allAfrica.com: Inscribing Meaning: Writing and Graphic Systems in African Art Inscribing Meaning: Writing and Graphic Systems in African Art allAfrica.comMessage 1 of 1 , May 9, 2007View Source
allAfrica.com: Inscribing Meaning: Writing and Graphic Systems in African Art
Inscribing Meaning: Writing and Graphic Systems in African Art
8 May 2007
Posted to the web 8 May 2007
By Msia Kibona Clark
A new exhibition at the Smithsonian National Museum of African Art in Washington, D.C. features modern and contemporary African writing and graphic systems from around the continent. The exhibition, opening Wednesday May 9, spotlights art from Nigeria, Libya, Ethiopia, Ghana, Egypt, Sudan, Liberia, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
Featuring 90 works of art, the exhibition “explores the relationships between African art and the communicative powers of language, graphic systems and the written word.” The art featured includes objects used for everyday activities as well as objects that hold religious significance and is reflected on cloth, in sculptures, paintings, and through photography.
The writing systems in the works represent Africa's past as well as influences on contemporary Africa. The seven scripts featured throughout the pieces include Tifinagh from the semi-nomadic Tuareg of northern and western Africa, the early Egyptian script of Hieroglyphs, Ge'ez from Ethiopia, the ancient system of graphic communication called Nsibidi of the Ejagham peoples of southeastern Nigeria and southwestern Cameroon, the Vai script of West Africa, as well as Arabic and Roman scripts.
The first exhibition room, “Ways of Knowing,” features several different scripts. A large and beautiful painting of Arabic script by Libyan artist Ali Omar Ermes entitled “Contradictions of Joy” reflects the heavy influence of the Arab peninsula in northern Africa. Other pieces in the room include some magnificent Ethiopian pieces illustrating the early influences of Christianity in that region.
“Inscribing the Body” features striking black and white photography by Nigerian photographer Ike Ude. The photos use human bodies as a canvas for scripts. Another room, “Sacred Scripts” highlights art devoted to African spirituality, including Islam and Christianity. This room holds 19th Century Ethiopian healing scrolls alongside the 21st Century art of Ethiopian artist Wosene Worke Kosrof. The fourth room, “Inscribing Power”, displays several pieces utilizing cloth. Included is a magnificent piece of cloth decorated with 18 Adinkra symbols that have been stamped onto the material. Also featured is “Warrior's Ensemble”, 20th Century clothing worn by Loma warriors of Liberia. This beautiful piece is extremely detailed and is made of fur, leather, cotton cloth, wool cloth, and bird talons.
Room five, “Writing Politics,” features more modern pieces, including Kim Berman's “Playing Cards of the Truth Commission: an Incomplete Deck, Scratching the Surface”. This piece utilizes images a deck of cards with the faces of South Africans involved in the apartheid and anti-apartheid struggle drawn on them. The spades identify the guilty in Berman's piece, with their names and crimes listed by card number in the print. Another piece by Congolese artist Banza Nkulu is a painting that portrays a humorous, imagined conversation in Swahili between Nelson Mandela, Mobutu Sese Seko, and Laurent Kabila.
Room six of the exhibition is the activity room which includes an interactive learning and play station. This room allows visitors to play a computerized concentration game and to design a scroll using stamps and stencils. The seventh room, “Words Unbound: Exploring the Book” is dedicated to modern scripts. In this room the works of Sue Williamson bring images from southern Africa and highlight the atrocities committed against Blacks in the region. Her bold depiction of a Khoi man in the piece “Pages from a Government Tourist Brochure: Hottentot” expresses the suffering of the Khoi people of southern Africa. The eighth and final room, “Word Play” features art work that uniquely utilizes words and symbols. Included is a painting by Ghanaian artist Kwesi Owusu-Ankomah, “Off My Back”. The painting is done using only black, white, and red paint and portrays the intertwined bodies of two wrestlers almost hidden in a pattern of Adinkra symbols.
The exhibition in Washington, DC will run from May 9 through August 26, 2007. The exhibition is collaboration between the National Museum of African Art and the Fowler Museum at the University of California in Los Angeles, which will host the exhibition from October 14 through February 17, 2008. A catalog featuring the art of the exhibition and essays by leading scholars of art, history and linguistics and by African artists represented in the exhibition is due to be published this year.
The Smithsonian's National Museum of African Art is America's only museum dedicated to the collection, conservation, study and exhibition of traditional and contemporary African art. For more information visit the museum's Web site at http://Africa.si.edu.
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