Sunday, August 13, 2023

My Collection

This post is ongoing. 
 New acquisitions will be added to the top.
Eventually commentary will accompany each piece. 

Dimitry Pavlovsky, Unwelcome Guest, 16x16x1, acrylic on cradled board, 2021

Dimitry Pavlovsky, Advantages of Primitives, 16x16x1, acrylic on cradled board, 2021

Ben Tinsley, Dream Lit, oil on canvas, 24x28

Vidvuds  Zviedris,  Amulet, 15.75 x 15.75", 2021, acrylic on canvas

John Santoro, Kilanea  Lava Flow, 2018, 9"x12" ,2018,  oil on canvas

Leslie Baum,  A Garden in a Vase 8-14-20, acrylic on canvas,   24"x18

Mary Arthur, View from Union League Club Towards Lake Michigan, 12x16, oil on canvas

Dmitry Samarov, Lituanica  #9 , oil on canvas, 21 x 25

Mitch Clark, untitled (from Riff Driven series) 2021, 24 x 30, acrylic on canvas 

Stanley Dean Edwards, untitled, 36 x 36

Poojah Pittie, Midnight Traveler, 40x40, 2021, Acrylic on canvas

Bruce Thorn, Nightingale, 24 x 30, 0il on linen, 2020 

Kathleen Waterloo, Plot Twist, 42x42, encaustic on panel, 2016

Thursday, July 20, 2023

Biking to galleries : 7-15-2023


Susan Alforque Silvano, Intimazzy -  Swiss Train Ride, 12 x 15

This trip began at a new venue, Epiphany Center for the Arts, a re-purposed Anglican Church on Ashland near Adams - now a venue for concerts, parties, and art exhibitions. 
My first stop was "The Happiness Show" on the second floor, sponsored by the Chicago Alliance for Visual Arts, an organization of artists over 50.

The above piece was the only one that appealed to me. 
Sentimental?  No doubt.
But there’s nothing wrong with loving people, and this artist developed spatial design simultaneously with telling a story ( an affectionate elderly couple sleeping through the spectacular sights on a scenic train ride through the Alps)

Here are some  stained glass windows prominently displayed in the the church’s de-sanctified nave. 
They were designed by Chicago’s  iconic Edgar Miller - but I was not especially enthralled. The central figure is so stiff and boring - while the figures on each side are so wimpy.  All that’s invigorating are the patches of color - and they feel better suited to an athletic facility than a place of worship.

Laura Myntti, after Milton Avery

Milton Avery, Red Rock Falls, 1947

Vera Scekic's review in New City alerted me to this show. When was the last time you saw an exhibit of one artist paying this kind of tribute to another?  I have never seen one -   yet   - it certainly can be fascinating for the viewer, and probably useful for the artist.  Remember all those "copies" that Rubens made of Titian?  They’re not really copies - they‘re just pieces that began where the earlier artist left off.

I've written more about her here.

Omar Velazquez, vocetero,  90" x 62"

Then I biked west on Fulton to Corbett Vs. Dempsey.
The small Kapsalis retrospective did indeed span nine decades,
but not with any Kapsalis that I want to look at.

I  did, however, really like the bizarre pieces by the much younger Puerto Rican artist, Omar Velazquez.
The large, actual paintings are so much more engaging than the small online reproductions.

Molly Zuckerman-Hartung,The Covalent Bonding of Satire & Whimsy 
in the Oeuvre of Paul Klee Before, Between, and After the War (s), 14.5 x 11  

I was hoping to buy something small by Magalie Guerin or Molly Z-H, 
but the inventory that John Corbett offered me was only one piece by each,
even though several other  small pieces were up on the website.

The above piece is indeed interesting .
Molly Z-H thinks and writes about modern painting with her own blend of satire and whimsy.

It is not, however, typical of her intense inventiveness with paint and fabric.

It’s beginning to make more sense to look harder for local artists not found in major galleries - though it is difficult to like a new artist on first viewing.  I’ve seen many pieces by M.Z.H. and Guerin over the past decade - allowing me to grow quite fond of them.

And - I am running out of wall space  - so maybe I should reserve some for dazzling artists yet to be found.  New ones are always popping up.

Yulia Gasio, Escaping Violence, 60 x 72, 2019

Then it was off to the Ukrainian Institute of Modern Art.

