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Art and Power in the Central African Savanna
Sunday, March 1, 2009 to Sunday, May 31, 2009
The Kelvin and Eleanor Smith Foundation Exhibition Hall
This exhibition brought together 60 Central African sculptures whose original purpose was to mediate between the human and spirit worlds. For centuries, the Luluwa, Chokwe, Songye, and Luba peoples of the Central African savanna have produced figures that were adorned or filled with ingredients imbued with specific spiritual powers.
In most traditional forms, these works are small and nonfigural and used in the context of the family; any manner of container might be used to carry the special substance. But as power was consolidated among kingdoms and chiefdoms over the course of the 19th century, larger and more ambitious sculptures were developed to serve entire communities. As works of art designed to carry power, they acquired dual function, embodying both spiritual and political qualities. From small, abstract containers to large and elaborate figures carved and decorated with great refinement, the exhibition presented a compelling array of these beautiful and fascinating works of art, many of which had never before been exhibited in the United States.