Monthly Archives: February 2015

Object of the day: a rediscovered Senufo staff from the Master of the spade-shaped hands

Senufo ceremonial staff. Height: 90,5 cm. Photo by Ferry Herrebrugh. Image courtesy of Rutger & Irene der Kinderen, The Netherlands.

Senufo ceremonial staff. Height: 90,5 cm. Photo by Ferry Herrebrugh. Image courtesy of Rutger & Irene der Kinderen, The Netherlands.

Last year I had the pleasure to see the above staff while visiting a private collection in The Netherlands. The current owner acquired this masterpiece early 2014. Only a few weeks later he encountered an old black/white picture of his staff in the new exhibition catalogue of the Rietberg Museum: Afrikanische Meister – Kunst der Elfenbeinkuste (p. 168, fig. 218). I don’t need to explain the collector suddenly was even more happy with his last acquisition. Listed as ‘current location unknown’, the staff was last ‘seen’ when Schädler published it in 1973 (Afrikanische Kunst in Deutschen Privatesammlungen, p. 74) – it was his picture that was used in the 2014 catalogue.

After having spend more than 30 years hidden away, the staff will be on view to the public from 14 April until 26 July 2015, at the last stop of the traveling exhibition, now dubbed Les Maïtres de la Sculpture de Côte d’Ivoire, at the Musée du quai Brainly in Paris. I’m happy to already share some pictures of it here.

Photo by Ferry Herrebrugh. Image courtesy of Rutger & Irene der Kinderen, The Netherlands.

Photo by Ferry Herrebrugh. Image courtesy of Rutger & Irene der Kinderen, The Netherlands.

Clearly this staff from the Korhogo district doesn’t resemble the more common Senufo staffs handed out to most productive farmers; possibly it served as an emblem of dignity. The zoomorphic figures on top most likely represent a chameleon and a bird. The group of figures, which is equally fascinating seen from any angle, is held in tension buy a skillful balance of surface areas, an intriguing interplay of lines and an elusive air of mystery. Frequent use has left a shiny, deep, reddish-brown patina at the centre of the staff, and the group of figures is covered with the remains of numerous sacrifices.

Photo by Ferry Herrebrugh. Image courtesy of Rutger & Irene der Kinderen, The Netherlands.

Photo by Ferry Herrebrugh. Image courtesy of Rutger & Irene der Kinderen, The Netherlands.

As the above profile of the figure shows this staff was sculpted by a master carver. Due to the specific shape of his hands, he was nicknamed the ‘Master of the Spade-Shaped Hands’. A helmet mask (at least it looks like one) from a private Belgian collection can also be attributed to this artist – who is also sometimes called ‘The shovel shaped hands Master’. An interesting detail is that they share their earliest European provenance: Robert Duperrier. A third object from this sculptor is a small figure in the collection of the Rietberg Museum – also illustrated below. In my humble opinion the style of this artist is quintessentially Senufo; I don’t think it can get much better than this.

Helmet mask. Height: 45,9 cm. Image courtesy of Musée Dapper.

Helmet mask. Height: 45,9 cm. Private Collection. Image courtesy of Musée Dapper.

Senufo figure. Height: 18 cm. Image courtesy of the Rietberg Museum.

Senufo figure. Height: 18 cm. Image courtesy of the Rietberg Museum.

Bangwa sculptor of the day: Atem

Atem trying out a new slit gong. Image courtesy of Brain & Pollock, 1971 (color plate 12).

Atem trying out a new slit gong. Image courtesy of Brain & Pollock, 1971 (color plate 12).

Since the number of traditional African sculptors of who we know the identity is so limited, it is always exciting to discover a name and a face to attach to a previously anonymous mask or statue. I found this wonderful description of the Bangwa artist Atem in Robert Brain and Adam Pollock’s Bangwa Funerary Sculpture (London, 1971).

