Posts Tagged 'African Art'

Mask Mysteries

Before I arrived at the DMA, I wasn’t quite sure what my daily tasks as the McDermott Intern for African Art would entail. I certainly never expected to be sitting in on a biomedical engineering lecture at UT Southwestern studying a CT scan—but this was no ordinary CT scan: it was a scan of the DMA’s helmet mask (komo) from the Senufo peoples of Côte d’Ivoire.

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The purpose of this scan was to discover the contents of the horns that decorate the mask, as well as any other ritual materials that may have been placed within the structure. The scan showed the horns contained many small objects, including animal jaws and a variety of organic matter. With this information in hand, I hit the books in an attempt to understand why these objects would be chosen for use in a mask such as this one. As the Komo society is a secret knowledge society, details of masking traditions are not frequently shared; however, I was able to compile some information from Boureima T. Diamitani, scholar and Komo society member, to help contextualize the mask and the mysterious contents of its horns.

Helmet mask (komo), mid–20th century, wood, glass, animal horns, fiber, and mirrors, Dallas Museum of Art, gift of David T. Owsley 1997.24

Helmet mask (komo), Cote d’Ivoire, Senufo peoples, mid-20th century, wood, glass, animal horns, fiber, and mirrors, Dallas Museum of Art, gift of David T. Owsley, 1997.24

The komo is believed to be a spirit above humans who possesses supernatural powers and is sent by God (Kle) to protect members of the secretive Komo society. The komo performs a masquerade that today functions as both a divination ritual and a form of entertainment.

The origin of the Komo society is found in a story in which a hunter and his dog encountered and killed a frightening beast in the forest. The hunter brought the beast’s head back to the village to entertain the townspeople, thus becoming the first komotigui, or owner of the Komo. The mask form is taken from the appearance of the beast killed by the hunter. Today, the mask is most often worn during performances by the son of the komotigui or the son of the blacksmith who carved it.

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Blacksmiths carve komo masks from one piece of bugusulu softwood, a tree used exclusively for this purpose. As females and uninitiated males are not permitted to see the mask, the blacksmith must himself be a member of the Komo society and must carve the mask in the forest, out of sight of the village. The mask, carved over the course of three days, is sculpted with small wooden horns, which are then fitted with animal horns. The choice to carve the mask with horns is an important one: since relatively few animals have horns, the addition of horns emphasizes the strangeness and power associated with this creature. Upon completion, the carver relinquishes all responsibilities for the mask to the new komotigui, who may choose to add porcupine quills, more horns, feathers, or any other element he chooses; these additions distinguish particular masks from one another. A competitive spirit between komotiguis is a catalyst for artistic production and the various styles of many komo masks.

Due to the personal preference involved in decorating the mask, we cannot be sure of the significance of each element that was found in the horns. Many komotiguis chose to place powerful substances such as medicine or poison inside of the horns due to the aggressiveness and fear associated with them. This implies that the substances that filled the horns likely held some type of ritual significance to Komo society members and were believed to increase the potency of the Komo society as well as the mask itself.

Although we do not yet have all of the answers regarding the materials contained in this mask, or the reason that each specific item was chosen, we are on our way to a better understanding of the context of this mask’s creation. Further, this experience has immensely broadened my outlook on the ways in which science, technology, and the arts can work together to draw important cultural conclusions.

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Megan Zembower is the McDermott Intern for African Art at the DMA.

References:
Diamitani, Boureima Tiekoroni.  1999.  Identities, Komo Societies, and Art Among the Tagwa Senufo of Burkina Faso (Doctoral Dissertation).
Diamitani, Boureima T.  “The Insider and the Ethnography of Secrecy:  Challenges of Collecting Data on the Fearful Komo of the Tagwa-Senufo.”  The African Archaeological Review 28, no. 1 (2011):  55-70.
Diamitani, Boureima Tiékoroni.  “Observing Komo among Tagwa People in Burkina Faso:  A Burkinabe Art Historian’s Views.”  African Arts 41, no. 3 (2008):  14-25.

