Bringing together more than 100 masterpieces drawn from the premier collections in Germany, Switzerland, Belgium, the United Kingdom, Portugal, France, and the United States, Heroic Africans: Legendary Leaders, Iconic Sculptures considers eight landmark sculptural traditions that flourished in West and Central Africa between the 12th and the early 20th century. These works were created by some of the regions’ most gifted artists, who were charged with producing enduring visual monuments dedicated to the legacies of revered leaders.
The artistic tributes featured are among the only tangible surviving vestiges of generations of leaders that shaped Africa’s past before colonialism among the Akan of Ghana, ancient Ife civilization, and the Kingdom of Benin of Nigeria, Bangwa and Kom chiefdoms of the Cameroon Grassfields, the Chokwe of Angola and Zambia, and the Luluwa, Hemba, and Kuba of the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
Harnessing materials ranging from clay, ubiquitous wood, precious ivory, and costly metal alloys, sculptors from these regions captured evocative, idealized likenesses of their influential patrons, whose identities were otherwise recorded in ephemeral oral traditions. While for the most part the works presented pre-date the use of photography in Africa, photographic likenesses of successive generations of leaders from these centers—ranging in date from the late 19th century to contemporary portraits by the American photographer Phyllis Galembo—are woven into the presentation.
Among those subjects who were famous in their own time but whose significance in connection to their depictions has largely been lost to viewers are: Queen Mother Idia and Oba Akenzua I of Benin (Nigeria), Nana Attabra of Nkwanta (Ghana), Chief Nkwain of Kom (Cameroon),Chief Chibwabwa Ilunga of the Luluwa (Democratic Republic of the Congo), King Mbó Mbóósh of the Kuba (D.R.C), and Chief Kalala Lea of the Hemba (D.R.C.).
Following its showing at the Metropolitan, the exhibition will travel to the Museum Rietberg Museum in Zurich where it will be on view from 26 February through 3 June 2012.
The exhibition is accompanied by a catalogue published by The Metropolitan Museum of Art and Yale University Press.
Please click here for the Culturekiosque archive feature: Magical Faces of Africa.