At the time of their research the best known of the Bangwa carvers was Atem, pictured above. He lead a free-and-easy life: his prowess with the adze and his devotion to pleasure were equally renowned. When not working Atem lived for the moment. Once a mask or drum had been completed and the money handed over, the money was mostly invested in drink, which he shared with his crowds of friends. Unusually for a Bangwa, Atem was uninterested in other material comforts. He worked in a small decrepit hut kilometers away from the Bangwa centres. A visit to him and his young apprentices involved a steep, muddy trek to a forested mountain slope in Upper Bangwa. in spite of his many opportunities for wealth, he had only a single wife. This was startling to a Bangwa, since a man’s success was usually determined by the number of wives housed in his compound. Atem carved more and more for wealthier patrons outside Bangwa. He carved masks for Banyang societies and royal stools for neighboring Bamileke chiefs. He was even sought after in the cultural foyers in the French dominated towns of Yaounde and Douala, and he had made a stool for the wife of the president of Cameroon. Although he traveled widely (‘to drink’, he said), he returned home to work. The picture below shows a Bangwa night society mask carved by Atem in 1967.

A night mask by Atem, carried by the 'lord of the night' and preceded by a night masker. Image courtesy of Brain & Pollock, 1971 (plate 21).

A night mask by Atem, carried by the ‘lord of the night’ and preceded by a night masker. Image courtesy of Brain & Pollock, 1971 (plate 21).

Atem preferred to carve masks associated with ‘jujus’ which had been recently imported from the forest areas; these were the dance societies which were most popular with Bangwa youth at that time. Atem was commissioned by the society, the members of which contributed money to pay for a mask which may cost anything from £3 to £15. These were usually janus-headed, horned masks, painted in brightly colored European hues. As shown below, they were lively, extrovert and amusing, a far cry from the expressionistic night masks or the serene memorial figures of the old artists.

Masked dancer - with a horned janus-mask carved by Atem. Image courtesy of Brain & Pollock, 1971 (plate 43).

Masked dancer – with a horned janus-mask carved by Atem. Image courtesy of Brain & Pollock, 1971 (plate 43).

Atem also carved drums, vast slit-gong drums which he worked in situ in the forest, often simply following the shape of the tree trunk from which they were cut; they were then hauled complete to the owner’s compound. Other drums were elaborately decorated at the ends; one for example having the portrait of a chief and his process at either end. Atem was also an expert musician as well: the ‘sound’ of the drum for him was as important as its appearance. Not surprising, he was a virtuoso on the drums and a fine dancer as well.

Atem Bangwa carver sculptor artist Cameroon drum

In December 2014, Christie’s Paris offered a mask that in all likelihood also was made by Atem (lot 23). It clearly shows the same typical characteristics (note the overhanging brows, swollen cheeks and specific shape of the mouth). In the catalogue we read that this mask was collected in 1950 – 17 years before the one illustrated above. Estimated € 30-50K, and without Atem being listed as its sculptor, it failed to sell – probably its half eaten state had something to do with that.

Bangwa mask. Height: 35 cm. Image courtesy of Christie's.

Bangwa mask. Height: 35 cm. Image courtesy of Christie’s.

Brain & Pollock conclude their description of Atem by stating that he was a typical example of the individualistic carver working on his own. Bangwa society gave free rein to individuals and even by their standards the sculptors were allowed great unconventionality. Famous carvers of the past were remembered as ‘bohemians’ – wits and personalities who refused to conform to Bangwa norms. In their desire for nonconformity, Bangwa sculptors like him thus had something in common with most of todays contemporary artists.

“Giant Masks from the Congo”, an exhibition at the Brussels Belvue Museum (May- September 2015)

Giant Masks from the Congo Yaka Suku Belvue museum

From Friday 15 May to Wednesday 2 September 2015, the Brussels Belvue Museum (5 minutes walking from the Sablon) will be hosting the exhibition Giant Masks from the Congo – A Belgian Jesuit ethnographic heritage (info). It is a collaboration of the Royal Museum of Central Africa, the Belgian Society of Jesus, BELvue Museum, and the King Baudouin Foundation and will show a series of (“giant”) Yaka and Suku masks used during initiation rituals. Objects from the Heverlee missionary collections are complemented with masks and statues from the collections of Tervuren. A catalogue will accompany the exhibition and the entrance will be free.