It’s hard not to constantly think about the unfolding tragedy of the Russian invasion, so it’s quite appropriate for UIMA, or really, any museum, to present this kind of show.  The artist is a young woman who came to the US from Donbas just before Russian paramilitaries began violating the border.
Fear and despair permeate her recent work. I have written about this show here

Yevhen Prokopov, Leda and Swan, 1985

Concurrently, the museum is presenting a bit of its permanent collection as selected by current staff.
I collect images of Leda , so this piece  fascinated me.  It’s also got that intriguing figurative elongation often found in Ukrainian art. It’s like they’re always trying to stretch the edge of  possibility.

The sculptor typifies the versatile professionalism of USSR artists, though he was only about 30 when Ukraine became independent.  Online, you can see that he is quite good at portraits, religious statuary and public monuments.  

I don’t see much Leda here -
but there certainly is plenty of Brancusi.

Tyler Bernard Anthony, Melting Lake Michigan

The Very Serious Gallery opened last year on Milwaukee south of Chicago.
The young gallerist  sells the work of young local artists
who focus on themselves rather than art theory or social justice.

Which is to say,
you will not find newly minted MFA’s. 

Zack Sanyour, Tallulah, 38" x 31"

Zolla-Lieberman’s summer potpourri looked to be a good opportunity to discover artists I’d never seen before, and indeed it was.

I’d love to see a solo show by Zack Sanyour, a recent graduate of RISD.
I’ve got no idea what the above image might have meant to him,
but often art cultivates mysteries.

Frank Paluch

Frank owned Perimeter Gallery - a regular stop on my gallery tours until it closed seven years ago.  

I really appreciate his East-Asian aesthetic - though my own will have to mature before I can really enjoy the above  thumb-sized wabi-sabi miniature.

Saturday, December 17, 2022

Exhibition: The Language of Beauty in African Art - Art Institute of Chicago


This is the richest collection of African sculpture I have ever seen - even though it contains not a single royal bronze from Benin despite it’s focus on West Africa.   It is also expertly lit and labeled.

What's problematic is the stated attempt to "decolonize the Western aesthetic standards long placed on these objects and to elevate the local indigenous perspectives of the works’ makers and communities. "

Gallery text tells us the local African words for various aesthetic qualities — but the eye that selected all the examples is European - as is the furniture, lighting, and text that presents them.  "Virtue signaling" refers to speech whose primary content appears to be the virtue of the speaker.  Isn’t that what is happening here?

Far from being "decolonized",  traditional Western aesthetic standards are on full display.  Perhaps that is not such a bad thing if we allow that Western eyes (or, at least some of them) can appreciate whatever visual quality some African eyes once demanded back when these pieces were made.  A hundred years ago that kind of elitist universalism, as exemplified by Andre Malraux, was mainstream.  Today, however, we may note how important it is to conceal it. 

Ngbandi ?,  Congo, Ubangi District, 19th to early 20th

This is my favorite piece in the show.
No sense of the divine here - just an ordinary man ready to do his bit.
I’d call it "humanism"

Some pre-Heian Japanese carvings have a similar, simple power.

The Ngbandi  people of the upper Ubangi River ( Congo) may have had a great tradition in wood carving - or maybe not.  The Belgians who originally collected these pieces could only guess at the origin of these carvings.  Wikipedia tells a rather grim story of how the Ngbandi  were treated by the Belgian government in the late 19th century.

Similar, and excellent, examples are occasionally offered for sale online, and some were recently donated to the Cleveland Museum of Art

The style is echoed by a contemporary sculpture shown below -
though with a political purpose and a pathetic effect:

Theaster Gates, Richard Gray Gallery

Lega people, Iginga figure, late 19th, early 20th C.

Another one of my favorites.
Cute in content but not in form.


Another ethnic group now in the Peoples Republic of Congo,
though on the opposite side of the country.
There is also a great example in  the Brooklyn Museum

…figurines were usually displayed only during initiations into the highest level of the men only Bwami association. Associated with proverbs and serving as memory aids, such sculptures were also sacred objects, Their weight of significance comes through in the label for them as "heavy things” …. , An intrinsic transcendental force gives all Bwame objects  the power to heal  or harm. If no other medical remedy could prove effective, particles taken from a wooden or ivory figurine, typically by scraping or rubbing its surface with sandpaper like leaves, would be mixed with water and given to a person to drink.

