Afrika Museum Berg-en-Dal closing ?

Disturbing news from the museum world. While many museums seem willing to repatriate their African Art that was collected during the colonial period some museums now even think about closing .

Disagreement about the course threatens Africa Museum in Berg-en-Dal near Nijmegen in the Netherlands.

Mission and merger

The Africa Museum was founded in 1954 by the Fathers of the Holy Spirit – a missionary congregation. The fathers are still the owners of the buildings, the grounds and (part of) the collection. But they disagree with the course of the National Museum of World Cultures. The ground floor of the museum reflects the new course, the first floor the old one. The fathers have since canceled their collaboration with the Museum of World Cultures. The NMVW must leave the building on 1 January 2025. As it stands, that means the end for a museum that has been iconic in the region for decades.

The collection of the Africa Museum is rooted in the missionary missions of the fathers to African countries such as Nigeria, Congo, Togo, Benin, Kenya and Zimbabwe, Ethiopia, the Swahili region and Madagascar. There they experienced the local art and culture. The museum was intended to also introduce the Dutch public to this. The collection consists of 8000 pieces. “Everything was bought or received fairly,” says Carel Verdonschot, economic adviser to the fathers. But ‘bought and received’ is difficult to control in a colonial context; this requires in-depth research. In 2020, African activists took another statue from the museum as a protest against looted art.

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The Language Of African Art.

The Language of African Art

Modern artists admired African sculpture for its formal qualities, but a new exhibition aims to recapture its moral and spiritual meaningA pair of Bamana antelope headdresses from Mali. The Art Institute of Chicago, Ada Turnbull Hertle Endowment

By Susan Delson,  March 18, 2022

For Pablo Picasso and other 20th-century European masters, African art was a revelation—innovative, sophisticated and to their eyes strikingly modern. They insisted that the continent’s creative output be regarded not as mere ethnographic material, but as art in its own right. That understanding of African art, based almost entirely on its formal qualities, is still current in much of the art world today. But modernist criteria don’t take into account the cultures that made these works, or how the people who used them assessed beauty and utility.

“The Language of Beauty in African Art,” opening April 3 at the Kimbell Art Museum in Fort Worth, Texas, offers an insider’s perspective on traditional African art. The exhibition features some 220 objects—masks, sculptures, architectural elements, jewelry and more—from over 65 different peoples in West, Central and Southern Africa, most of it made in the 19th and 20th centuries. The aim is to understand these works in the context of their own cultures, exploring the customs and beliefs that the works were—and among some groups still are—created to sustain.

“There’s meaning and purpose to it,” said Jennifer Casler Price, curator of Asian, African and Ancient American art at the Kimbell. “This art is a component of everyday life in Africa.” Drawing on research by African and Western scholars since the 1930s, the show examines the words that African peoples use to describe beauty, ugliness and other aesthetic concepts, finding that in many cultures “appearance is insufficient to assess the beauty or ugliness of an object,” said Constantine Petridis, the exhibition’s organizer and a curator the Art Institute of Chicago, where the show will open in November. “Beauty pertains to meaning—to content.”

A Baule statue of a female figure from Ivory Coast.

Photo: National Museum of African Art, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, DC

In many African languages there’s a basic connection between beauty and morality, often expressed in a single word signifying both “beautiful” and “good” and another meaning “ugly” and “immoral.” It’s a judgment that applies to people as well as art, said Mr. Petridis. For the Baule people of Ivory Coast in West Africa, for instance, a statue is considered beautiful if it resembles an idealized member of the village: clean, healthy, hardworking and fecund. In a sculpted figure, that translates into a smooth, glossy surface, attractive hairstyle, long, strong neck, muscular calves and a youthful appearance. “All these signs,” said Mr. Petridis, indicate good character and—since complex hairstyles usually require assistance—“a good nature that allows a person to be helped and supported by other people.”

In addition, “art serves as a mediator” between the worlds of the living and the dead, Mr. Petridis said, encouraging “the other world to intervene in a positive way.” Most Baule figures are made to appease spirits who, by “sitting” on a sculpture, become available for human interaction. “And for them to want to sit on the sculpture,” said Ms. Price, “it needs to be beautiful.”