While working in the Belgian Congo, Jesuit missionaries also carried out ethnographic research and collected objects. The historical and cultural context of this endeavour introduces this exhibit, which features a set of masks used during the mukanda male initiation rite among the Yaka and the Suku. These masks are remarkable in their exceptional form and design. Most of these pieces have never before been seen in public or in print.

The first part of the exhibit describes the work of the Jesuits in the Kwango mission and provides the portrait of several Jesuit collectors. A wealth of documents – handwritten letters, published excerpts, maps – sketches out the context in which pieces were collected and the collaboration that began in the 1930s between the museum and the Jesuits. The RMCA holds the large collection from the former Jesuit missionary museum in Heverlee in trust and is in charge of its conservation, archiving, restoration, and scientific analysis. The second part presents the mukanda rite among the Yaka and Suku, as well as a few neighbouring groups.

In 2013, the Belvue Museum hosted another exhibition (Dr Livingstone, I presume) that showed African art – you can find pictures of it on the blog of François Boulanger here.

TEFAF 2015 – welcoming a new participant specialized in African art

Fang figure, Gabon. Image courtesy of Lucas Raton.

Fang figure, Gabon. Image courtesy of Lucas Ratton.

TEFAF Maastricht, “the fair that defines excellence in art”, this year welcomes a new participant specialized in African art: Lucas Ratton. He will join Didier Claes, Bernard de Grunne, Entwistle and Galerie Meyer, strengthening the position ethnographic art holds at the fair.

Jean-Baptiste Bacquart, also from Paris, this year is one of the five exhibitors chosen for TEFAF Showcase – which gives dealers a one-off chance to take part in the fair offering them a smaller space in a separate area (both Claes as Ratton also first were present at TEFAF through the Showcase initiative).

As a teaser for the fair, which will take place from 13 to 22 March, you can already browse all ethnographic art that is to be featured in the catalogue here.

Object of the day: a Guro/Bete mask by the ‘Master of Gonate’

Bete Mask Master of Gonate Ivory Coast

Another auction surprise – this time from December last year. The above Guro/Bete mask by the so-called ‘Master of Gonate’ was offered for sale as the only African lot in a general auction in Paris. Notwithstanding it being an important rediscovery the mask was only estimated € 40,000-60,000. Mounted on a signed Inagaki base, it is assumed it probably once belonged to Paul Guillaume. The mask came from the collection of Laurent d’Albis, who had bought it from Charles Ratton. It sold for € 480,000, yes that much.

Since there is still a lot of discussion about this ‘Master (or better Masters) of Gonate’ it is very interesting to read the text by Bertrand Goy, an expert on art of Ivory Coast, that accompanied this lot in the catalogue (unfortunately no English translation is available):