(Note: text in orange comes from gallery signage)

Luba - Staff of Office (kibango), 19th c.

Staffs like this one are always the property of kings, chiefs, diviners, dignitaries, or other titleholders. A newly appointed chief would hold a staff in one hand as he swore his oath of office. Read from top to bottom, it also functioned as a chronicle legitimizing its owner's anthority. The iron point and the copper wrapped around its shaft signal wealth and stability. A staff also acquired supernatural qualities and powers when medicines were inserted into the hairstyle of the figure on its crowning finial, enabling the sculpture to cure and protect its owner and those under his influence.

The Luba were from southwest Congo. They were developing an empire and metal technology when their budding civilization was destroyed by Belgian and Arab raiders.

Perhaps this is the time to note how many of these pieces were made in the Congo and how many of 
them come from Belgian collections. The curator is a Belgian himself - perhaps explaining both his interest and access to this work.  
(BTW - one of my earliest sculptures was a 3-D map of the Belgian Congo, age 9)

We might also note that almost everything in this exhibit dates to the era of European colonization. Earlier pieces could not survive the tropical climate while later pieces are considered less authentic on the art market . Having  destroyed native social and political structures, the invaders then determined that everything made thereafter was worthless.

The need to comprehend "indigenous perspectives" is the same demand for "authenticity’ that sophisticated European collectors have always had for African art.  If it was made to sell to people like them , they give it less value.

Brong (probably), Ghana

Not surprisingly - the Brong (or Bono) people are matrilineal.

Chokwe, Angola

 Usually identified as a representation of the Chokwe mythological hero Chibinda Ilunga, this sculpture is in the same style and possibly by the same artist as the other male figure displayed nearby. He holds a staff and medicine horn that represent the equipment used during hunting, evoking the endurance and masculine power needed during an expedition. Its dynamic energy is conveyed through anatomical details including a muscular body, flexed arms and legs, and large hands and feet. Exuding both political and religious authority, such figures would have been part of an altar and served to fight off physical as well metaphysical threats.


The sculptural art of the Chokwe people has long been renowned for its refinement. Western collectors and scholars have particularly appreciated these works' naturalism--for instance, the figure of the mythological hero Chibinda Ilunga shown nearby has been praised for its graceful and meticulous carving. The Chokwe people, however, use a specific term to describe a sculpture executed with skill and care: utotombo. It identifies a crucial aspect of cibema, a word that corresponds, in English, to both "beautiful" and "good" and may be used to praise a work. This language is also applied to masks depicting young women with elaborate hairstyles and jewelry that express their good taste and wealth as well as to figures of male leaders whose powers ensure a community's survival.

Probably a Kulebele workshop

Senufo: Senambele

Côte d'Ivoire

Mother-and-Child Figure

19th to early 20th century

This majestic figure was most likely used as a stationary display piece for the Poro association, a Senufo organization that brings together men of different age groups in order to promote their social and political authority. The association also serves as a religious institution that educates both genders. This image refers to the character known as Kaatyeleo, or Ancient Mother, the central deity of the Poro initiation process: she guards and instructs the young men entering the association as her children, nursing them with the milk of knowledge, The figures that evoke her are said to express glam, mature authoritative power.

​While sometimes thought of as a lower caste in Senufo society, the Kulebele have protection and prestige in their access to a group-specific supernatural power, the kafigeledjo. Feared and respected, the Kulebele are also thought to have the ability to turn into hyenas. Through the use or threat of these powers, the Kulebele maintain their specialized and exclusive role as woodcarvers.

Beyond its specific depiction of a mother nursing her child,
this sculpture symbolizes a larger concept of ancestral
motherhood that is central to Senufo society, in which
cultural inheritance is matrilineal. The darkened areas of
wood come from oils applied to its surface as both libations
and surface protectants. In some Senufo beliefs, one of the
most important founding ancestors is the Great Mother or
Ancient Woman (Katyeleeo or Maleeo). In groups that
believe in the Great Mother, she suckles male initiates with
the "milk of knowledge." Through this process, youths gain
the information they need to become adults (that is, fully
human). The simplified appearance of the "child" in this
sculpture reflects his unformed, pre-initiated state.

Above is the text on the website of the Cleveland Museum of Art.
Below is their photo of it,
Used to promote their 2015 exhibit of  Senufo art.

