Friday, January 29, 2010

West African Art at the British Museum

Starting in the beginning of March, the British Museum will host “Kingdom of Ife: Sculptures from West Africa.” According to the museum, this major exhibition resents examples of brass, copper, stone and terracotta sculpture from West Africa.

The Kingdom of Ife (pronounced ee-feh) was a powerful, cosmopolitan and wealthy city-state in West Africa (in what is now modern southwest Nigeria).

Ife flourished as a political, spiritual, cultural and economic centre in the 12th–15th centuries AD, and was an influential hub of local and long-distance trade networks.

The exhibition features pieces of Ife sculpture, drawn almost entirely from the magnificent collections of the National Commission for Museums and Monuments, Nigeria.

The artists of Ife developed a refined and highly naturalistic sculptural tradition in stone, terracotta, brass and copper to create a style unlike anything in Africa at the time. The technical sophistication of the casting process is matched by the artworks’ enduring beauty.

The human figures portray a wide cross-section of Ife society and include images of youth and old age, health and disease, suffering and serenity.

The exhibit will run through the beginning of June.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Southern African Art Auction Records

Sotho horn snuff bottle: Sotheby's Paris December 2007 - Lot 101 Euro 72,000

Even experienced collectors are surprised when I tell them how well southern African art has performed as an investment over the last 15 years. Over the next few weeks I will be posting a few record-setting objects from past auctions.

Collectors should note that most of the great southern African objects are sold privately and thus won't be reflected here. Objects have reached in the $25,000 to $350,000 range and it won't be long before they reach the half million dollar mark - not bad for utilitarian objects seen as nothing more than decorative or ethnographic material until a few years ago.

The growth in value has been driven by a number of factors: the landmark exhibition of the Lowen (now Oppenheimer) collection in the 1990's; the championing of the art by dealers and collectors such as Conru, Guisson and Horstmann; the publication of numerous new books on private collections which have served to educate the collecting public.

Tsonga neckrest: Sotheby's Paris December 2006 - Lot 227 Euro 74,400

Nelson-Atkins Gift for 75h: Royal Staff Finial

Royal Staff Finial, African, Kongo Kingdom, Yombe peoples, Democratic Republic of the Congo, 17th – 18th century. Ivory with palm oil, 7 7/8 x 2 ¾ x 1 ½ inches. Promised gift of Adele and Donald Hall in honor of the 75th anniversary of The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, 12.2001.11.

The ivory figure, half female and half leopard, appears to represent a founding ancestress of the Yombe. The royal woman holds two gourds that may contain potent medicines associated with rulers’ occult powers. The snarling leopard with its serpent-headed forepaws is a fearsome representation of royal authority and military prowess. Two spiraled staffs flanking the leopard may be royal mvwala staffs drawing power from the earth and ancestral dead. Ivory and the warm, red tone of this figure, achieved through the application of red palm oil, represent powerful spiritual forces.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Nelson-Atkins Gift for 75th: Seated Female Figure

Seated Female Figure, African, Baule peoples, Ivory Coast, early 20th century. Wood, 14 ½ inches. Promised gift of Adele and Donald Hall in honor of the 75th anniversary of The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, 14.2010.1.

This serenely composed figure, adorned with armlets and waistbeads, displays the idealized traits of a Baule spirit wife: an elegant coiffure, beautifying scarification and filed incisors. According to customary beliefs, all men and women have other-world mates with powers to influence their human partners’ lives. Sculptural representations of one’s spirit spouse could be commissioned for a shrine situated in the privacy of one’s sleeping room.
Royal Staff Finial,

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Nelson-Atkins Gift for 75th: Personal Shrine Figure

Personal Shrine Figure, African, Igbo peoples, Nigeria, ca. 1900. Wood and pigment, 29 ½ x 9 ¾ x 10 ¼ inches. Promised gift of Adele and Donald Hall in honor of the 75th anniversary of The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, 12.2001.9.

This masterfully carved personal shrine figure is one of the most important Igbo ikenga figures, or those dedicated to male power and achievement. Rams’ horns symbolize male aggression and determination, and the curved sword symbolizes decisive action. The eagles and python-reigning creatures of sky and water allude to supreme achievement in life, including military endeavors. Human trophy heads symbolize military success, and European pith helmets on the trophy heads express continuing power despite the challenges of colonial rule.

African Art Scam Alert

It's a strange feeling to be offered for sale an object that you already own - something that happened to me today. This ongoing scam is being perpetrated by a Kenyan conman.

The scammer surfs the internet for images of genuine African art and then offers these objects for sale (which he doesn't own) to collectors, via email. To entice a buyer, he offers the objects at a fraction of their true value. Buyers are asked to pay via Western Union. Obviously once payment is made, the objects are never shipped.