Cet important témoignage de l’art Bété de Côte d’Ivoire fait partie d’un très cours corpus de six masques sculptés par le même artiste vers la fin du XIXe siècle. Au sein de cet ensemble il se distingue par d’exceptionnelles qualités plastiques et des solutions artistiques lui conférant sensibilité et émotion alliées à la rigeur d’un style personnel parfaitement maîtrisé. A ce titre il mérite d’être aujourd’hui considéré comme la réalisation la plus aboutie de celui qui a été baptisé «le maître de Gonate» et sa redécouverte aujourd’hui peut être considérée comme un important évènement pour la connaissance des arts de la Côte d’Ivoire. La qualité exceptionnelle du masque décrit dans ces lignes est aussi incontestable que l’identité de son auteur, le «maître de Gonaté», est hypothétique. Le choix d’associer un style sculptural à ce village gouro au seul prétexte de sa proximité géographique avec la ville bété de Daloa révèle la perplexité des observateurs quant à l’origine de ce type d’oeuvres: Gouro, Bété, Gouro-Bété? Les rares témoignages anciens concernant des masques de morphologie approchante désignent pourtant un centre de style plus méridional, aux marches Est du territoire bété. La confusion toutefois s’explique: de longue date, le pays bété a été traité comme un parent pauvre. La littérature a durablement ignoré ce groupe, deuxième ethnie du pays, installé au plus profond d’un territoire sylvestre du centre de la Côte d’Ivoire, à l’ouest du fleuve Sassandra. Dans un triangle dont les sommets sont Soubré au sud-ouest, Daloa au Nord et Gagnoa à l’est, des populations de langue krou isolées dans leurs forêts denses vivaient de collecte et de chasse avant que l’exploitation du cacao puis du café ne s’y développe de manière intensive. Dès les premiers instants de la conquête, les militaires relevèrent l’incroyable mosaïque ethnique composant cet empire du milieu aux frontières floues, constat relayé par les grands africanistes Delafosse ou Tauxier et plus récemment Jean Pierre Dozon. Le grossier découpage du pays, parfois directement calqué sur le déploiement des troupes de «pacification», créa des entités telles que «les Bété de Gagnoa paraissaient plus proches des Gban et des Dida voisins (notamment sur le plan socio-culturel et linguistique) que des Bété de Daloa.» À fortiori, leur production artistique connaîtra longtemps semblable ostracisme. Seul, Eckart von Sidow, en 1930, utilise le vieux terme de «Shien» pour qualifier un masque originaire de la région; L’ethnologue Denise Paulme, 32 ans plus tard, décrète «l’absence de masques» chez les Bété peu de temps avant que William Fagg ne convoque opportunément le groupe pour faire l’appoint de ses Cent tribus, 100 chefs-d’oeuvre. En 1968, dans son ouvrage L’Art nègre, Pierre Meauzé, pourtant fondateur en 1942 du musée de l’IFAN à Abidjan, présente un masque bété sous la dénomination Dan. Cet incompréhensible malentendu contribuera à créditer l’ensemble des oeuvres produites dans cette zone intermédiaire à leurs voisins plus connus. A l’ouest, les masques expressionnistes terrifiants et guerriers, évoquant irrésistiblement un mempo japonais ou le casque de Dark Vador, ont longtemps été attribués aux Guéré (Wé); il faudra attendre Bohumil Holas pour rendre aux Bété la paternité de ces masques glé de la région de Daloa. En revanche, pour l’ancien conservateur du musée d’Abidjan, à l’est, rien de nouveau: les masques anthropomorphes plus figuratifs et apaisés du Cercle de Gagnoa continuent à être concédés aux Gouro. Ces représentations partagent un indéniable air de famille. Leur caractère «ataviqu» le plus remarquable est un front très ample et dégagé, traversé verticalement en son centre par une longue ligne chéloïdienne. S’y ajoutent une coiffure élégamment ordonnée, impeccablement plaquée aux tempes, des yeux aux paupières lourdes soulignées d’un réseau de rides, un nez un peu épaté et aux narines marquées, inscrit dans un triangle. D’une façon générale, le facies humain de ces masques tend à un réalisme excluant le plus souvent l’adjonction de caractères zoomorphes comme c’est le cas chez les Gouro. Chacun de ses éléments pris individuellement ne sont pas l’exclusivité des Bété, ils peuvent se retrouver chez les voisins dan ou gouro; conjointement, ils désignent une région située à l’est du territoire bété. Au nord de la zone, sur un axe Sintra-Gagnoa (précisément dans le canton Zédi, sous préfecture de Bayota), le tchèque Golovin avait collecté dans les années 1930 quelques masques au front hypertrophié, désormais au musée Naprstek de Prague. Plus au Sud, l’adjudant Filloux ramassa un double du mythique masque de Tzara non loin de Gagnoa alors qu’en 1913 il «actionnait» le nord-ouest du secteur dida, autour de Sikiso, dont seraient originaires les voisins Bété paccola et zabia. Bien plus tôt encore, l’administrateur Thomann, explorateur pionnier du pays bété au tournant du XXe siècle et fondateur de ses premiers postes, avait collecté des masques de ce type. Au sein de cette famille recomposée, le style dit de «Gonaté» constitue un sous-ensemble très uniforme de taille et d’apparence. Limité à six exemplaires connus à ce jour, la plupart ont transité par les prestigieuses collections de Han Coray ou du baron von der Heydt et sont désormais propriété de musées suisses. Quelques traits particuliers permettent de les distinguer: sommet du front abruptement interrompu par un plan horizontal, oreilles stylisées en forme de faucille, bouche plus réaliste et harmonieuse que celle du modèle de référence, joues parfois scarifiées de signes cabalistiques. Le haut du visage se cache derrière ce qui s’apparente au traditionnel accessoire du carnaval vénitien ou protège le gentleman cambrioleur: le sculpteur a t’il voulu renforcer l’anonymat du danseur en empilant masque sur masque ? Des quelques exemplaires issus de cet atelier, l’oeuvre présentée ici est sans doute le modèle le plus réussi. Le sillon du philtrum légèrement marqué met en valeur le contour de la bouche et les lèvres sensuelles et finement ourlées, des lignes concentriques, assorties à celles délimitant la coiffure, dessinent un loup posé sur un nez épaté sans excès; la parfaite proportion entre haut et bas du visage évite l’outrance; le crâne suit la courbe naturelle du front sans être interrompu par ce brutal pan coupé caractérisant certains spécimens de la famille, réplique de la brosse adoptée par Boris Karloff pour son meilleur rôle. La belle patine brune, les traces d’usure au revers, les trous d’attache pour coiffe et barbe forés au feu de part et d’autre conformément à la tradition, disent l’ancienneté de ce masque. Posé sur son socle de Kichizo Inagaki, il nous entraine dans une période pionnière de l’Art Nègre, celle où son propriétaire courait les galeries avec un parent, Franck Burty Haviland, photographe ayant fait partie du premier cercle d’Alfred Stieglitz et d’Alfred De Zayas. Époque également où le galeriste Han Coray fut l’acquéreur avéré d’au moins la moitié de cette série de masques. Dès leur première exposition d’Art Nègre, à New York en 1914 pour Stieglitz, à Zurich en 1917 pour Coray et Tsara, le fournisseur commun avait nom Paul Guillaume. Il est raisonnable de penser que l’arrivée en France d’un ensemble aussi cohérent date des années où le marchand avait transformé en collecteurs des officiers d’Infanterie coloniale chargés de mettre la Côte d’Ivoire à «résipiscence» avant que la guerre de 14 ne les rappelle tous sur le front.

