Julianna Ribeiro de Silva Bevilacqua, Nomusa Makhubu, Carolina Manoel and Romuald Tchibozo
Moderator: Qanita Lilla
This panel is an opportunity to share the curatorial processes of Agnes around the Justin and Elisabeth Lang Collection of African Art and share the research coming out of Africa and to consider ways to move forward. Using the Atlantic Ocean as the field of engagement, of journeys and of collaboration, Transatlantic Reverberations brings scholars from Africa and the diaspora in conversation. Using the Lang collection as a basis, the panel looks at the shifting context of the meanings of art from Africa. The panelists focus on questions like: What is the current research coming from scholars based in Africa? How does scholarship account for objects that have been displaced and/or lost? What is the afterlife of a collection of African art? What is the human dimension associated with collections of African art? How do African scholars think about objects from Africa outside of Africa?
Part of An Institute for Curatorial Inquiry
In-Person, 14–19 August 2022
Read more: https://agnes.queensu.ca/participate/…
Download the transcript: https://agnes.queensu.ca/site/uploads…Julianna Ribeiro de Silva Bevilacqua, Nomusa Makhubu, Carolina Manoel and Romuald Tchibozo
Moderator: Qanita Lilla
Train Song (Mbombela)
Song 1 of 2
Song 1 of 2
Song 2 of 2
Song 2 of 2
Harry Belafonte, Miriam Makeba
SME (on behalf of RCA Records Label); ASCAP, LatinAutorPerf, SOCAN RR, Sony Music Publishing, and 3 music rights societies
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>> Thank you so much Qanita for the invitation.
I’m happy to be part of this panel here and
know that it is a great challenge to work
on a collection, an African collection. I would like also to thank all
staff of Queens University
and all the people who make this possible. Thank you for the organization
offered at this institute.
My talk is about
experiences directly relating
to the absence of certain object in Benin.
They are present in Western collections
and the difficulty that this creates
for the constitution of knowledge. The first is Gelede. What is Gelede?
In order to not dwell on it, it is necessary to
know that it is a cultural artefact characteristic
of the world view of Yoruba societies
spread out in what is today Nigeria, Benin, and Togo.
To this day, for example, locations of it origin
remains unresolved between those who believe
that it is located in the former kingdom of
Kétou in Benin and those who
on the basis of various oral source believe
that the origin of Gelede is in Ilobi,
a hamlet located in the present
day Federal Republic of Nigeria.
The main reasons are the important successive
migration characteristic of this ethnic group,
which gradually left large
areas in the West African sub region.
The current general characteristic
of Yoruba culture date back
to a very long time before the Christian era,
to the emergence of the Nok culture as pointed
out by Fagg in 1963, Willet in 1971,
and Drewal in 1990.
These are the characteristics which,
transmitted from generation to generation
and having undergone many mutations through, on the one hand,
the various contributions
of the people encountered and on the
other hand, the evolution of the materials used
that have take shape and
result in what we know today.
Here I present some Gelede mask, but
all of this masks are not in Benin anymore
but are in Musée of Quai Branly in Paris. That why I talk about it.
Despite the patriarchal system that governed
these people, the main function of the Gelede is
to celebrate our mothers and ask for their
indulgence in solving the problems of society.
Therefore, all manifestations
of the Gelede are ad hoc,
that means linked to a specific problem of a
society. Often very difficult problems
that the society is experiencing at the time (allowed for)
the decision to dance the Gelede.
The choice of the superstructure that we trivially call ‘mask’
that accompanies the ceremonies is then
fundamentally linked to the pending problem.
Thus, no mask ever resembles another,
and that is why after this first use,
it is pieced throughout the
ears or nostrils to signify
that it should not be used for anything else. This led to the huge misunderstanding
that resulted in the destruction of the archives of these societies
Created by the colonial administrators.
At the very least, an irreparable
(gap) was created since
most of the masks have left the country
Indeed, each manifestation
of the gelede shows that
constitutes a revealing document:
of the history, the psychological
stage, the social progress, philosophic
and artistic life of a society concerned.
Moreover, the name, the same
skill, as well as the ability
to make the imaginary real depends
on each period and each artist.
Therefore, each mask that disappears
along with all the immaterial aspects
that characterises it, notably the songs
and dances is an archive that has burned.
It is what Jean Gabus underlined by writing
“each object is a witness of something: history,
techniques, forms, function and often
of several things at the same time,
If not of all, and that in various degrees.”