Much of the African art collected by Europeans in the early 20th C. was Senufo  - as evidenced by the  1963 exhibit "Senofo Sculpture from West Africa" - the first ever art museum exhibit to focus on just one particular people  (BTW - it came to Chicago!) … and the following:

In a book on the subject, Robert Goldwate (director of the Museum of Primitive Art),juxtaposed American photographer Walker Evans’s 1935 print of a sculpture by an unnamed African artist with Pablo Picasso’s Nude of 1907. On the basis of form, Goldwater regarded the African sculpture as an example of Senufo art. His interest in African art, and Senufo art more specifically, led him to organize the influential Senufo sculpture exhibition when he was director of the MPA. Through the exhibition and its companion publication, Goldwater established enduring parameters of the Senufo style. 

Studio of Andre Derain, 1910-11

Could not find the Picasso photo, 
but according to Gertrude Stein,
Derain was into African art even earlier. 

Looks like Derain had an excellent collection
The text below is quoted from Picasso's letter to Malraux:
 “People often talk about the influence of African art on me. What can I say? We all liked fetishes. Van Gogh said, ‘We all had Japanese art in common.’ For us, it was the Africans. Their forms didn’t influence me more than they did Matisse. Or Derain. But for them, the masks were sculptures like any others. When Matisse showed me his first African head, he talked about Egyptian art.

“When I went to the Trocadéro, it was disgusting. Like the Flea Market. The odor. I was alone. I wanted to leave. But I didn’t. I stayed. I stayed. I understood that it was very important. Something was happening to me…

“The masks were not like other sculptures. Not at all. They were magical things. So why weren’t Egyptian or Chaldean sculptures magical? We didn’t realize: they were primitive, not magical. The African pieces were intercesseurs. Ever since then, I’ve known the word in French. They stood against everything, the whole; against the unknown, threatening spirits. I was always looking at fetishes. I understood; I too am against everything. I too believe that everything is unknown, that everything is an enemy! Everything as a whole! Not the details, women, children, animals, tobacco, playing, but everything together!  I understood what the Africans used their sculpture for. Why sculpt like that and not some other way? After all, they were not Cubists! Cubism did not exist. It was clear that some fellows had invented the models, and others had imitated them. That’s tradition, isn’t it? But all the fetishes were for the same thing. They were weapons to help people avoid obeying the spirits so they could become free. Spirits, the unconscious – something that was not talked about much then – emotion: they were all the same thing. I understood why I was a painter.

“All alone in that dreadful museum, with the masks, the Redskin dolls, the dusty cloth figures. Les Demoiselles d’Avignon must have come to me that day, not at all because of the forms, but because it was to be my first exorcism painting!”

André Malraux, The Mirror of the Limbs – II. The Cord and the Mice, 1976.

Sounds like Picasso’s reaction to African carving was quite different from mine as well as the curator who wrote the text for the wall of this show.  But I and the curator have been viewing and thinking about African art for many decades.  We grew up with it being in the canon of great world art. Picasso is reporting on the very first time he, and many other Europeans, saw this kind of work - and as his biographies tell us, he was a bit closer to the dark side than I will ever be.

Mumuye, Nigeria

Here's a piece at the Met.

Kongo: Yombe Probably Democratic Republic of the Congo Two-Headed Dog Figure (Nkisi Nkondi Miwa or Nkisi Kozo) 19th century Wood, pigment, metal, and resin 

A power figure in the form of an mbma (dog), like the two-headed exam- ple shown here, draws strength from the animal's heightened senses in order to serve as a more effective channel between the human world and that of the spirits. Kongo hunting dogs navigate two earthly spheres- village and forest- and therefore can also mediate between the living and the dead. Just as a dog serves his owner by anticipating his move ments through the wilderness while hunting, so does the akis akondi mbira (especially a two-headed one) enhance the potency of an alia nkondi by watching for dangers that might approach from any direction,

Northern We , Côte d'Ivoire Face Mask (Tonhu Zri) 19th to early 20th century Wood, pigment, and fiber 

 The We and neighboring peoples of Liberia and Cöte d'Ivoire share a tradition of masks in which a human face has some features doubled, others enlarged, and still others omitted entirely--all combined with cavities and protrusions. Each was designed to be part of a dynamic context of music, dance, and song. These works' appearance and identity evolve over their lifetimes as animal and other natural parts are added, increasing the masks' supernatural powers that are helpful in war and combat.

