Americans do not always appreciate how large and diverse the continent of Africa is, with many different peoples, cultures, languages, and philosophies. Nor are we always aware of the Western and colonial lens through which we see other parts of the world. This exhibit looks at African art through a different lens, through the concepts of time, history, and memory.
Drawn from several collections, the thirty works in the exhibit are organized around five themes that explore different ways of conceptualizing time: The Beginning of Things, Embodied Time, Moving Through Time, Global Time, and NOW.
The Beginning of Things opens the exhibit with a hauntingly beautiful clay Mwana Pwo mask, the embodiment of feminine ideals, which calls to ancestral spirits to come bring it to life. The orange clay appears inert but the beauty of the ancestor catches my breath, makes me pause. Nearby stand a pair of stately Bamana head crests featuring the chiwara--willowy creatures composed of antelope, aardvark, and pangolin--in whose bodies can be read the story of the beginning of farming.
Moving Through Time locates the human experience in both space and time, as it relates to the cosmos. The nikisi nkondi is a Kongo figure used to resolve problems by hammering iron nails to lock away problems until some future time when that negativity can be unleashed for another purpose. Our first-world problems feel so fleeting.