Kongo Exhibit and the Djenne Diversion.

One fine Saturday evening (10/10/15) I managed to finally get to the Metropolitan Museum for an exhibition of Kongo Tribal art (Kongo: Power and Majesty). I considered myself fully armed, with my brand new 6S iPhone, and my trusty dinosaur of a Canon (EOS20D) SLR. At the entrance to the museum there were rows of trees breaking the concrete American monotony I have become used to which provided esthetic support to the entertaining fountain show.

Of course once inside (with voluntary donation offered) I took the circuitous route and first found myself in the ‘permanent display’ of African Tribal Art. The lone 13th century Djenne anthropomorphic male (H. 10 x W. 11 “) terracotta on display is pretty impressive.

Djenne terracotta - Metropolitan Museum of Art

[E1] Djenne terracotta – Metropolitan Museum of Art

“The first inhabitants of Djenné-Djono (a few kilometers from present-day Djenné) settled there as early as the 3rd century B.C.. The city of Djenné is built on an 88 hectare island between two branches of the Bani River, a tributary of the Niger”. [1] The town lies in the Inner Niger Delta area (a series of lakes, and floodplains located south of the Sahara desert), which is very different from the Niger delta which lies on the western border of Nigeria.

[E2] Djenne-map

[E2] Djenne-map

I recall trying to explain my appreciation for this subset of African Terracotta artform to a friend, and failing miserably. On further thought I realize a large part of the problem was trying to map the artistic concepts of Rhythm and Motion to a sculptural tradition that beautifully explored more abstract ideas of Emotion, Pain, and Containment.

[E3] Djenne terracotta - Metropolitan Museum of Art

[E3] Djenne terracotta – Metropolitan Museum of Art

Another intriguing aspect of the sculpture is the unnatural flexibility of the subject, and the pattern of raised deformations on the back.

[E4] Djenne terracotta - Metropolitan Museum of Art

[E4] Djenne terracotta – Metropolitan Museum of Art

“The bodies sometimes show heavy scarifications, scabs, pustules, or blisters… perhaps due to filariose, a tropical and subtropical disease transmitted by mosquitos. The adult form is a white, thread-like worm which enters the human through the skin at night”. [1]

[1] http://www.memoiredafrique.com/en/djenne/histoire.php
[E1],[E3],[E4] photo credit aplusafricanart.com
[E2] http://www.memoiredafrique.com/en/djenne/histoire.php

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3 Responses to Kongo Exhibit and the Djenne Diversion.

  1. Ed says:

    “Filariose” is not a correct notion. One would think that institutions such as the Metropolitan Museum would assume better responsibility for the data they publish.

    Such “scars” are typically a condition found within certain African and Asian familial genetics known as “keloids” – abnormal tissue healing (irregular fibrous growth). Various cultures deliberately exploited the results of abnormal scars – creating symbolic, often beautiful and scarifications with esoteric meaning. This is well known fact through-out the continent of Africa, but most cultures now-a-days, the practice has been abolished because of colonial disapproval.

    Keloids have little to NOTHING to do with scabs, pustules, or blisters… (and so on).

    • You may be correct on this score. The reference to filariose comes from “memoiredafrique.com”… the actual Met comment is “The rows of punched marks and raised bosses on its back may represent intentional scarification patterns or the symptoms of a disease”. Judging by the symmetry of the markings I’m inclined to go with the keloid theory.
      I did get to the Kongo exhibit and would like your take on the ‘phemba’ statuary (Yombe)… my research indicates the phemba would show a snake above the mother-child figure… Thoughts??

  2. Ed says:

    I’ll try and be brief with my replies:

    I honestly did not know about the description of the Metropolitan Museum. Too many times previously, I have found their descriptions and data “omitting, misleading and incorrect”. Admittedly, I am critical of museums – with good cause – so I don’t frequent them for appropriate information with the context of personal learning and development. Having said this, I am aware that it hasn’t been that long that the Met acquired *new blood* among curators of African cultural arts which show promise, while demonstrating improved cultural ideologies and factual assessments. I think the Cleveland Museum of Art excels and currently stands “heads and shoulders” over so many others.
    ————————
    Mother-child maternity themes such as with Yombe ‘Phemba/Pemba’ maternity statutory relates to ancient Kemet / Egyptian Isis mother and Horus, (suckling or nursing) child. “Maternity figurative carvings’ are among several misleading and ill-informed popular objects in African art collections of intense interest. Snake symbols in ancient Egypt / Nubia / Kemet (as well as through-out sub-Saharan Africa) represent royal and holy divinity – leadership, and fortune. Consider the snake coiled around a staff – a global / universal symbol of medicine today

    Most scholars, historians, anthropologist and learned museum curators certainly know this. Historical documented data, science, research and genetic-organic forms of testing have proven conclusive and astonishingly overwhelming, but (for obvious reasons), “revisionism” clearly is not.

    The Bantu / Mongol migrations, Yoruba, Igala, Dogon, Baule and many others reveal a clear common historical relevance and in many cases, a migratory path leading from/to East Africa; Sudan, Egypt / Ethiopia, Uganda etc.

    Just as with ‘maternity figures’, the renown and deeply misunderstood “nkisi”, anhk, cultural androgynous figures (incorrectly assumed to be hermaphrodites) are of a few other examples worthy of proper research and historical (revisionism) identity.

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