Other standards of beauty in African art include clarity, moderation and balance. Among the Bamana of Mali, clarity or jeya is evident in ciwara, the antelope headdresses worn in traditional performances. With their sharply rendered lines and shapes, ciwara are instantly recognizable, even in motion. In creating them, Bamana artists are expected to strip away superfluous details, using abstraction to reveal the essence of the antelope, which is further communicated through dance. The examples on view attest to the breadth of creative expression that these works can encompass while remaining clearly recognizable as ciwara.

For the Fang peoples of Central Africa, bibwe or balance is a key principle, especially in terms of male and female energy. In the Fang worldview, activity and determination are male, while tranquility and deliberation are female. Both are admired but must be balanced to avoid extremes, a dynamic that applies to sculpted figures. Whether depicting a female figure or a male, Fang sculptures feature muscular arms and torso counterbalanced by a face expressing composure and deliberation. This equilibrium of complementary opposites gives rise to the culture’s ultimate aesthetic ideal of ening, vitality.

The exhibition’s final sections move beyond beauty to consider its opposite, ugliness, and the combination of the two that Mr. Petridis terms “awesome art.” Among the Kongo and Songye peoples of Central Africa, large power figures known as minkisi or mankishi mediate between the living and the dead, activated by medicinal and magical ingredients placed in cavities in the figures’ heads or bodies. “They’re both fearsome and terrifying, and admirable and compelling,” Mr. Petridis said. “Neither beautiful nor ugly but the two combined in one.”

“There’s a reason why we express beauty and ugliness, and why we appreciate it,” he continued. “We as human beings are an aesthetic species.” In the traditional arts of Africa, that impulse to create is inseparable from life itself.

Copyright ©2022 Dow Jones & Company, Inc. All Rights Reserved.  Appeared in the March 19, 2022, Wall Street Journal print edition as ‘The Language Of African Art.’ https://www.wsj.com/articles/the-language-of-african-art-11647631403

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Chief Nkuko in the MAS 100 X Congo exhibition

Dear  FRIEND,

Times are strange,

I was at the MAS museum last week here in Antwerp to see the interesting exhibition “100 X Congo”beautiful but also critical, in the interesting catalog it is mentionned some of those objects where taken by force ( Like the Nail figure from chief Nkuko that I studied here)  and that at the turn of the century African people where exhibited in the Antwerp Zoo, and that many of them died from the flu . It’s a change from the period where those crimes where hidden and that there was only praise for the colonialist that where bringing “civilisation” to Africa. We now know better and can praise the MAS for also involving Congolese scholars in the research, that’s refreshing. .

See the pictures I have taken at the MAS:

https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.10157359035966073&type=3

But isn’t it going a bit far when the MAS Belgian conservator who also has Congolese roots Nadia Nsayi and who collaborated to do the catalog with experts from the Kinshasa museum, is pleading on television to discuss the return of those important African art objects to Congo, finding our attitude paternalistic.
Aren’t museums an Universal place for everyone, should we realy try to change the past and empty our museums from our best objects ?

There was also an activist Mwazulu Diyabanza who came to Antwerp to claim the return of the African art and chief Nkuko to Congo ( see image below) , strangely enough during his visit he wasn’t able to identify the Luba staff but seemed to be able to give an explanation on it’s spiritual signification https://www.mo.be/reportage/activist-mwazulu-diyabanza-op-bezoek-het-mas-chef-ne-kuko-moet-naar-huis

La Statue Nkisi Kondi de l’AfricaMuseum qui a été récolté par le Lieutenant Delcommune près de Boma le lendemain d’une expédition ou il avait brûlé le village qui refusait de se rendre aux ordres de Leopold II ( read more at https://africanart.press/nkisi-kondi-africamuseum/ )

Last but not least ending this sunday I have Five African Art lots at auction for you to discover

David Norden African Art. Sint Katelijnevest 27. B2000 Antwerpen. Belgium.

Phone: +32 3 227 35 40                                    email: david.norden@telenet.be

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