The scammer is presently emailing objects using the email address

Monday, January 25, 2010

Nelson-Atkins Gift for 75th: Female Spirit Mask

Female Spirit Mask, African, Punu peoples, Gabon, Democratic Republic of the Congo, 19th century. Wood and pigment, 10 x 6 ½ x 6 ½ inches. Promised gift of Adele and Donald Hall in honor of the 75th anniversary of The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, 10.2007.1.

Worldly, wise and peaceful, this beautiful mask with its elaborate coiffure and scarification captures the idealized beauty of a mature Punu woman. It is an outstanding example of masks of this type, which would have appeared in masquerades during funeral celebrations to represent a young woman’s spirit. Applications of white kaolin clay were associated with the spiritual realm to depict female and male ancestral spirits.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Nelson-Atkins Gift for 75th: Trance Diviner's Figure

Trance Diviner’s Figure, African, Baule peoples, Ivory Coast, 19th century. Wood, beads, and cloth, 19 ½ x 5 ¼ x 6 inches. Promised gift of Adele and Donald Hall in honor of the 75th anniversary of The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, 10.2007.2.

This elegant sculpture was created to house one of the powerful wilderness spirits that communicated with Baule diviners during trance possession. Wilderness spirits, although frightful and inhuman, are attracted to images of ideal human beauty, characterized by this figure’s enlarged head, intricate hairstyle and beard, elongated neck and scarification. The wilderness spirit may partner with a male or female by possessing and placing the diviner in a trance state. The spirit can then communicate remedies for personal or community misfortune to the diviner.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Nelson-Atkins Gift for 75th: Salt Cellar

Salt Cellar, African, Sierra Leone, late 15th – early 16th century. Ivory, 7 ¾ inches. Promised gift of Adele and Donald Hall in honor of the 75th anniversary of The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, 14.2010.3.

This intricately carved salt cellar with its beautifully rendered figures is one of the more important Sapi-Portuguese ivories. It is attributed to a workshop distinguished by salt cellars featuring cylindrical, openwork bases, and it is carved from one piece of ivory (excepting the lid). A luxury object, it would have been commissioned by Portuguese from local workshops, and incorporates an inventive combination of European and African design elements. The egg-shaped container is decorated with narrow beaded bands (a European embellishment) and supported by four standing figures (an African innovation).

Friday, January 22, 2010

Nelson-Atkins Gift for 75th: Headrest

Headrest, African, Attributed to the Master of the Cascade Coiffure, Luba peoples, Democratic Republic of the Congo, late 19th – early 20th century. Wood, glass beads, and copper, 5 5/16 x 4 ½ x 3 ½ inches. Promised gift of Adele and Donald Hall in honor of the 75th anniversary of The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, 14.2010.2.

High-ranking Luba women and men slept with headrests such as this to protect elaborate hairstyles, which indicated civilized refinement and both exterior and interior beauty. This headrest is attributed to the “Master of the Cascade Coiffure,” one of the most renowned 19th-century Luba artists. With its animated female figure, it is an outstanding representative of the diminutive, elegantly carved headrests attributed to this artist, or workshop.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Nelson-Atkins Museum Announces Promised Gift of Stellar African Works of Art

Jacaranda Tribal was excited to learn that seven works of African Art will be added to the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art's special exhibition for its 75th Anniversary. The museum released the following announcement last week:

The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art today announced a promised gift of seven extraordinary works of African art from the private collection of longtime Museum patrons Adele and Donald Hall, in honor of the Museum’s 75th Anniversary. The gifts… will greatly elevate and broaden the Museum’s range of holdings in this area. Among the gifts are an intricately carved ivory Salt Cellar from the late 15th to early 16th century and… a wooden carving by the Luba artist known as the “Master of the Cascade Coiffure.”

The seven works will be on view in the exhibition Magnificent Gifts for the 75th that opens to the public Feb. 13 as the capstone event of the anniversary year. The exhibition is the result of a year-long collecting initiative that inspired 75 Museum patrons to give or promise more than 400 works of art to the Nelson-Atkins, including paintings, drawings, prints, photographs, sculptures, new media art, ceramics, glass, furniture and books. The exhibition will feature 130 of the gifts…

The Halls bought their first piece of African art within the first year of their marriage. They found themselves drawn to African works because of the tremendous sculptural quality, the power and contemporary nature of the designs, and the function of the objects within their cultures. Throughout the years, they have been advised by curators and specialists in the field, and they continue to acquire important works.

“None of these pieces were originally made to be in a private collection,” Mrs. Hall said. “They were designed to honor an ancestor, or to carry soil from one home place to another, or to bind a contract, or for ensuring fertility. There was a great deal of ceremony involved.”

Jacaranda will continue to blog over the cross of the next week about each of the pieces that will be on display. Stay tuned!

