Eternal Ancestors: The Art of the Central African Reliquary
October 2, 2007–March 2, 2008Special Exhibition Galleries, 1st floor
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This exhibition presents
some of the most celebrated creations of African masters in a new
light. Many of these works were muses to members of the Western
avant-garde, who collected and closely studied them for their inventive
aesthetic qualities in their studios during the early 20th century. In
light of their role in altering the course of Western art, the works
examined are among the most influential masterpieces of the African
artistic canon. This exhibition addresses the sensation these
now-classic works, appreciated for their beauty alone for over a
century, generated among the earliest generation of African art
amateurs. But beyond that, it reveals the significance of these works
to their cultures of origin by revealing the underlying sources of
cultural and spiritual inspiration that led to their creation in
equatorial Africa. Drawn from the most important collections of African
art in Europe and the United States, the more than 150 works featured
are from fourteen distinct cultural traditions in Cameroon, Equatorial
Guinea, Gabon, the Republic of Congo, and the Democratic Republic of
the Congo. These sculptural masterpieces, which ultimately transcended
their original cultural contexts to enter the mainstream of universal
art, were created to portray ancestors as vital intermediaries. Through
a range of different visual vocabularies and materials, this is evident
in dynamic depictions of the human form conceived to enhance, venerate,
and amplify the power of sacred relics. The exhibition provides a
foundation for greater appreciation of central Africa’s cultural legacy
and the relationship of its art to other major traditions from around
the world. Since sacred relics have served as the catalysts for some of
the most exalted and revered creations in the history of Western,
Eastern, and African civilizations, the exhibition considers
reliquaries from other world cultures alongside those produced in
Africa, thereby drawing upon related works from other parts of the
Metropolitan’s encyclopedic collections.
The exhibition is made possible in part by the William Randolph Hearst Foundation.
The catalogue is made possible by The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation and the
Doris Duke Fund for Publications.