Ibibio (Anaang), Nigeria

Bamala, Mail, Head of a Hobby Horse, 20th century 

 Kindombolo, the mask of the clown or trickster, gives form to collective ideas about ugliness and the grotesque through his outrageous perfor- mance and ragged clothing. When he enters the dance floor, the crowd grects him with insults; "You are ugly!" and "You are a slob!" The holes on his cheeks represent the scars of smallpox as kindombolo portrays a character who, having survived the disease, is oblivious to physical dan ger and social etiquette. Parodying other masks and flirting with female onlookers, he provides comic relief for the audience. His dance is marked by vulgar behavior and sexual innuendo.


Igbo Nigeria Half-Helmet Mask (Agbogbo Mino) Early 20th century Wood and pigment 

Light in color, with small, delicately balanced features, the aghogho mmo (maiden spirit) mask shown here glorifies women but is activated in performance by men. They wear elaborate coordinating costumes, as documented in the photograph at right, taken in the Awka region of Nigerin in the mid- 1930s. The mask's appearance represents spiritualized, idealized grace, beauty, and purity -in Igbo terms, Okoroshi uma, or "good-pretty." Its hairstyle is modeled after one that was popular for marringeable girls from the Inte 19th century, which incorporated buttons and ornamental combs, The chalky substance and swirling patterns on the face represent the geometric body decorations painted on Igbo women, known as uli designs.

Kongo: Yombe Angola, Cabinda, or Democratic Republic of the Congo Male Figure (Nkisi Nkondi: Mangaaka) 19th century Wood, pigment, iron, ceramic, fiber, textile, and glass 

 The Kongo would recognize this power figure, an example of nkisi nkondi, as having the potential to be animated by physical and metaphysical forces. Its bright white eyes and reflective mirror (on the stomach) act as a threshold to spiritual realms. The features allow the figure to "see through" any living person and also reflect evil back toward itself. Among the Kongo the dramatic combination of compelling beauty and repulsion (created by the addition of nails and natural materials) would be called ngitukulu, which might be understood as "awesome. 

  The Met has a similar piece and their website has additional information.

(I’m showing the back view, not only because it is more powerful, but also because I didn’t want my evil energy reflected back at me by the mirror on his stomach)

Songye, Democratic Republic of the Congo Male Figure (Nkishi) 19th century Wood, pigment, copper, brass, iron, antelope horn, animal hair, raffia cloth, and glass beads 

 Because this power figure displays a high level of craftsmanship as well as elaborate paraphernalia including an antelope horn, metal sheeting, and glass beads, we can infer that it was the collective property of a vil- lage and served a community. Anyone could make a figure for personal use. Community figures, however, were made by recognized special- ist carvers and then empowered and accessorized by reputable healers known locally as banganga (sing, nganga). Community mankishi (sing. nkishi) were typically kept out of sight in a sanctuary, but their reputa- tions would still extend beyond their immediate vicinity. These works served successive generations while personal figures would be discarded once they accomplished the goal they were designed for.

Songye Democratic Republic of the Congo Mask (Kifwebe) 
19th to early 20th century Wood and pigment

 Bifwebe (sing, kifwebe) masks depicting strange beings--neither human, animal, nor spirit- were visual ambassadors for a variety of masking societies in Songye and Luba regions. The size of the crest on top reflects a mask's magical potential and mystical power. Male bifinebe (such as the one shown here) are covered in colored stripes. Female versions are mostly white and associated with goodness, purity, and beauty, which they can use to engage benevolent spirits. Bifirebe served as tools for entertainment, social and political control, or religious protection against sorcery. The Songye claim these forms have Luba origins, while the Luba assert the reverse -an appropriately ambiguous backstory for the strange kifirebe character.

Luba, Democratic Republic of  Congo, Female Figure (Nkisbi), 19th Century

Guro, Ivory Coast, 19th to early 20th C.

Lele (possibly), Ceremonial Adze,  Democratic Republic of Congo, 19th C. 