A Golden Summertime

Last night, we wrapped up our annual summer partnership with the South Dallas Cultural Center’s six-week Summer Arts at the Center program, where students learn about African history through writing, photography, art-making, and performance. This summer, students learned about post-colonial West Africa, with a focus on Ghana.

Some of our favorite works of art at the DMA come from Ghana – like the Sword ornament in the shape of a lion! After a field trip to the Museum to learn more about Asante gold, teens illustrated and gilded proverbs from their lives with gold leaf, then brought them into three dimensions with clay.

After their projects were finished, we invited families from the Center to visit us for a family night! Roslyn Walker, the DMA’s Senior Curator of the Arts of Africa, the Americas, and the Pacific, lead tours for families in the galleries. Students and their loved ones also made thumb pianos in the studio and explored the Center for Creative Connections during their visit.

Big thanks to the South Dallas Cultural Center for another summer of awesome art making and fun. We look forward to seeing you at the museum again soon!

Jessica Thompson
Manager of Teen and Gallery Programs

The Day the Crayons Came to the DMA

Earlier this week, we had some very special guests visit the Museum! Drew Daywalt, author of the book The Day the Crayons Quit and The Day the Crayons Came Home, will be coming to the Museum on May 22 for some family fun as part of the Arts & Letters Live BooksmART lecture series. We were able to snap some behind-the-scenes pics as Orange Crayon and Purple Crayon scouted out the galleries, and we even caught a glimpse of some of their top secret correspondence. If you haven’t already, get your tickets to see Drew in person and hear more about these crazy crayons and their colorful adventures!

The Day the Crayons letter

Artworks shown:

  • Maurice de Vlaminck, Bougival, c. 1905, Dallas Museum of Art, The Wendy and Emery Reves Collection.
  • Martha E. Keech, Baltimor, Maryland, “Album” quilt, c. 1861, Dallas Museum of Art, anonymous centennial gift.
  • Claude Monet, Water Lilies, 1908, Dallas Museum of Art, gift of the Meadows Foundation, Incorporated.
  • Egungun costume, Republic of Benin: Yoruba peoples, Late 20th century, Dallas Museum of Art, gift of Pace Primitive Gallery, New York.
  • Buddha, Thailand: La-na, 15th century, Dallas Museum of Art, gift of David T. Owsley via the Alvin and Lucy Owsley Foundation.
  • Oli Sihvonen, Matrix – Red, Gray II, 1967, Dallas Museum of Art, Dallas Art Association Purchase, © Oli Sihvonen / Licensed by VAGA, New York, NY.

Leah Hanson
Manager of Family and Early Learning Programs

Madeleine Fitzgerald
Audience Relations Coordinator

Sketching a Collection

To celebrate the opening of the DMA’s newly renovated Arts of Africa Galleries, we put together something fun.

This video, featuring thirty sketches, highlights the creativity and talent of our visitors and showcases their unique perspectives and imagination.

These drawings were originally hung on a temporary wall on Level 3 in the Museum until late August. We’re lucky to have such talented visitors, and we are pleased to be able to show off some of their work on Uncrated.

 

Gregory Castillo is the Multimedia Producer at the DMA.

30 Minute Dash – Jessica Fuentes

Many visitors, especially those coming with families, often start their visit to the DMA in the Center for Creative Connections (C3), a great starting point because it is located on the first floor, in the heart of the museum, and displays works of art from across the Museum’s diverse collection. However, after starting in C3, visitors tend to ask, “What else should we see while we’re here?” Of course, there could be a multitude of answers to that question, but I think I’ve laid out a nice action plan, using one of my favorite artworks currently on view in C3 as a starting point.

2008_43_2_a_e, 11/18/08, 12:33 PM, 8C, 6000x8000 (0+0), 100%, Custom, 1/15 s, R92.9, G57.6, B60.4

In the main C3 Gallery, notice the similarities between The Minotaur by Marcel Dzama and Ram Mask with Feather Cape created by the Kom people of Cameroon. They both depict features of two beings, The Minotaur with the head of a bull and the body of a human, and Ram Mask with Feather Cape with a stylized mask representative of a ram and a cape made of chicken feathers. Taking this idea as a starting point for works to see throughout the Museum, exit C3 and turn right down the main concourse. Headdown the concourse and take the Red Elevator up to the 4th Floor. Upon exiting, turn left and walk through the Native American Art gallery, taking a left into American Art. Then stay to the right and walk to the back corner where the American Silver Gallery is located. In a small case in the center of this gallery you will encounter the beautifully intricate silver Vase (for the Pan-American Exposition, Buffalo, New York.