ps in 2013 Sotheby’s New York offered a mask by the Master of Gonate at an estimate of € 46K-70K (info), it sold for € 87,420; Christie’s Paris sold a mask attributed to the Masters of Gonate (note the plural) for € 26,650 in 2007, and a horned mask from the same workshop in 2003 for $ 28K.

Field-photo of the day: Phuonchu Aseh’s workshop in Babanki-Tungo (Cameroon)

Foyn Phuonchu Aseh of Babanki-Tungo in his workshop. Published in Emonts (J.), Ins Steppen und Bergland Innerkameruns. Aus dem Leben und Wirken deutscher Afrika Missionare, Aachen, 1927: p. 219.

Foyn Phuonchu Aseh of Babanki-Tungo in his workshop. Published in Emonts (J.), Ins Steppen und Bergland Innerkameruns. Aus dem Leben und Wirken deutscher Afrika Missionare, Aachen, 1927: p. 219.

I recently discovered this incredible field-photo of a famous Cameroon sculptor-king at work. Phonchu Aseh (also written Phuonchu Aseh, Fontshue Ase, Fo Ntshue and Fonchu) became king after the dead of his father Aséh Yufanyi – who was also a sculptor – and reigned in Babanki-Tungo (in the Cameroon Grassfields) until his death in 1918/19. In 1913, the Catholic missionary Johannes Emonts visited him – giving a detailed account of his artworks and sculpting technique in his book Ins Steppen und Bergland Innerkameruns (1927). The foyn (or king) stated that he had learned to sculpt from his father. At first he was specialized in anthropomorphic and zoomorphic (elephant & bird) masks, an old tradition in the region. After admiring the royal thrones in Bamun, he decided to devote himself to the carving of thrones and stools and limited himself to a royal clientele. His reputation quickly grew to such a point that most of the neighboring royal treasuries possessed at least one of his works. Also in further away kingdoms (like Bagam, Nkambé, Fontem, Bafut and Bamun) his work could be found (this wide distribution of works in the Babanki-Tungo style would later become the source of much confusion on the part of researchers when attributing objects to a specific kingdom).