Southern Dan, Liberia , Face Mask (Bugle) 20th century Wood and pigment 

Though the meaning of a Dan mask sculpture usually cannot be determined without its companion costume and dance choreography there are some notable exceptions, including this Liberian example the so-called War Mask (or Gun Mask) character known as buple. Intended to accompany and protect warriors in battle, it represents an imposing male persona with an aggressive and violent demeanor, an indicated by the row of small antelope horns carved above its face, the protruding shape of its eyes, and its wide-open, projecting animal mouth, le would have been complemented by a bulky, black fenther headdress

Dan masks are one of the collectible genres of African art 
- above are two examples pulled off the internet.
One, undated, sold at Sotheby’s for $7000.
 The other, from a contemporary workshop, is now being offered online for $98.  
Care to guess which is which ? 

I would say that they are both authentic,
but one feels more superficial.

Mbala Demperatic Repubile of the Congo Mother-and-Child Figure (Gibalu Gimenyi) 19th to earlv 20th cemtury Wood and pigment 

 This figure wearing the lobed pentoty wig, and carrying her little boy on her kip would have formed a couple with s male counterpart, often a drummer. Following the ritals marking a new chief's ascent to power, these types of figures took thels place among other sacred objects in the ruler's house. They also served as quardians of the commumity's well being and women's fertility. They received regular offerings of palm wine and blond from sacrificil animals as a tribute to the ancestors

Bamana, Mali,  Helmet, 19th to early 20th

The Met has a fine Bamana figure possibly from the 16th Century.

Bamana, Mali, Female Headdress

Bamana Possibly Segou region, Mali Mounted on a base designed by Kichizò Inagaki (Japanese, 1876-1951) Puppet in the Shape of a Female Bust (Yayoroba) 19th century Wood, pigment, and glass 

Puppet masquerades for entertainment, known as sogo bo, are overseen by Bamana youth associations called Kamalen Ton. Yaporoba, represented by this female bust, is one of the characters at the center of a series of up to 20 performances comprising a sogo bo. In order to cul- tivate moral values and social etiquette, the event typically combines humor with education. Each masquerade is accompanied by drumming and a chorus of men and women, with a lead singer. Yayoroba embodies beauty, grace, and dignity but also exemplary character and impeccable conduct. The Bamana refer to this combination of ideal physical and moral qualities as sara- "divine beauty.

Here's a Bamana puppet fron the St. Louis Art Museum

Bamana Mali Female Figure (Nyeleni or Jongeleni) 19th to early 20th century Wood, pigment, copper, metal, and beads Detroit Institute of Arts.

Adorned with nose piercings, earrings, and anklets, jonyeleni figures represent Bamana ideals ofbeauty and morality combined, qualities that a young woman is expected to cultivate to become ready for marriage. In the context of the Jo association, an organization that teaches male and female youths how to be productive adult members of society, such figures also express the desire of male initiates to find a partner and start a family. On a woman, a strong neck is a sign of honesty and integrity and firm breasts attest to her ability to carry and nourish offspring. The geometric body designs on the adjacent figure imitate scarifications that enhance female anatomy.

Here's a Nyeleni figure at the Met -- and the one in this show looks better. 
 The text elaborates on the relevant social customs.

Fang: Ngumba Cameroon Reliquary Guardian Figure (Eyema Byeri) 19th century 
Wood, pigment, brass, and teeth 

In its original context among the northern Fang, this sculpture would have been adorned with an elaborate hairstyle decorated with brilliant red feathers from the African gray parrot. Human teeth inserted into the eye cavities and carved wooden teeth in its mouth give the figure a menacing demeanor and reinforce its function as a guardian of ancestral relics, The pronounced eyes convey its extended vision and ability to detect natural and supernatural threats, while the carved animal horn imitates a receptacle for protective medicinal substances,

Bamileke Bandjoun Kingdom, Cameroon Prestige Stool (Kuo) Possibly 19th century Wood, cotton, fiber, glass beads, and pigment The Cleveland Museum of Art, 

This stool once be longed to the 12th king of Bandjoun, Kamga Il Joseph, of the Bamileke people, who is pictured at right with his attendants in front of his palace. The photograph was taken in the first years of his prosperous reign from 1925 to 1975. The stool was probably carried along whenever the king left his residence to greet dignitaries or to attend public events and state ceremonies. The leopard connotes beauty, strength, and wisdom but also refers to the ruler's ability to transform himself into a leopard at night in order to guard his kingdom. The colorful glass beads covering the stool were imported from Venice and Bohemia and were a highly valued commodity reserved for the king and his entourage,

Northern Nguni: probably Zulu South Africa Headrest 19th century Wood and pigment 

