in people, and reliquary figures exhibit these traits. Tranquility, vitality, and the ability to hold opposites in balance are the most important. The sculptures usually have a face with no expression and a body that has lots of muscle and stregnth. The bangles around the neck, wrists, and ankles are meant to show spiritual power. Even very old reliquary figures still give off the oil from their original treatment.
This piece comes from the Bangwa peoples in Cameroon, Africa. It was most likely created in the early 19th century. This is just one example of the many freestanding sculptures they created of leaders, known as lefem. The sculptures are documents of dynastic lines of leadership and have great importance. The stance of the ruler shows authority and identity. The figure is wearing a prestige hat and in his hands are a long tobacco pipe and a beaded vessel that would contain wine, which is an imporant part of social and political meetings. There is a collar of leopard claws around his neck that symbolizes the leopard which is the royal alter ego. It is one of the most sacred animals to these people and it shares many characteristics with the leader such as strength, speed and power. This piece was created from wood, pigment and encrustation and it is well-maintained and kept in the king’s palace.
The sculptures of Central Africa have a very unique look that is distinguishable between cultures. I really liked comparing these pieces with those of American culture; very different, but really enjoy both!