Look Again takes advantage of some of the greatest strengths of the Penn Museum’s collection, placing a strong emphasis on process, materials, and ornamentation as well as the understanding that can be gained through an examination of context, function, and provenance. Highlights from the kingdom of Benin include carved ivories and bronzes, among them plaques that once adorned the Oba’s palace, a magnificent architectural complex at the heart of Benin City in present-day Nigeria. Bronzes created as early as the 16th century include commemorative heads, ranging from the very simple to the extremely ornate, that would have been placed on altars.
Many of the works on view are sculptures from Central Africa, including power figures created to strengthen, protect, or heal their users. These works can range in size from small handheld objects to figures of imposing scale. In some cases, nails and blades were inserted into these figures as part of their ritual use. Wooden sculptures originating from West, Central, and South Africa present a wide array of poses and expressions, and some incorporate the figure into functional objects, such as headrests or tools.
Art from the Kuba culture (from the present-day Democratic Republic of the Congo) includes cloth, made from dyed raffia and other natural fibers showing bold and lively geometric designs, along with carved wooden cups, bowls, and boxes adorned with patterns. The exhibition also features brass weights from present-day Ghana that were used by the Akan peoples to weigh gold. Made through lost-wax casting, they are miniature sculptures of people, animals, objects, and abstract patterns that reflect motifs and proverbs from West Africa.
The exhibition closes with a display of Kota reliquary figures, from present-day Gabon and Republic of the Congo, which were made to protect bundles of ancestral relics and are distinguished by exquisite applied metalwork. Through the use of an interactive digital program jointly developed by the Pulitzer Arts Foundation, Rampant Interactive, and Frederic Cloth, visitors can further explore the individual qualities and intriguing stylistic associations of these works.
Look Again is curated by Dr. Kristina Van Dyke, noted scholar and curator of African art, and former Director of the Pulitzer Foundation.
The exhibition is coordinated at the Philadelphia Museum of Art by John Vick, Project Assistant Curator.
2. NEW HAVEN, CONN.- Weaving and the Social World: 3,000 Years of Ancient Andean Textiles celebrates the importance and beauty of ancient Andean textiles, demonstrating the wide spectrum of their designs and functions. The exhibition presents works on loan from two private collections, including tunics, mantles, and wall hangings as well as related feather, gold, and silver ornaments; weaving implements; and ceramic vessels. Characterized by graphically powerful images of deities, animals, and geometric motifs and by advanced weaving techniques, the objects on view represent one of the world’s oldest and most important textile traditions.
Weaving was a significant artistic achievement of ancient Andean cultures in South America. Lacking written languages, societies used textiles as the primary means of transmitting images and ideas. Clothing identified a person’s gender, status, occupation, wealth, and community affiliation. Over time, textiles played an increasing role in political and religious ceremonies, particularly funerary rituals. Garments worn in life were buried with the dead, and the bodies of high-status individuals were wrapped in layers of fabrics and accompanied by cloth offerings. Textiles were also used to make votive dolls, wall hangings for shrines, clothing for figurines, bags, and other items.
Andean weavers used portable looms lashed to posts or trees with vertical warp and horizontal weft threads. A textile’s width was limited by the size of the loom, but sections could be stitched together to make larger fabrics. Textiles were produced using plain weave as well as complex techniques, such as tapestry weave and scaffold weave. Scaffold weave was unique to the Andes, while tapestry was common in Europe—although Andean tapestries incorporated finer yarns, were more tightly woven, and were finished on both sides. Additional techniques included embroidery, brocading, dye painting, tie-dye, and sewing bird feathers onto plain weaves. Threads were made from cotton native to the coast and wool from highland camelids (llamas, alpacas, and vicuñas). Andean dyers used fine organic dyes, achieving a range of more than one hundred colors. Raw materials for weaving were traded and distributed throughout the Andes. Finished textiles and other goods flowed among widely dispersed communities and major cities as tribute, gifts, or items of trade.
Animals of sky, sea, and land are depicted in stylized and naturalistic forms. An extraordinary Chancay sleeved tunic portrays condors, the large soaring bird of the Andes, in three dimensional embroidery, seen from above as if in flight. A finely embroidered Nazca mantle features a dense, repeating pattern of stylized killer whales. One wall of the exhibition galleries displays a stunning array of colorful textiles created with feathers from tropical birds of the Amazon Basin.
Exhibition co-curator Dicey Taylor explains, “Few museums have been able to present a comprehensive exhibition of complete textiles from all of the major Andean cultures. Most exhibitions have focused on particular cultures, such as the Inca, or particular types of garments. Weaving and the Social World is unique in its presentation of largely intact textiles, some in almost pristine condition, from the broad spectrum of Andean societies that rose and fell in ancient times.”
“We are immensely grateful for the opportunity to mount this exhibition, drawn from the finest collection of Andean textiles in the world,” states Laurence Kanter, Chief Curator and the Lionel Goldfrank III Curator of European Art. “From the simplest patterns to the most complex designs, every work on view is astonishing for its beauty and moving in its fragility and rarity.”
The exhibition is on view at the Yale University Art Gallery through September 18, 2016.
3. LOS ANGELES, CA.- The Los Angeles County Museum of Art is presenting the exhibition Royal Hawaiian Featherwork: Nā Hulu Ali‘i (May 22– August 7, 2016), comprising nearly 70 featherwork objects in addition to photographs from the museum’s permanent collection. Objects in the exhibition include brilliantly colored cloaks and capes that were crafted from the feathers of hundreds of thousands of indigenous birds and carefully attached to woven fiber supports. Developed by the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco in collaboration with the Bernice Pauahi Bishop Museum, Honolulu, this exhibition presents the finest examples of these objects.
“Royal Hawaiian Featherwork: Nā Hulu Ali‘i highlights LACMA’s expanding Art of the Pacific program and reflects the museum’s broad interests in the cultures of the Pacific rim,” said Nancy Thomas, Senior Deputy Director for Art administration & Collections at LACMA. “The exhibition marks a rare opportunity to feature the bold abstract compositions and the high degree of technical expertise evidenced by Hawaiian featherwork.”
Nā Hulu Ali‘i
For centuries, feathers from vibrantly colored endemic birds were valuable cultural resources on the Hawaiian Islands. Spectacular garments painstakingly constructed by hand, including ‘ahu ‘ula (long cloaks and short capes), mahiole (helmets), and lei hulu (leis), masterfully incorporate these feathers and symbolized the divinity and power of the ali‘i (chiefs)—ruling men and women who wore them for spiritual protection and to proclaim their identity and social status. Nā hulu ali‘i were often used as diplomatic gifts to cement political alliances or were worn as battlefield regalia. Fewer than 300 extant examples of these garments remain; they shape our knowledge about the art form known as nā hulu ali‘i.
The rich holdings of four American museums—the Bernice Pauahi Bishop Museum, Honolulu Museum of Art, the Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology at Harvard, and the National Museum of Natural History, Smithsonian Institution—are the primary institutional lenders to the exhibition.