However, at the same time as this objects
were being collected, a reinforced separation
between Europeans and non-Europeans
was implemented or even staged.
Because of the object on display, the
men had to be kept at the distance
or be inscribed in a relationship of domination.
As a result, museum in the west have
invested little in the study of the object,
particularly the provenance,
but also their inventory.
Until 2016, there was no research on the origin
of African pieces in many, many, many museum.
We’ll talk about masks later.
The second is Bocio. It is, as Joseph Adande refers to in 1996,
“a sculpture of nothing” always roughly carved
and often installed around living quarters.
These places are privileged for the
manifestation of great magic and panentheism
because everything is possible there. The bocio’s functions is to watch
over the houses in this environment.
It is also often designed to prevent death
from taking hold of someone in some cases,
or in others to fully facilitate it.
I will not insist on what the bocio
represent in Beninese culture.
It’ll be more a different to expose here
my experience in relation to the production
of knowledge on this kind of sculpture. In 2013, while I was in a research
program in Berlin for about a year,
one of my students wanted to do his Masters
on the following topic; “L’art sculptural Agonlin : essai d’analyse stylistique (Contribution à une meilleure lisibilité de l’histoire à partir de l’étude du Bocio et du masque Guèlèdè)”
I say that in French because that
was in French, [foreign language].
He wanted to try to studies bocio’s culture
but from the perspective of style evolution.
But the requirement of such studies
are mainly related to the establishment
of a sufficient corpus
giving a long term perspective.
The unceasing efforts of the student who has
been several time in the field
of research, which he knows well because
he has already carried out the research
for the Master’s degree, came to nothing.
The Agonlin country does not
count many bocio anymore,
which are even destroyed, sold, or taken away.
It was therefore recommended to go and
see the ethnographic museum in Porto-Novo.
And all this bocio I show here are from the
of Ethnographic Museum of Porto-Novo.
But they were in museums because they are
heavy and long so they could not transport them.
That remain in Benin because
it’s difficult to transport them.
The Agonlin country does not count many bocio anymore
which are either destroyed, sold or taken away. It was therefore a recommended to go and
see the Ethnography Museum in Porto-Novo.
(But) this did not solve the problem ever, but
the important issue that could arise
Even if there were a solution at the museum,
is the data disruption that could be created
in relation to his field of research.
The museum in fact reserves
object from all over Benin
and could naturally not have only
bocio coming only from Agonlin
and thus not enough element to feed the copies.
As a result, the subject was abandoned, because
to succeed in a study of style with a chance
of arriving at a good analysis over time,
it is necessary to count 30 or 50 years
of regular production and then
of possibility of reconstitution.
Since colonization, sculptural
production has changed direction,
seeking to satisfy more a
target of colonial administrators
and tourists done to continue in the same vein.
Worse, the introduction of Christianity made
both the producers and the sculpture disappear
because of the demonization of the latter.
After independence, although there were still
a few sculptors, bocio’s sculpture, declined
and the region was almost
To summarize, it must be said that in
addition to the absence of the object due
to the massive explore during
colonization, successive evangelization,
but also clandestine sales, there is a
difficulty of identifying the evolution
of the style of this sculptures and to succeed
to organizing the production of knowledge
On their mythical religious environment. These two example show the complexity of
the studies to be undertaken with regard
to the collection of the
Agnes Etherington Art Centre.
Our Zoom meetings have identified
some avenues that need to be pursued.
We also need to invent other (categories) in relation
to the particularity of this collection,
which was first private
before finding itself today
in a collection in a space open to the public.
This mode of collection of this
environment is never the same.
My experiences of (African) collections
in Germany has taught me that.
We’ll come briefly on the gelede mask.
The problem with this mask of gelede is
that this term, this term the culture is
about knowledge and domination because
you have the ethnic and so I am not sure
that this mask has served at ceremonies.
We need to continue the research to know
exactly when they carved this mask.
The second problem is that always
agreed polemic about African sculptures
because in 19 — not 19 — no the 14th century,
people who collected the first
African sculpture believed that Africans had no notion of colours.
So every sculpture in Africa is monochrome. But we have some sculpture from Africa, and
I am not the first who will speak about that,
[inaudible] speak of that since 1960s. There is a colour on this culture in Africa
that mean people also have notion of colours.
We have to discuss that. This culture is, I think, also a
bit problematic because what is —
that is for the first, not for to normal days.
And if we take into account what is about
gelede, gelede ceremonies is every time
to solve a difficult situation in the society.