The above field-photo shows Phuonchu Aseh sculpting. On the right a prestige bed ordered by the Bamun king Njoya can be seen. Representatives of Njoya were present when Phuonchu solemnly finished the last details of the bed. Phuonchu would send the bed with a delegation to Bamun, 3-4 days walking from Babanki-Tungo, and in return received several wives from king Njoya. Strumpell collected a similar bed in Babanki-Tungo in 1905, illustrated below.

Bed by Phuonchu Aseh or his workshop. Collected by Strumpell in Babanki-Tungo in 1905. Image courtesy of the Staedtisches Museum Braunschweig, Germany.

Bed by Phuonchu Aseh or his workshop. Collected by Strumpell in Babanki-Tungo in 1905.
Image courtesy of the Staedtisches Museum Braunschweig, Germany.

Typical for Phuonchu Aseh’s well-documented style are almond-shaped eyes embedded in broad eyelids, curved brows which are notched, the oval face narrowed to a point at the chin and unfiled teeth in a half-open mouth. Pierre Harter lists a throne acquired from the fon of Bagam in 1925 by father Christol (currently in the British Museum and illustrated below) as one of the best executed stools from Phuonchu Aseh.

Throne of the fon of Bagam, made by foyn Phuonchu Aseh of Babanki-Tungo. Collected by F. Christol in 1925. Image courtesy of the British Museum (Af.1937-14). Height: 119 cm.

Throne of the fon of Bagam, made by foyn Phuonchu Aseh of Babanki-Tungo. Collected by F. Christol in 1925. Image courtesy of the British Museum (Af.1937-14). Height: 119 cm.

Many of Phuonchu Aseh’s thrones are very alike. The majority of the examples in German museums however lack patina. They were never used and commissioned by German colonial officers. Furthermore, the quality of the thrones and stools is quite uneven since the sculptor-king often entrusted the execution of less important commissions to less skilled assistants.

Foyn Phuonchu Aseh of Babanki-Tungo in his workshop. Published in Emonts (J.), Ins Steppen und Bergland Innerkameruns. Aus dem Leben und Wirken deutscher Afrika Missionare, Aachen, 1927: p. 221.

Foyn Phuonchu Aseh of Babanki-Tungo in his workshop. Published in Emonts (J.), Ins Steppen und Bergland Innerkameruns. Aus dem Leben und Wirken deutscher Afrika Missionare, Aachen, 1927: p. 221.

Several magnificent palace posts are widely considered as the best work of this Phuonchu Aseh. The Ethnographic Museum in Geneva has two; both illustrate palace life: in one we recognize a chief with his insignia, a woman with a small child, and a notable; the other portrays two men and a leopard, with the same basic structure. Less cheerful is the scene represented on a third pillar in the Museum der Kulturen in Basel. The collection records contain the following information recorded by Hans Himmelheber – who brought the pillars back from Africa in 1937: ‘Pillar from the reception hall of the king of Babanki-Tungo, showing the hanging of a man who seduced one of the king’s wives’. The executioner’s heads are turned away from the viewer.

Palace posts sculpted by King Fonchu Aseh at Babanki-Tungo

Auction surprise of the week: a Luba axe

Luba axe auction surprise

The above lot came up at a small UK auction earlier this week with an estimate of £ 100-150. Although the auctioneer had clearly overlooked the qualities of the Luba axe, a couple of attentive bidders apparently were not sleeping and this ‘mixed bag’ sold for £ 19,000 (€ 25,600) – yes, that’s 190 times the low estimate 🙂

Not the expected bargain, but still totally worth it* – I guess we’ll see it soonish in Brussels or Paris. The handle of this axe used to be decorated with copper strips, of which only remnants remain at the top. The blades of this type of Luba axes are always this simple, the end of the shaft often decorated with geometric patterns (here apparently with recuperated copper strips that used to be on the shaft). Evidently, this object is all about the beautifully carved head sitting at the handle’s end. The facial features are worn down, but not too much and consistent with the objects’ use and very representational of what Luba art is all about. This axe thus is a very exciting new discovery that proves once again we haven’t seen all treasures from Africa yet!

*Sotheby’s NY sold one for $ 156,500 on 25 May 1999 (lot 53) and Christie’s sold one for € 163,500 last year – which the seller had bought himself in the same room five years earlier for € 20,000 (16 June 2009, lot 111).

