The exhibition ‘Beyond Compare’ introduces superlative works of art from Africa from the Ethnologisches Museum into the peerless sculpture collection of the Bode Museum. Pairs of sculptures from both continents will be placed throughout the permanent collection and a special-exhibition gallery will address specific themes. The experimental juxtaposition of works from two continents reveals possible correlations on various levels, including historic contemporaneity, iconographic and technological similarities, and artistic strategies. Despite stylistic differences, striking similarities appear in the ways works of art function in both contexts. Power figures from the Congo were used to protect villages and communities, just as Gothic depictions of the Virgin of Mercy were. At the same time comparisons also expose contrasts, as with depictions of motherhood, which rely on different visual languages in Africa and Europe and convey different messages.
From November 21, 2018, the Musée Barbier-Mueller will present an exhibition focused on asen, iron altars specifically those of the former kingdom of Dahomey. It will explore an array of issues important to our understanding of these striking sculptures. Key among these are artist hands, questions of use, the history of these arts, and how asen enhance our understanding of the broader regional history of the southern area of the Republic of Benin where they are found.
Beauty stops us in our tracks. It makes us pause, look, consider. Sometimes it overwhelms us. We are often told art should aspire to this standard and be proportionate, symmetrical, naturalistic, and orderly. But what of work that is designed to revolt and terrify? Across Sub-Saharan Africa, artists working across a range of states, societies, and cultures deliberately created artwork that violated conceptions of beauty, symmetry, and grace—both ours and theirs. Subverting Beauty features approximately two dozen works from sub-Saharan African’s colonial period (c.1880-c. 1960) that are accumulative, composite, crude, counterintuitive, and disproportionate. More importantly still, it explores the reasons why artists working during this turbulent period in the continent’s history turned against beauty in order to express the meaning and vitality of their day-to-day existence.
The Snite Museum of Art African art collection will reopen this fall within a larger, more prestigious space on the main floor of the Museum. The reinstallation will explore themes of power. In the past, African art was often tied into the way African leaders promoted their agendas. Royalty and rulers used art to project their authority; religious groups promoted their faiths; while the wealthy desired to display their riches. Ordinary Africans also used art to enable them to wield their own forms of power. Since supernatural forces were thought to play a large role in determining events, it was important to own objects that could withstand or shape events that lay beyond ordinary control. Fifty-nine outstanding works from the Snite Museum collection will illustrate these ideas through themes of economic, political, social, and spiritual power in Africa. Most of these works have never been on public view before. Nearly a third belong to the Owen D. Mort Jr. Collection, with art primarily from Democratic Republic of Congo, where Mort worked for many years. As he said, “My hope is to educate people on Africa. It’s been a great love of mine… Ideally Notre Dame would use the collection for education, to get interest going in Africa.”