The Brooklyn Museum: Africa

Double Bell (Egogo) from Benin, Edo State, Nigeria. Made of Ivory.
Double Bell (Egogo) (early 16th cen.) from Benin, Edo State, Nigeria. Made of Ivory.

The double gongs were used by the oba (king) during the Emobo ceremony to drive away evil spirits. The carvings on this gong, one of only 6 known to exist, depicts the oba supported by his military commander and his heir. This is one of the oldest surviving African ivory sculptures.

Figure of a Horn Blower (circa 1504-50) from Benin, Edo State, Nigeria made of copper alloy.
Figure of a Horn Blower (circa 1504-50) from Benin, Edo State, Nigeria. Made of copper alloy.

This figure most likely stood on an altar dedicated to a deceased oba. His attire indicates that he is a court official and the leopard tooth necklace was only worn by warriors. The horn that the figure once held may have been used for ceremonial purposes.

Funerary Headdress (Tugunga) (19 cen) from the Grassfields region, Northwest province, Cameroon made of wood, rattan, and pigment.
Funerary Headdress (Tugunga) (19th cen.) from the Grassfields region, Northwest province, Cameroon. Made of wood, rattan, and pigment.

Within the kingdoms of Cameroon, masks are often associated with a secret society of men called the Nsoro who maintain social order by acting as a police force and court of law. Masks are worn during the funerals of a society member and other official duties. It is placed atop of the head, commanding awe and respect.

Necklace (15 cen or earlier) from the Bandiagara escarpment, Mopti region, Mali made of copper alloy.
Necklace (15th cen. or earlier) from the Bandiagara escarpment, Mopti region, Mali. Made of copper alloy.

Among the Dogon, jewelry may signify that the owner is linked to ancestors or spiritual leaders, or identify the wearer as a priest or a caretaker of a particular altar. The two seated figures probably represent Nommo, the original beings created by God, Amma, who may be symbolized by the central face. The necklace was probably worn by an important chief, or hogon.

Divination Object (Gle) (late 19th to early 20th cen.). Made of clay, featers, duiker horn, cloth, metal, mirrors, wood.
Divination Object (Gle) (late 19th to early 20th cen.). Made of clay, feathers, duiker horn, cloth, metal, mirrors, and wood.
Vessel for Kwandalha Divination (20th cen.) from Adamawa or Gombe state, Nigeria. Made from terracotta.
Vessel for Kwandalha Divination (20th cen.) from Adamawa or Gombe state, Nigeria. Made from terracotta.

This vessel was created for use in Longuda kwandalha healing divination. After a healer determined the cause of a patient’s ailment, the patient would be given a newly constructed vessel into which the disease would be transferred. The pots tend to look like the symptoms described by the patient and are highly expressive.

Power Figure (19th cen.) from the Lower Congo province, Democratic Republic of the Congo. Made of wood, iron, glass mirror, resin, and pigment.
Power Figure (Nkisi Nkondi) (19th cen.) from the Lower Congo province, Democratic Republic of the Congo. Made of wood, iron, glass mirror, resin, and pigment.

An nkisi nkondi served as a container for potent ingredients used in magic and medicine for judicial and healing purposes. They were made by a Kongo carver sculpting a male human or animal figure with a cavity in the abdomen. A ritual expert would later put ingredients with supernatural powers in and on the nkisis nkondi. Nails and blades were driven into the figure to either affirm an oath or destroy an evil force.

Power Figure (Nkishi) (19th or 20th cen.) from East Kasai province, Democratic Republic of Congo. Made of wood, raffia, metal, cloth, leather, horn, and beads.
Power Figure (Nkishi) (19th or 20th cen.) from East Kasai province, Democratic Republic of Congo. Made of wood, raffia, metal, cloth, leather, horn, and beads.

The Power Figures are important because of their effectiveness as protectors of the community from malevolent forces and disease. The Nkishi gains its power from the ingredients, bishimbi, concealed in the abdominal cavity, in the top of the head, or in a horn set into the cranium. The aganga is the spiritual practitioner who creates the bishimbi.

Figure of a Mother Holding a Child (Lupingu Lua Luimpe) (19th cen.) from West Kasai province, Democratic Republic of Congo. Made of wood, copper alloy, palm oil, camwood paste, and organic materials.
Figure of a Mother Holding a Child (Lupingu Lua Luimpe) (19th cen.) from West Kasai province, Democratic Republic of Congo. Made of wood, copper alloy, palm oil, camwood paste, and organic materials.
Soul Container (Eraminho) (late 19th or early 20th cen.) from the Orango Island, Bisagos Islands, Guinea-Bissau. Made of wood, earth, crushed plant materials, copper alloy chain, and oranic materials.
Soul Container (Eraminho) (late 19th or early 20th cen.) from the Orango Island, Bisagos Islands, Guinea-Bissau. Made of wood, earth, crushed plant materials, copper alloy chain, and oranic materials.

