When I walked into the new exhibit of African Art at the Museum of Art, one object caught my eye a carved headrest that was made for two heads. I had seen headrests before but never one made for two heads. The Luba headrest had a place for the owner and a second place for a nightly spirit. This was a classic example of what the new exhibit “African Art of Dual Worlds,” was trying to capture. The exhibit is dedicated to joining force between the many diverse groups of people in the continent, the power they all see in the realms of the seen and unseen.
The section dedicated to the material world has several pieces of artwork that try to capture some of the many cultures. They include carved drums, hair ornaments, dolls, cups and containers. This section is meant show the importance of adorning one”s body and living space. These objects are often used as symbols of status. Even the dolls were decorated with human hair, ivory, beads and rich shells. Often these expensive shells and beads were at one time used in the place of money due to their rarity.
In the opposing side of the gallery lies the section dedicated to the more intangible spirit world. There are healing objects and objects of divination that are meant to invoke the powerful forces that can be called on to assist in matters of health, business, fortune, and mediation. This section also houses expressive masks that have strong connections with the spirit world. Often these objects were kept shrouded and in sacred places such as shrines. These spiritual pieces are in strong contrast to the objects of the material world that were meant for display purposes.
The great exhibit would not have been possible with the work of a post-doctoral fellow Dana Rush and the nine students of her Fall 2000 seminar “African Art in the West.” They spent many hours going through the Museum”s collection and selecting certain pieces for display. They designed, titled, and each added original research to the project. Some of the objects are new to the University collection and have never been seen by the general public. This is a great opportunity to learn more about African Art and explore the Museum of Art if you have yet to explore one of our finest cultural banks on campus.