In their most basic function, headrests like those in this case are wooden pillows, used by some men and women to protect elaborate hairstyles during sleep- as in the photograph at right, taken in South Africa in the early 20th century, of a Zulu woman (with her nursing child) . These objects also serve as expressions of social and cultural beliefs all over Africa, especially in southern and eastern regions. Cattle are so highly valued among the Nguni people, serving as symbols of prosperity, that carvers often incorporate four legs and other bovine forms to effciently represent the animals or to flaunt high status and wealth. Headrests are passed down through generations and help to connect each owner with ancestors and spiritual forces, often through dreams

Unidentified culture Possibly Benue River Region, Nigeria

 Male Figure Possibly 19th century,  Copper alloy 

Although  its cultural and geographic origins are unknown to us, this unique figure's scale and the care taken to create it as well as the material used suggest that it was associated with prestige and authority, whether secular or sacred, Similar metal sculptures were observed in the 1970s and '80s in the Benue River Valley region along the Nigeria- Cameroon border and may have been part of a shrine dedicated to a guardian deity.

Southern Nguni; South Africa, or Southern Sotho;
 Lesotho Pipe 19th century Wood, pigment, and iron

The missing stopper of this pipe, delicately shaped like a female figure, was probably a carved head. A pipe this carefully made would have been inherited within a family or descendant group, for use by either a man or a woman. Its design and craftsmanship honor its role in fostering connections with ancestors as well as the cultural expectation that tobacco should be generously shared. In southern African, both smoking and snuffing tobacco were often associated with promoting fertility and procreation, in addition to serving social and leisure functions.

Kota: Mindumu Gabon Reliquary Guardian Figure (Mbulu Ngulu)
19th century Wood, copper, and brass 

This sculptural form shows a dynamic interplay between abstraction and realism. Its skull-shaped head likely impressed its original viewers and called attention to the potent ancestral remains it guarded, pre served within a basket or bark receptacle. In the 20th century, Western visitors found it comparatively easy to purchase such figures from their Kota owners, who would not consider parting with the containers be- cause the sacred contents served as a gateway to the ancestors.

Bamileke: Batoufam Kingdom Cameroon Portrait of a Queen (Wife of King Njike)

 Early 20th century Wood and pigment Collection of Jan Calmern, Sint-Niklaas, Belgium 

The bold facial expression of this mother carrying a child would probably have appealed to artists of the German Expressionist movement, who aspired to render human emo- tons with raw intensity, They became interested in African art forms around the early 1900s. This work was previously part of a set of commemorative portrait figures representing six generations of royal spouses that were arranged in front of the king's palace at Batoufam. It can be seen as part of that grouping in the photograph at right, taken in the 1920s- just to the left of the entrance. Carved to mark the enthrone- ment of each king and queen, such sculptures honored the new rulers as guardians of the well-being of their land and people. The portrait of King Metang, the tenth sovereign of Batoufam (the second figure to the right of the entrance), is on view in the Arts of Africa, Gallery 137.

Probably a Fonobele workshop Senufo: Senambele Côte d'Ivoire
 Male and Female Paired Figures 19th to early 20th century Wood and pigment 

 This imposing pair refers to the first human couple conceived by the Senufo creator god, Kolotyolo. They celebrate the enduring beauty of the primordial man and woman and honor the ideal balance between genders. The figures likely once held rattles and fly whisks (tools for waving off insects) in their hands; these are emblems of the Senufo initiation association for men called Poro. The male's circular crest with an openwork, lizard-shaped design is also one of Poro's attributes. The pair was prominently displayed- originally colored with red and white -near the sinzanga, or sacred sanctuary of the society, during the funeral of a distinguished member.
 As the above gallery text tells us, this couple was painted red and white when used in a funeral. The bare wood, the supporting pins in the ankles, and the dramatic lighting was all done for art loving Europeans.

Unlike that 1963 exhibit that confined itself to Senufo art,
this signage offers generalizations about sub-Saharan African art.

Though I can’t see how any of the four qualities other than "youthfulness’ 
relate to the objects in the room,  they do all seem to have much in common.

All the other great traditions of art 
center on some divine program of human redemption
and rebirth into another world.

But the carvings in this show are all about a personal and collective
life in this world.
Health, power, and fertility are what’s important.

In that way they’re closer than historical European art
to life in our modern world.

And they reflect the reality that outer life depends on inner life,
so Greco-Roman mimesis is not pursued.