Thursday, 27 August 2015

“Kongo: Power and Majesty” at the Met Museum



Power and Majesty

September 18, 2015–January 3, 2016

“Central Africa's Kongo civilization is responsible for one of the world's greatest artistic traditions. This international loan exhibition will explore the region's history and culture through 134 of the most inspired creations of Kongo masters from the sixteenth through the early twentieth century.

The earliest of these creations were diplomatic missives sent by Kongo sovereigns to their European counterparts during the Age of Exploration; they took the form of delicately carved ivories and finely woven raffia cloths embellished with abstract geometric patterns. Admired as marvels of human ingenuity, such Kongo works were preserved in princely EuropeanKunstkammer, or cabinets of curiosities, alongside other precious and exotic creations from across the globe.

Kongo luxury arts from the sixteenth through the eighteenth century—many of which have never been exhibited before—will give an unprecedented historical backdrop to the outstanding work produced by master sculptors active in the same region during the nineteenth century. The array of figurative representations they produced range from miniature ivory finials for the staffs of office of Kongo leaders to the carved-wood commemorative shrine figures positioned above their burial sites.

The presentation will culminate with a gathering of fifteen monumental Mangaaka power figures produced in the Chiloango River region during the second half of the nineteenth century; these will include the celebrated example acquired by the Met in 2008, the original catalyst for the exhibition. For the first time, this electrifying form of expression will be understood as a defensive measure conceived by Kongo leaders to deflect Western incursions into this region of Central Africa.

With works drawn from sixty institutional and private lenders across Europe and the United States, Kongo: Power and Majesty will relate the objects on view to specific historical developments and will challenge misconceptions of Africa's relationship with the West. In doing so, it will offer a radical, new understanding of Kongo art over the last five hundred years.”

This important exhibition will bring together an unprecedented number of the earliest surviving Central African textiles, dating from the 16th to 18th centuries, from European collections, including the pieces from Ulm Museum, Germany and the the Kungliga Samlingarna, Sweden, shown below.


Luxury Cloth. Kongo peoples; Kongo Kingdom, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Republic of the Congo, or Angola, 16th–17th century, inventoried 1659. Raffia, H. 755⁄8 in. (192 cm), W. 591⁄2 in. (151 cm), L. of fringe 51⁄2 in. (14 cm). Kunst- und Wunderkammer des Christoph Weickmann, Ulmer Museum, Ulm, Germany (AV D. 48)


Luxury Cloth: Cushion Cover. Kongo peoples; Kongo Kingdom, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Republic of the Congo, or Angola, 16th–17th century, inventoried 1670. Raffia, 191⁄4 × 197⁄8 in. (49 × 50.5 cm). Kungliga Samlingarna, Sweden (HGK, Tx I, 164)

Friday, 14 August 2015

A Sierra Leone Display Cloth.


Display textile used as a backdrop for chieftaincy ceremonies and other important events, kpokpo, early to mid C20th, Mende or Vai peoples, Sierra Leone. Hand spun white and indigo dyed cotton, red machine spun cotton. 61 x 140 inches (155 x 356 cm). Private Collection.


Detail of central portion. Note the thicker warp thread running down the centre of each 10 inch width strip that serves to guide and anchor the tapestry weave squares in the centre of the cloth.


Detail of border section. Two shades of indigo, narrow red stripes framing the extra weft float patterning.

Click on the photos to enlarge.

Tuesday, 11 August 2015

Three Early Textiles from Côte D’Ivoire in Newark Museum.

Although there are currently large quantities of  fairly recently woven cloths from the Baule peoples of Côte D’Ivoire in the international market, the earlier textile traditions of that country remain obscure and little researched. Much of the detail of the historical relationship between Ivoirian textiles and those of neighbouring countries such as Mali and Ghana is still to be understood. How do earlier cloths relate to the ethnic groups such as Senufo, Guro, and Baule that are so well known to collectors of African sculpture ? Looking carefully at textiles with early acquisition dates in museum collections is one way in which scholars can begin to address some of these issues.  The three cloths shown below were accessioned by Newark Museum in 1928 and according to records generously shared by Newark Museum Research Associate Roger D. Arnold were purchased that year from a gallery in Paris. The first and to me most interesting (Newark Museum #28.835) is to my knowledge the earliest recorded example of this very elaborate and odd type of cloth that a couple of later sources have attributed to the Guro.

28.835 (2) 

28.835 Detail

As Roger suggested to me there are intriguing visual similarities between this cloth and some from Senegal, Guinea Bissau and Cape Verde.

The other two (Newark Museum#28.836 & 28.862) are fine examples of a slightly better known type of cloth with blocks of extra weft float patterning in a style that is primarily associated with the Dioula (Jula) people of northern Côte D’Ivoire. However the use of red and yellow for the patterning in these two examples rather than the more typical white is exceptional.



Thanks are due to Roger Arnold for the images.

Saturday, 8 August 2015

“Visvim” and Indigo strip weave


From Japanese cult brand Visvim, men’s jacket tailored from faded Burkinabe indigo cloths…