Wednesday, April 7, 2010

African Art & Cloth at SLAM

The St. Louis Museum of Art is in a state of flux as galleries within are closing and objects are being moved because of construction and the building’s expansion. In preparation for the Museum’s expansion, several galleries have been closed, and highlights of the Museum’s collection have been reinstalled. Collection highlights were carefully chosen by the Museum’s curators in anticipation of the expansion project.

Highlights of the Museum’s African collection have been reinstalled on the Lower Level in Gallery 103. This reinstallation includes a selection of the most significant objects from the Museum’s collection of African art, selected and curated by William C. Siegmann, consulting curator of African art.

However, despite limited space, SLAM is still running the African Ceremonial Cloths exhibition from now until May 9th 2010.

The museum’s description: For more than a thousand years textile trade and production have flourished in sub-Saharan Africa. Cloths made for ceremonial use still play a significant role in many societies, conveying wealth, status, artistry, and fashion through striking combinations of color, bold design, and coded patterning.

This free exhibition presents a selection of large textiles from West, Central, and East Africa. Made of bark cloth, raffia, silk, and cotton, they showcase masterful examples of strip weaving, woven patterning, resist dyeing, stenciling, and embroidery.

Some of the cloths were made to serve as garments. Wrappers from the Ewe, Igbo, and Baganda cultures were wound around the waist or draped over the shoulder to create a robust presence for the wearer. Other cloths were hung or held behind dignitaries to create environments or backdrops for ceremonial occasions.

The production of ceremonial cloths can involve multiple processes by diverse groups in a complex division of labor, with distinct roles for male and female artisans.

The works presented in this exhibition reflect an increased interest in African textiles and a steady growth in the Museum’s acquisition of these fabrics through purchase and generous gifts in recent years. Several very large pieces have not been exhibited in their entirety until now; some of the works are being seen for the first time.

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