We can also there ask where and who did that.
And this is possible use because
there is a symbol of Chango.
Maybe you have already hear about Chango. It’s a divinity.
And this, we discussed that
with the people of [inaudible]
and it is possible that was used for.
And the last, the last is that this
gelede, mask gelede, they continue to bring
out gelede, even a contemporary gelede. That mean the field is really
impoverished from the gelede.
Thank you for your attention. [ Applause ]
>> Thank you Romuald. Now we’ll have Carolina’s video. >> Hi everyone.
My name is Carolina Manoel. I am a PhD student at Queens in art history
and I’m doing a practicum with Dr. Qanita Lilla
at Agnes this Summer and this is part of my
research that I’ve been developing with her. I’m also supervised by Professor
Dr. Juliana Bevilacqua.
And the name of this presentation is called
“Language Reflections in Archival Materials”
from the Lang Collection of African Art. And I would like to apologize
upfront for the birds.
Language bears witness to the way we see and
experience the world and our place within it.
For institutions that have
colonial legacies like art museums, the English language is saturated with terms
that reinforce domination and hierarchy.
This excerpt contained in a catalogue
of “With Opened Mouths” on display at the Agnes Etherington Art Centre from
August 2021 was written by Dr. Qanita Lilla,
associate creator of the institution. Within a specific context such as that of
Agnes and its respective Lang Collection
of African Arts, it provokes
us to think about language, the mediator of our relations,
and it’s use and is used.
Language is capable of bringing together or
separating universes in their differences.
This is the subject of this brief
explanation, how the African works in the Lang Collection have been scripted and
presented by language since their acquisition
as pieces of art by a museum,
the Agnes Etherington Art Centre. According to Catherine Hale, the Lang
Collection donated to Agnes in 1984,
is the result of 40 years of acquisitions
of African pieces by the couple Justin and Elisabeth Lang between 1940 and 1980.
Comprising more than 570 objects, the
collection has different origins primarily
from West African peoples with
objects in different sculptural forms. According to Hale, at the time of the
donation, the collection was considered
to be the largest Canadian collection
of African art in private hands. Also according to this research, the Langs
would have participated in a select group
of African art lovers in Canada, a network
of connections responsible in large part
for the African pieces present in
Canadian institutions until today. Using Herbert Gans and Pierre Bourdieu,
Hale argues that the collection
of African objects made by the Langs
as well as their subsequent acquisition by Agnes participates in a context governed
by a culture of taste, largely interested
in what she called modernist primitivism. That said, a video 1986 and a version of its
script about the Lang collection produced
when the works were acquired by
the Agnes Etherington Art Centre, as well as two other exhibition catalogues,
visual variations from 1987
and Heroic Figures in 1988.
Both exhibitions by Jacqueline Fry with pieces
from the collection will guide this reflection. My premise is that this archive of
materials provides a good basis through which
to examine early theoretical
underpinnings of the Lang collection. My objective will be to problematize
With access to your first script of the
video and to the video in question mentioned, entitled respectively, “The Lang Collection
in Cultural Perspective,” and, “The Justin
and Elisabeth Lang Collection of African Art.” It is possible to reflect
on the language assumed to present the highlights of
these extensive collection.
The distinction between the script I had
access to and the video itself is necessary and interesting as the text has been
modified to fit in a more compact format.
Thus, the access to these two documents reviews
an important stage in the curatorial process,
the one that builds a discourse
on the presentation of the works. In the video “The Justin and Elisabeth Lang
Collection of African Art,” images of art makers
and songs with artificially
selected rhythmic beats set the stage for the presentation of the collection.
The collection is limitedly
represented by some examples of objects subjected to categorizations.
From now on, let me introduce some
problematic excerpts from this script. Excerpt 1; As is the case in western
culture, African sculptures are created
within the recognizable limitations
of their own art traditions. Western culture or the idea of the West,
distinguished from a polarity with the rest
as explained by Stuart Hall in his
1992 ‘Essential Essay’ is often a vague
and stereotyped image just as
much as the marginalized cultures that are deemed to be called ‘primitive’. However, the idea of the West is related
here and we will be cited by many authors
as a hegemonic and standard setting place,
creating asymmetrical relations with the other.
As much as the excerpt, which
appears only in the scripts, strives to argue that recognizable
limitations exist not only in the traditions
from which African sculptures
originate, but also in Western culture, this is almost never said about Western art.