Monday, January 18, 2010

Topeka Gets a Taste of African Art

“Africa Everyday,” the latest exhibit on display at the Alice C. Sabatini Gallery in Topeka, Kansas, showcases a rich collection of African Art representing eight tribes: Maasai from Kenya, Asante from Ghana, Baule and Dan from Ivory Coast, Loma from Liberia, Mende from Sierra Leone and Dogon and Bamana from Mali.

Running from January 15th through February 19th, the items on display have been used by generations of tribespeople. Art and artifacts used for special ceremonies and for everyday are presented.

For example, the exhibit features elder’s regalia worn by former Topeka Zoo Director Gary Clarke, when he was initiated as an honorary elder by the Maasai. Clarke, of Topeka, has taken more than 140 safaris to Africa.

Other works of art on display include a wedding necklace made by mothers in the Maasai tribe to give to their bride-to-be daughters and an ax used in tribal construction.

“It’s fun to marvel at the differences and similarities between our society and societies thousands of miles away,” according to Sabatini Gallery director Sherry Best.

The Sabatini Gallery, open during regular library hours, is the oldest public art collection in Topeka. The gallery has been developing an African-themed collection since 1957.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

New Tribal Art Newsletter

A new monthly newsletter, Tribal Art Newsletter, launched this month. The stated objectives for the publication are to overcome the lack of a monthly publication covering events in the tribal art world.

The 12 page first issue comprised an article on the December Sotheby's and Christie's auctions, an article on the new Museum for African Art in New York, a review of the LA Tribal Show, Vancouver's MOA renewal and listings of upcoming museum shows and auctions.

I believe the market could use a monthly magazine to overcome a perceived lack of up to date content in Tribal Magazine. The challenge for the newsletter will be in providing readers with fresh and compelling content.

We wish the publication every success and applaud the new venture.

Friday, January 8, 2010

African Art Inspires All

African art has influenced artists across the globe and there is no better way to see these similarities than at The Elijah Pierce Gallery at Columbus, Ohio’s The King Arts Complex. From Tuesday, January 12th through the end of the month, the gallery will be featuring “African Art Influence: Global Impacts & Similarities.”

Sponsored by The Wohlgemuth Herschede Foundation, the exhibition will display artwork from a myriad of diverse countries from around the world. The concept is to show the cross-cultural influences in decorative style from African art in the creations of pieces from Asia to Latin America.

According to the gallery’s description of the exhibit: “The art… gives the viewer a glimpse into similar comparisons found in technique and design using motifs and pattern ideas… There are similarities in texture and style and thus, is a celebration of our interconnectedness and an acknowledgement of how much alike we all truly are!”

Jacaranda Tribal loves the notion! For more information, call 614-645-5464 or visit

Afro Modern: Journeys Through the Black Atlantic at Tate Liverpool

By Catherine Jones, Liverpool ECHO

THE first Tate Liverpool exhibition of 2010 will trace in depth the impact of black cultures from around the Atlantic on art from the early 20th century to today.

Afro Modern: Journeys Through The Black Atlantic takes its inspiration from Paul Gilroy’s book The Black Atlantic: Modernity And Double Consciousness, which was published in 1993.

Gilroy coined the term ‘the Black Atlantic’ to describe the fusion of black cultures with others around the edge of the ocean.

His book had a huge impact on how black culture has been perceived and discussed within the field of cultural studies, and has stimulated ongoing critical debates.

The Tate exhibition, which opens on January 29, will look at the influences of African art on everything from the modernist forms of artists like Picasso to the work of contemporary artists such as Ellen Gallagher, Chris Ofili and Kara Walker.

It will reflect how artists around the Atlantic have claimed the language of Modernism in diverse ways, as a powerful tool to explore, formulate and assert their own identity.

Afro Modern: Journeys Through The Black Atlantic reflects this idea of the Atlantic Ocean as a ‘continent in negative’, a network of surrounding and interconnecting cultures spanning Africa, North and South America, the Caribbean and Europe, and traces the real and imaginary routes taken by artists across the Atlantic from 1909 to today.

“With more than 60 artists and 140 works, many never or rarely seen at Tate or in the UK, the exhibition is set to acknowledge the complex influences and histories behind some of the greatest art of the last 100 years,” says co-curator Tanya Barson.

The exhibition will be divided into chronological chapters, ranging from early 20th century avant-garde movements such as the Harlem Renaissance to current debates around ‘Post-Black’ art.

It will include works by artists including Romare Bearden, Constantin Brancusi, Edward Burra, Renee Cox, Aaron Douglas, Walker Evans, Ellen Gallagher, David Hammons, Isaac Julien, Wilfredo Lam, Jacob Lawrence, Norman Lewis, Glenn Ligon, Ronald Moody, Wangechi Mutu, Uche Okeke, Pablo Picasso, Keith Piper, Tracey Rose and Kara Walker.

Afro Modern: Journeys through the Black Atlantic runs from January 29 to April 25 and admission is £6 with £4.50 concessions.