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Rare Masterpieces Of African Art
to 09-16-01
Appearing In: 167

Rare African masterpieces from an important European museum collection — never before seen in the United States—will go on view at the Smithsonian’s National

Museum of African Art (950 Independence Ave. S.W.) this summer. “In the Presence of Spirits: African Art from the National Museum of Ethnology, Lisbon” ranges from small, exquisitely created dolls to awe-inspiring fiber and animal initiation masks. The exhibition runs from June 10 through Sept. 16.

“In the Presence of Spirits” was organized by the Museum for African Art, New York, in cooperation with the National Museum of Ethnology, Portuguese Institute of Museums, Ministry of Culture, Lisbon, Portugal. The exhibition has been made possible by the generous support of BP in Angola, with additional funding provided by the Instituto Português de Museus, Minestério da Cultura, Portugal, the Fundaçäo LusoAmericana para o Desenvolvimento and the Fundaçâo Calouste Gulbenkian. Frank IIerreman, director of exhibitions at the Museum for African Art, New York, is curator. The National Museum of Ethnology houses a major collection of African art primarily from former Portuguese colonies, including Angola, Mozambique and GuineaBissau. The exhibition examines an impressive group of more than 140 objects dating from around 1850 to the mid-2Oth century that reflect the influences of the supernatural world in both public and private life throughout sub-Saharan Africa. The installation is organized according to both geography and the numerous cultural groups represented in the National Museum of Ethnology’s collection.

‘In the Presence of Spirits’ is an impressive exhibition that presents works in styles from abstract to naturalistic, various materials that include barkcloth and stone, and sizes that range from miniature to grand,” said Roslyn A. Walker, director of the National Museum of African Art. “The National Museum of African Art installation, in particular, includes photography that places the art in the contexts of masquerades and other important religious and social rituals.”

Highlights include masks, figures, decorated stools and chairs, pipes, staffs and dolls used by kings, queens, priests and diviners to summon spiritual powers. Major themes include an examination of prestige objects and power figures, initiation and funerary rituals, and symbols of spiritual and secular authority.

Among the works on view are:

•Masks fashioned from a variety of fragile materials such as barkcloth, fabrics and feathers. Among the masks on view are several in the shape of bulls, with actual bull’s horns; one in the shape of a shark’s head, with rows of shark’s teeth; and a sawfish made from parts of the fish. Other adornments worn during masquerades include one in the shape of a shark’s dorsal fin and another worn on the back that includes sun symbols that have light bulbs in their centers.

•A captivating ensemble of dolls that were used as toys, fertility symbols and educational aids in the socialization


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