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At the Fowler: Sowei Exhibition and African Writing Systems Lecture; also, Bamum Scripts

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  • Lee Rubinstein
    Today at the Fowler Museum at UCLA... some events of interest and links to related information... 1) “Fowler in Focus: The Art of Women’s Masquerades in
    Message 1 of 1 , Dec 9, 2007
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      Today at the Fowler Museum at UCLA... some events of interest and links to related information...

      1)  Fowler in Focus: The Art of Women’s Masquerades in Sierra Leone”
      Opens Dec 9 at the Fowler Museum at UCLA 
      "For many generations, the women’s Sande association of the Mende peoples of Sierra Leone prepared young women for adulthood, marriage, motherhood, and leadership roles in society. Masquerade performances featuring carved wooden masks, music, dance, and theater signaled the ongoing stages of initiation to the community and celebrated the achievements of the initiates. See twenty-six beautiful and highly symbolic masks dating from the 19th-early 20th century in ‘‘Fowler in Focus: The Art of Women’s Masquerades in Sierra Leone,” on display at the Museum from Dec. 9, 2007– Apr. 27, 2008. Also on display are several examples of deliberately grotesque masks for beloved “clowns” that serve as comic counterparts during Sande initiations. 
      Sande is a rare example of an African masquerade performed by women. In the aftermath of the brutal war that took place in Sierra Leone during the 1990s, however, it is not clear whether Sande masquerades continue. The masks on view pay tribute to a rich legacy of artistry that fuses spirituality and femininity with deep reservoirs of knowledge and power. 
      Mende masks are called sowei—a name also given to the highest-ranked woman in Sande—and they display a wide range of motifs within a fixed stylistic framework. There is no limit to innovation, so long as the mask is a helmet form with a gleaming black surface, an elegant coiffure, and an expression of inner spiritual concentration. Remarkable creativity characterizes the superstructures, facial features, and adornment of the masks. 
      In counterpoint to the beauty and refinement of Sande sowei masks, other masquerades are characterized by satire, parody, and humor. These men’s gongoli masquerades overturn conventional decorum and mock other maskers to the amusement and laughter of the audience. 2-2-2 “Fowler in Focus: The Art of Women’s Masquerades in Sierra Leone” Opens Dec. 9 at the Fowler Museum at UCLA 
      Four such masks are on display in this exhibition, with characteristic huge ears, gaping mouths, and other comical features. 
      “Fowler in Focus: The Art of Women’s Masquerades in Sierra Leone” will be on view in the Fowler in Focus gallery, the central space within “Intersections: World Arts, Local Lives.” Fowler in Focus is dedicated to rotating installations of new acquisitions, sub-collections, and particular artistic genres in the Fowler's permanent holdings. The Fowler is open Wednesdays through Sundays, from noon to 5 p.m.; and on Thursdays, from noon until 8 p.m. The museum is closed Mondays and Tuesdays. The Fowler Museum, part of UCLA Arts, is located in the north part of the UCLA campus. Admission is free. Parking is available for a maximum of $8 in Lot 4. For more information, the public may call (310) 825-4361 or visit fowler.ucla.edu." 

      Source:  http://www.fowler.ucla.edu/incEngine/?content=admin&content=cm&cm=current_exhibitions&article_id=1052158426&art=&did=44.

      Also see http://www.fowler.ucla.edu/incEngine/?content=cm&cm=exhibitions  for all current Fowler exhibitions.

      2) Also today, speaking at the Fowler is Konrad Tuchscherer:

      Sunday, December 9, 2007 2 pm
      Fowler OutSpoken Lecture: The History of Writing Systems in Africa
      Konrad Tuchscherer, associate professor from St. John’s University and a leading scholar of graphic and writing systems, recounts the development of African scripts and symbols. From Egyptian hieroglyphics and the discovery of the Rosetta stone, through Saharan rock art, the alphabets of the Tuareg and Ethiopians, and the more recent scripts of Vai and Bamum, Tuchscherer demonstrates Africa's long engagement with the global history of writing and literacy.

      Although I realize that many of us cannot or -- for reasons stemming from environmental consciousness -- choose not to fuel up the Gulfstream to make it to LA for the lecture this afternoon, I include this announcement as a prelude to the link to the Bamum Scripts and Archives Project which may (I hope!) be of interest -- an archival and educational initiative to document, preserve and promulgate knowledge and use of the Bamum script which was created by King Abrahim Njoya at the end of the 19th century.
      Bamum syllabary from http://bamumscript.org/font.php.

      For more information, also see "Inscribing Meaning: Writing and Graphic Systems in African Art" on the NMAfA web-site -- a presentation which includes introductory, illustrated information on numerous African "textual" traditions including considerations of Ghanaian adinkra symbolism and Asafo flags, Egyptian hieroglyphics, Koranic texts, Igbo uli and nsibidi inscription and African contemporary art  -- as well as this article about the "Discover the World:  Africa" program at St John's University.

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