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Notice the serpentine handles culminating in bird heads and the etched patterns of scrolls and masks. Next, continue to walk around and through the American Gallery and take the small staircase that leads to the African Gallery. At the bottom of the staircase, walk to the far end of the gallery and take a right to find the Helmet mask (kifwebe) and costume.

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Kifwebe masks are “composite beings,” compiled of human and animal elements. The striated designs on them derive from the markings and patterns of wild or dangerous animals such as antelopes, zebras, and okapi. The central crest may represent that of an ape or rooster. When you view this work of art in the galleries, it is accompanied by a short video which shows the mask in use, truly bringing it to life. Finally, continue through the African Gallery and take a left into the Egyptian section. To your immediate left you will find a collection of small works including a slate remnants depicting Thoth, God of Learning and Patron of Scribes a human figure with the head of an ibis.
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Visit all of these works, for free, during your Thanksgiving break.

Jessica Fuentes is The Center for Creative Connections Gallery Manager at the DMA

 

images: Marcel Dzama, The Minotaur, 2008, plaster, gauze, rope, fabric, chair, bucket, and paintbrushes, Dallas Museum of Art, DMA/amfAR Benefit Auction Fund © Marcel Dzama 2008.43.2.A-E; Helmet mask with feather costume, Kom peoples, Cameroon, Africa, Early to mid-20th century, wood, fibers, and feathers, Dallas Museum of Art, African Collection Fund 2011.18.A-B; George Paulding Farnham, Tiffany and Company, Vase (for the Pan-American Exposition, Buffalo, New York), 1901, silver, enamel, citrines, and garnets, Dallas Museum of Art, Discretionary Decorative Arts Fund 2009.40; Helmet mask (kifwebe) and costume, Songye or Luba peoples, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Africa, late 19th to early 20th century, wood, paint, fiber, cane, and gut, Dallas Museum of Art, The Gustave and Franyo Schindler Collection of African Sculpture, gift of the McDermott Foundation in honor of Eugene McDermott 1974.SC.42; Thoth, God of Learning and Patron of Scribes, Late Period, 663-525 B.C., Egypt, Africa, slate, Dallas Museum of Art, gift of Elsa von Seggern 1979.1

African Art Sketching Party

Full wall

Just before the Arts of Africa gallery closed for reinstallation in May, the DMA invited the public to a Late Night African Art Sketching Party. Over 100 sketches of visitors’ favorite African artworks were gathered during the party. It was an opportunity to tap into the creativity and perspectives of DMA visitors. Sketching is a fun way to slow down, look closely, and discover something new about an artwork.

Visitors’ drawings are on view on a temporary wall on Level 3 in the Museum. Come for a visit before August 30 to see this installation of sketches and experience the DMA’s African art collection as seen through the eyes of another.

Nicole Stutzman Forbes is the Chair of Learning Initiatives and Dallas Museum of Art League Director of Education at the DMA.

Late Night Sketching Party

This call goes out to all of you who like to put a pencil to paper and draw! We invite you to join us during Late Night this Friday night, May 15, from 7:00 – 10:00 pm for an African Art Sketching Party. Artist Ellen Soderquist will host, guiding you in the process of sketching your favorite African artworks in the DMA’s collection. All ages and skills levels are welcome, and all materials will be provided.

If you leave your sketch with us (pretty please!), it will be included in a public exhibition this summer. That’s right, your work will be on view in the DMA! Visitors’ sketches of African art will be displayed during July and August on temporary construction walls built near the DMA’s African Gallery, which will close to the public in June for a reinstallation project. While the real artworks will not be on view for a few months, we look forward to sharing your sketches with the public this summer. Seeing things through the eyes of another can often enrich our own view of the world.

See you Friday at the Sketching Party!

Nicole Stutzman Forbes
Director of Education


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