A broad-ranging exhibition of African art will be the centerpiece of a lively celebration of African culture at the Philadelphia Museum of Art from October 2, 2004 through January 2, 2005. African Art, African Voices: Long Steps Never Broke a Back presents nearly 200 works of art from the perspectives of the Sub-Saharan cultures in which they were created, utilizing music, movements, staging, and storytelling to span a period of creativity from the 19th century to the present. The exhibition gives full expression to the stories behind many of these works of art and enables visitors to appreciate them in close relation to their original functions.
African Art, African Voices features carved masks and sculptures from Western Africa, beaded jewelry from Kenya, gold weights from Ghana, elaborate costumes from the Yoruba, Dan and Mende, powerfully encrusted Mande hunters' shirts, and a rare royal throne room—with carved wood stools and sculptures of ancestral leaders—from the Kom Kingdom of Cameroon. The works on view are drawn largely from the noted Katherine White Collection that was formed in the 1960s and ’70s and acquired by the Seattle Art Museum in 1981as a gift of Katherine White and the Boeing Corporation.
The exhibition also presents an array of more than 40 contemporary works created in Africa from the late 1960s to the present, including photographs of Mali by Malick Sidibe (b. 1936) and the late Seydou Keita (b. c. 1921-d. 2001), as well as works by Yinka Shonibare (b. Nigeria, 1962), Magdalena Odundo (b. Kenya, 1950), and William Kentridge (b. South Africa, 1955), and a number of contemporary African artists whose works will be on view in a major American museum for the first time. Their photographs, ceramics, paintings, sculptures and works on paper reflect a dialogue both with African traditions and with current international tendencies in art.
"African Art, African Voices will give our visitors the opportunity to admire these impressive works not only as objects of compelling aesthetic contemplation but also in contexts that evoke their original functions and meanings in powerful and provocative ways," said Anne d’Harnoncourt, Director of the Philadelphia Museum of Art. "Our Museum has a small but growing collection of African art, an important field in which we would like to expand our holdings. It will be exciting to present this broad-ranging selection of superb objects from the Seattle Art Museum, shown alongside contemporary African art on loan from distinguished artists and other major collections."
African Art, African Voices includes a lively multi-media component that gives immediacy to historical and contemporary contexts and amplifies the social or ritualistic meanings of works on view. Video installations help to bring the energy of the objects out of their silent display cases. One video documents the funeral of a late Asante king in Ghana and the first public procession of his successor; drums, linguists, court officials and crowds of followers accompany it. Another video features masquerade performances from Nigeria, Cameroon, Liberia, and Sierra Leone.
"The exhibition takes an insider's approach to African art," said John Zarobell, assistant curator at the Philadelphia Museum of Art who coordinated the exhibition in Philadelphia and expanded it with a selection of more than 40 works by contemporary artists. "It is exciting to seize upon the vitality of these works in a museum and at the same time embrace the voices and perspectives of African experts who can augment the rich dialogue between art and viewer in striking ways."
Collaborations with scholars and contemporary artists guide exhibition visitors through the public and private nature of the art in different African cultures. Among the distinguished advisors are artist and curator Sylvester Ogbechie, assistant professor of Art and Architecture at the University of California at Santa Barbara; Robert Farris Thompson, professor of African and African American Art History at Yale University; Koo Nimo Amponsah, a native of Ghana and master of West African palm-wine guitar music; Fu-Kiau Bunseki, a philosopher and lecturer documenting Kongo culture; Babatunde Lawal, professor of art history at Virginia Commonwealth University; and Won Ldy Paye, a professional Dan storyteller and accomplished musician. A free audio tour of the exhibition draws upon the voices of the collaborating artists and scholars and helps visitors to make the imaginative leap from the art museum into the places in Africa where the objects were produced.
African Art, African Voices is subtitled Long Steps Never Broke a Back, a translation of a Yoruba proverb, Irin nla ko kan eyen ri. The ‘long steps’ can also refer to the distance American museum visitors must travel in their imaginations to connect an African artwork with its origins. The exhibition is an outgrowth and adaptation of Art from Africa: Long Steps Never Broke a Back, which was organized by Pamela McClusky, curator of African and Oceanic Art at the Seattle Art Museum, where it was seen in spring 2002 and was supported by Washington Mutual. In Philadelphia, African Art, African Voices is organized by Ms. McClusky and coordinated by John Zarobell, and will be seen in the Dorrance Special Exhibition Galleries. It is supported by generous grants from The Pew Charitable Trusts and The Jessie Ball duPont Fund, and by the Robert Montgomery Scott Endowment for Exhibitions at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Additional funding was provided by The Neubauer Family Foundation and the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts/Pennsylvania Humanities Council. Promotional and media support was provided by The Philadelphia Tribune and NBC 10 WCAU. The audio tour will be made available to visitors without charge through the generosity of Target Corporation. The exhibition will travel to the Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art in Hartford, Connecticut (February 12 - June 19, 2005).
To celebrate the opening of African Art, African Voices, a gala will be held on Thursday, September 30, 2004. The renowned masquerade group AyanAgalu from Nigeria will provide a spectacular performance of Yoruba music and dance during the official inaugural ceremonies conducted by community leaders and diplomats.
In conjunction with the exhibition the Museum will present a stimulating series of public programs and events including an art history series on African Art as well as a film series and four special ‘Weekends in Africa’ that incorporate musical performances, craft demonstrations and dance from four different regions of Africa (Oct. 2-3, Oct. 24, Nov. 14, Dec. 12). Related events will also be held at collaborating institutions in the Philadelphia region. For information on these events, visit www.philamuseum.org.
The exhibition is accompanied by the book, Art from Africa: Long Steps Never Broke a Back (2002). Published by the Seattle Art Museum in association with Princeton University Press, it is authored by Ms. McClusky and Robert Farris Thompson, professor of African and African American Art History at Yale University, who will also serve as an advisor to African Art, African Voices. The book ($49.95 cloth, $35.00 paper) is available in the Museum Store, by calling (800) 329-4856 or via the Museum’s website, www.philamuseum.org.
A recorded tour narrated by collaborating African artists and scholars, with an introduction by Cheryl McClenney-Brooker, Director of External Affairs at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, is available to visitors to the exhibition. This Antenna audio guide is being offered free of charge, through the generosity of Target Corporation.
HOURS AND ADMISSION
African Art, African Voices is free with Museum admission. The museum is open Tuesdays through Sundays from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.; Fridays until 8:45 p.m. Admission is $10 for adults, $7 for seniors (62+), students with I.D., and children ages 13-18; admission for children 12 and under is free. Admission on Sundays is pay what you wish all day.