Luba adze axe detail 1

Luba axe Congo

“Senufo: Art and Identity in West Africa” at The Cleveland Museum of Art: the app

Images courtesy of the Cleveland Museum of Art.

Images courtesy of The Cleveland Museum of Art.

Talking about innovative curatorial practices, the Cleveland Museum of Art has just announced the release of its first special exhibition mobile application: “CMA Senufo”, designed for the upcoming Senufo: Art and Identity in West Africa, opening Feb. 22.

Through the presentation of insightful commentary, high-resolution imagery and video, “CMA Senufo” encourages a closer look at some of the exhibition’s individual objects and the story behind Senufo-speaking artists and patrons. The app is free and now available for iPhones through the Apple iTunes App Store. From home, you can enjoy a video preview with the museum’s Curator of African Art, Constantine Petridis, and find information for planning a museum visit. When you visit the exhibition and connect with the museum’s wifi network, the app will become your tour guide and offer other information (such as a multimedia tour featuring interviews with the curator, African art scholars and artists). The app also provides an interactive list of related events, gallery tours and information about the Cleveland Museum of Art. You need an Iphone of course; however, the museum will provide a limited number of iPod Touches free of charge for visitors without one.

You can read more about the development of this app here. To quote CMA’s director William M. Griswold: “The Cleveland Museum of Art takes the development of cutting-edge technologies and interpretive materials to the next level with this exhibition app”. “The new technology behind our ‘CMA Senufo’ app provides visitors exclusive content, and allows visitors to experience this exhibition in ways not possible before.”  We can only applaud the introduction of new technologies into the museum experience – however, I still prefer to spend my time looking at the display cases instead of staring at my phone.

ps below the preview of the exhibition that is featured on the app.

A new museum exhibiting African art in Barcelona

The Museum of World Cultures Barcelona

If you need an excuses for a trip to Barcelona: this weekend the new Museu de Cultures del Mon (Museum of World Cultures) opened. It is located in the gothic palaces Nadal (which until 2012 contained the Barbier-Mueller Museum of pre-Columbian Art) and Marquès de Llió, in the historic Montcada Street of Barcelona (across the Picasso Museum). The museum displays around 700 objects from Asia, Africa and Oceania and is based on the 2,300 objects on loan for a period of 20 years to Barcelona City Council from the Folch Foundation, as well as a selection of objects from the non-European collections of the Ethnological Museum of Barcelona and other important collections from across Spain. Of its 2.100 square meters, 1.300 will be occupied by the permanent collection and 300 by the temporary exhibitions. Here you can see some highlights of their African holdings. Below some images of the installation – with thanks to Javier Lentini for the pictures.

Museu de Cultures del Mon

Museu de Cultures del Mon

Museu de Cultures del Mon

Museu de Cultures del Mon

Museu de Cultures del Mon

And a short video (in Catalan):

African art inspired contemporary art installation wins UK art prize

Last December, an art video by Duncan Campbell featuring African art won the Turner Prize, now another installation with African art has won a second UK art prize: a work by Theaster Gates – including a Bamana boli figure – won the Artes Mundi 2014 prize. Theaster Gates beat nine others on a shortlist drawn from more than 800 entries with his installation A Complicated Relationship between Heaven and Earth, or When We Believe.

Chicago-based Gates took first prize for his installation which he says challenges the dominance of Christian ideology in the western world.

Gates has brought together a group of objects to explore the relationships between the invisible mysterious workings of spirit and labour. These objects from different continents and cultures have been used by people as vehicles to realize their individual ‘higher selves’. They include a boli from Lai to ward off spirits, a goat on a bike used in Masonic initiation ceremonies, slates from the roof of a church in Dorchester and the performance Billy Sings Amazing Grace. This collection of symbolic objects challenges the Eurocentric mapping of Christianity that marginalizes other religious traditions.

Describing his winning work, Gates said it “contemplates how objects have been used as signifiers of power and perhaps reopens them to be real instruments for accessing belief”.

Gates explains his installation in detail here.

Theaster Gates When we believe

Theaster Gates Artes Mundi

With thanks to Philip Keith for the pictures and notice.