This happens because Western culture is based on
the idea of ‘civilization’: known to be the holder
of history and multiple knowledges
that does not recognize limits. The hegemonic thinking feeds on these
asymmetries in whose origin all sorts
of binarisms reasons can be found, such as the
Cartesian distinctions between body and mind, art and craft, form and content,
masterpiece and object.
When African works are moved to the other
side of the polarity inside museums, the contextualist and formalist
approaches to them compete for space.
This was especially true in the late 80s. Among the texts in the catalogue of heroic
figures of 1998 in an Agnes exhibition,
Nigerian philosopher, artist, and curator
Nkiru Nzegwu discusses these two approaches.
She explains that for contextualists,
information about the origin and customs that surround the piece are essential for
understanding it, while formalists believe
that information about the context
of a work suffocates the experience of aesthetic appreciation, simply
capturing the formal elements.
Although this discussion still
exists, the inseparability between both is increasingly recognizable.
Excerpt 2; experts can, in this way, often
identify the village from which a carving comes
or even the individual artists who produced it. After generally identifying the ways in which
artists receive their training on the continent,
mentioning apprenticeships and
the gender distinction that places men as major object producers, the text presents
in this excerpt the figure of the expert
who is capable to identify and categorize
productions based on a vast knowledge.
Such knowledge can reach as the text
states, even identify the identity of the individual who produced the piece.
In the ‘Visual Variations’ catalogue from
1987, the second exhibition featuring pieces
from the Lang Collection, creator Jacqueline
Fry writes a text that above all is sensitive and careful in dealing with the
works as well as the entire issue
of African arts in Western contexts. However, with regards to the authorship of the
works or other gaps and knowledge about them,
the text adopts a silencing posture. Although Fry consciously positions herself
in relation to these issues at the beginning
of the text, she seeks to accept limits of
interpretation, avoiding the lack of information
about the artist so that this does not
impede the objective of the exhibition to demonstrate all the inventiveness
of African sculpture.
Fry chooses to speak of visual variations
and the possibility, although obvious, that they are a sign of imagination.
By adopting the concept of visual variations,
Fry avoids potentially slippery points,
complicating understandings of
style as she draws a distinction between this concept and visual variations.
This conscious yet silence
posture avoids the problem of African productions displaced
from their context.
Excerpt 3; the sculptures made for
this purpose be seen as falling to five basic categories as follows:
Spiritual and ceremonial sculpture, devotionals
objects, devinational and magical objects,
power and status objects, and
decorated domestic objects. These categories also do appear
in the video and reflect the ways
in which African works are classified and
organized according to Western distinctions.
The Western scholar determined not only
an organization for the understanding of this vast heterogeneous production, but also
inevitably uses terms such as ‘magical’ and ‘power’,
conceptions of Western values that reflect in
translation, risking imprecision and ignorance
about relevant values within
the context of origin. In other books that I had access to in the Agnes
Library in African art such as “Art in Africa”
by Tibor Bodrogi and “African Art: Its
Background and Traditions” by Rene Wassing, both from 1968, use of problematic terms
is very evident such as “exotic” and “art
of simple people”, as well as
the affirmation of an opposition between Western art and African art.
In the case of Bidrogi’s
work, there’s also distinction between African art and prehistoric art.
In addition, the ruler of Western values
appears, in the author’s insistence, on giving great prominence to modern
art in order to speak of African pieces.
Even in books such as “African Art in
American Collections” by Robbins and Nooter, published in 1989 and therefore more
current than the first exhibitions
of the Lang Collection bring forth
retrograde conceptions of Africa. Although we are talking about
old books on African art,
many of these conceptions are crystallized
and outdated in museum archives, as is the case with the information we
still have about African works at Agnes.
In the registration of which piece there
is the use of inappropriate terms based
on Western conceptions, there are things
that cannot be arbitrarily translated because they relate to a very
specific African world view.
It is worth remembering that the reflection put
forward by Carolyn Dean in 2006 when thinking
of a supposed translation for the casual
term [foreign language] as being artist.
She asks, “What has been lost or
added or confused in the translation?” Excerpt 4; “it’s noteworthy
that division of labour by sex
in other crafts varied from region to region”. Another example, music was of equal
importance in these ceremonies.
The excerpts are written in the past tense. Sally Price’s “Primitive Arts in Civilized
Places” attends to temporality issues.
She cites William Rubin from 1984 for whom triple art expresses a collective
feeling rather than an individual one.
