Artist and master craftsman Joseph Tetteh-Ashong (Ghanaian, born 1947), also known as Paa Joe, is the most celebrated figurative coffin maker of his generation. In the tradition of figurative coffins—or abeduu adekai (which means “proverb boxes”)—the structures represent the unique lives of the dead. This exhibition comprises a series of large-scale, painted wood sculptures commissioned in 2004 and 2005 that represent architectural models of Gold Coast castles and forts, which served as way stations for more than six million Africans sold into slavery and sent to the Americas and the Caribbean between the sixteenth and nineteenth centuries. Once they were forced through the “Gates of No Return,” these enslaved people started an irreversible and perilous journey during which many died. Relying on traditional techniques and materials, Joe crafts his sculptures to represent vessels ferrying the dead into the afterlife that speak to spirits separated from bodies in trauma.
From the first millennium, the Sahel—a vast area in Africa just south of the Sahara Desert that spans what is today Senegal, Mali, Mauretania, and Niger—was the birthplace of a succession of influential polities. Fueled by a network of global trade routes extending across the region, the empires of Ghana (300–1200), Mali (1230–1600), Songhay (1464–1591), and Bamana (1640–1861) cultivated an enormously rich material culture. Sahel: Art and Empires on the Shores of the Sahara will be the first exhibition of its kind to trace the legacy of those mighty states and what they produced in the visual arts. The presentation will bring into focus transformative developments—such as the rise and fall of political dynasties, and the arrival of Islam—through some 150 objects, including sculptures in wood, stone, fired clay, and bronze; objects in gold and cast metal; woven and dyed textiles; and illuminated manuscripts.
An extraordinary figure, the first 20th-century businesswoman, a self-made and emancipated woman, a visionary... There is no shortage of superlatives to describe the incredible rise to fame of Helena Rubinstein (1870-1965), dubbed the Empress of beauty by Cocteau, but her role as an experienced collector and a pioneer in the recognition of African and Oceanic arts in Europe and North America is often overlooked. Primarily amassed in Paris through her various encounters, "Madame’s collection", now dispersed, comprised over 400 pieces of non-European art including precious Kota and Fang reliquary guardians, exceptional Baoulé, Bamana, Senoufo and Dogon pieces. The exhibition places the spotlight on her passion for non-Western arts - primarily African art - through sixty pieces, as well as her fascination for their expressive intensity and character.
In collaboration with Haus der Kunst in Munich, the Kunstmuseum Bern is mounting a large-scale exhibition of the work of Ghanaian artist El Anatsui. He is arguably Africa’s most renowned contemporary artist and famous for his large sculptures of recycled bottle caps that decorate whole walls like magnificent tapestries. At the same time, the former metal bottle caps of liquor bottles reflect the (post-)colonial relationship between Europe, Africa and the New World. The exhibition focuses on the monumentality of El Anatsui's work and reveals how it developed out of his life-long passion for drawing, his wooden sculptures carved with chainsaws, and the ceramics he produced in the early years of his artistic career.
African Arts—Global Conversations puts African arts where they rightfully belong: within the global art historical canon. It brings those works into greater, meaningful art historical conversations and critiques previous ways that encyclopedic museums and the field of art have or have not included them. African Arts—Global Conversations presents thirty-three works, including twenty by African artists. Highlights include a celebrated eighteenth-century Kuba sculpture, fourteenth- to sixteenth-century Ethiopian Orthodox processional crosses, and a mid-twentieth-century Sierra Leonean Ordehlay or Jollay society mask. Also featured are recent works by Atta Kwami, Ranti Bam, Magdalene Odundo OBE, and Taiye Idahor, which are paired with artworks by Māori, Seminole, Spanish, American, Huastec, and Korean artists.
Caravans of Gold, Fragments in Time: Art, Culture, and Exchange across Medieval Saharan Africa is the first major exhibition addressing the scope of Saharan trade and the shared history of West Africa, the Middle East, North Africa, and Europe from the eighth to sixteenth centuries. Weaving stories about interconnected histories, the exhibition showcases the objects and ideas that connected at the crossroads of the medieval Sahara and celebrates West Africa’s historic and under-recognised global significance. Presenting more than 250 artworks spanning five centuries and a vast geographic expanse, the exhibition features unprecedented loans from partner institutions in Mali, Morocco, and Nigeria, many of which will be seen in North America for the first time.