Eraminho are repositories for the souls of the dead. The Bijago people believe that the soul lives on after the body as long as the deceased person is remembered by the family. The Eraminho is presented with sacrifices for the deceased’s soul.

Icon (19th cen.) from Amhara region, Ethiopia. Made of wood, linen, gesso, and tempera.
Icon (19th cen.) from Amhara region, Ethiopia. Made of wood, linen, gesso, and tempera.

The central panel of this icon depicts the Virgin and Child of Christianity, flanked by archangels Gabriel and Michael. The left panel depicts Saint George, above, slaying the dragon, and Takla and Haymonat, below, two local saints. The right panel depicts the Resurrection, represented by Christ releasing Adam and Eve from “Limbo.”

Bwoom Mask (late 19th or early 20th cen.) from the West Kasai province, Democratic Republic of Congo. Made of wood, copper, fiber, hide, cowrie shells, seapods, and glass beeds.
Bwoom Mask (late 19th or early 20th cen.) from the West Kasai province, Democratic Republic of Congo. Made of wood, copper, fiber, hide, cowrie shells, seapods, and glass beeds.

Embodying a subversive force within the royal court, the Bwoom masquerade is often performed in conflict with the masked figure representing Woot – the creator and founder of the ruling dynasty within the Kuba mythology.

Chief's Chair (19th cen.) from Angola. Made of wood, copper alloy, and animal hide.
Chief’s Chair (19th cen.) from Angola. Made of wood, copper alloy, and animal hide.

The back of this chair features a cikunga mask, a symbol of chieftaincy. The figures on the rungs depict scenes from daily and ceremonial life.

Likishi Dance Costume (Mwana Pwero) (late 19th cen. or early 20th cen.) from the Northwest provine, Zambia. Made of fiber, wood, hide, seedpods, bark, rope, hair, and organic materials.
Likishi Dance Costume (Mwana Pwero) (late 19th cen. or early 20th cen.) from the Northwest province, Zambia. Made of fiber, wood, hide, seedpods, bark, rope, hair, and organic materials.

Here the mask is sewn directly onto the costume of looped bark and fiber which fits tightly over the body of the performer. Seedpod rattles and metal bells add a musical effect to the performance. The mask is a depiction of a woman, but the dance itself is only performed by men. To own and wear a mask, the male performer must symbolically marry it by paying the carver a copper ring as a dowrie. This gesture signifies that the owner will honor and care for the spirit represented by the mask. In return, the dancer is able to derive a livelihood from performing at local festivals.

Skipping Girl (2009) created in London, England by Yinka Shonibare MBE. Life-sized fiberglass mannequin, Dutch wax printed cotton, and mixed media.
Skipping Girl (2009) created in London, England by Yinka Shonibare MBE. Life-sized fiberglass mannequin, Dutch wax printed cotton, and mixed media.
"On the Way between Old and New Cairo, Citadel Mosque of Muhammed Ali, and Tombs of Mamelukes" (1872) by Louis Comfort Tiffany. Oil on canvas.
“On the Way between Old and New Cairo, Citadel Mosque of Mohammed Ali, and Tombs of Mamelukes” (1872) by Louis Comfort Tiffany. Oil on canvas.
Koma Ba Mask (late 19th or early 20th cen.) from the Bafing region, Cote d'Ivoire. Made of wood, cowrie shells, metal feathers, horns, leather, fiber, and sacrificial materials.
Koma Ba Mask (late 19th or early 20th cen.) from the Bafing region, Cote d’Ivoire. Made of wood, cowrie shells, metal feathers, horns, leather, fiber, and sacrificial materials.

The horns of this mask are filled with substances that protect the wearer from sorcerer spells. The mask is heavily encrusted with blood and with chewed kola nut. X-rays show a miniature metal bowl, an arrow point, and rifle shell casings within the mask – all to increase the mask’s power.

African textiles.
African textiles.

Textiles are found throughout Africa but belong to very distinct political, social, religious and personal contexts in their respective cultures.

IMG_1599

IMG_1584

The Brooklyn Museum is located at 200 Eastern Parkway in Brooklyn, New York. Visit brooklynmuseum.org to find out about the Brooklyn Museum’s current exhibits.

Photographs by Ajua Hawkins

Copyright Ajua Hawkins 2014

IMG_1585

3 Replies to “The Brooklyn Museum: Africa”

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s