Primitive artists, according to this thought,
would be unthinking and undifferentiated beings.
Because of that, these peoples would
not experience historical changes. Africa and Oceanian peoples
would not have history or memory.
The history of primitive art
is written in the present, but it is chosen to portray
(Africa) in the past tense.
From Johannes Fabian’s “Time and the Other”
1983, we learnt that the social cultural nature
of certain conceptions of temporality as
opposed to the strictly chronological ones.
For Fabian, topological time is mostly
used in discussions of primitive art.
It contrasts with physical time. According to Sally Price,
Fabian’s analysis helps
to understand why the so-called primitive
art objects produced in the late 1980s
to the present moment are systematically
excluded from the Modern art category. To contrast Modern and primitive is to use a
temporal metaphor that distances two cultures
that are historically contemporary. Excerpt 5; among the devotional objects,
fertility figures are of particular interest.
Robert Swain, Director of Agnes Centre
in 1984 at the time of the acquisition of the Lang Collection, wrote a foreword
in the catalogue of ‘Visual Variations’.
‘This is not an exhibition of masterpieces’. According to Swain, the diversity of types of pieces offered a plantation
for exploring the visual form.
As in the excerpt from this
script, Swain’s speech indicates that there are selection criteria to determine
which works deserve to be highlighted,
whether for extensive reasons or the
supposed authenticity attributed to the piece for its proven use in a community
specific practices or for the provenance
of collections that give it a pedigree. These criteria exist and
belong to Western culture.
Sidney Kasfir, in her famous and controversial
text, “African Art and Authenticity: A Text with a Shadow” 1992, questions
the cloudiness of this judgment.
Who decides and how do
they assure the authenticity of an object?
Dr. Qanita Lilla, in the catalogue of “With
Opened Mouths,” pays attention to the history
of the (African) collection as something
more real than the exhibitions tell. tells the history of
objects that are not considered masterpieces,
that do not have a pedigree nor
claim to be authentic, story, Instead according to her (their story is) of trauma and imprisonment.
“The collection is a place where the
ancestors lie isolated, wrapped in plastic, stored for extended periods,
reinforcing the imperial taxonomies
of display in a suspended dream world. This dream world, according to the
creator, is the world of the unseen.”
As these cases studies have shown, working
with language can play a decisive role in transforming the way we
look at objects from Africa,
bringing the unseen to the world of the seen. The discussion about the use of
language and what it can reveal to us
about our own conceptions of the world is
very interesting and especially relevant for rethinking collections — for rethinking
collections, recording and creation practices
at Agnes Etherington Art Centre. In the records of works in the Lang collection,
attention is drawn to the imprecise terms
in which they are described, as well as
the many works that lack information. It is necessary if not to fill
in the gaps with information
to discuss this absence and misused terms. [ Applause ]
>> Thank you. Our next speaker is Professor Nomusa Makhubu
who is Associate Professor in Art History
and Deputy Dean of Transformation in the
Humanities at the University of Cape Town.
And she’s had many prestigious awards
and so she’ll be joining us now.
>> Hi. The joys of being short [brief laughter].
[ Music ]
[ Singing ]
Good morning. So you can move when the
music plays [brief laughter]. I trust you’re keeping well.
It’s been a thought-provoking past few
days, and I think one that has necessitated
that we rethink, reframe, you know,
or rethink our frame of mind at least.
But I think particularly, especially in
thinking about the transformative processes
of institutions in different parts of the world, but also particularly institutions
on the African continent.
Now, South Africa, of course is particularly
different, and I’ll talk about why.
Before I do that, I wanted to just quickly make
a reference to the song that you’ve just heard.
So that was Miriam Makeba and Harry
Belafonte in the song Wenyuk uMbombela.
uMbombela that they’re referring
to is a train, right?
It’s the trains that in South Africa were
constructed to move the labour from the areas
that were created for Black people, the
Bantustans, to the mines and back, right?
So it’s movement, it’s internal migration,
but also it’s contained migration.
But interestingly enough, the word uMbombela in
SiSwati also means a gathering in a small place.
And I wanted to begin with that song because
it reminded me of the image from the exhibition
With Opened Mouths where you have these gatherings
of the sculptures from the Lang Collection.
But of course, behind that you
have the sound of the ocean.
And of course, this enables me to begin to
think about the importance and significance
of movement of itinerancy and how we can begin
to think about the impact of particular types
of movement, but what movement should
mean for how we rethink museums today,
especially within the African continent. So I come into this conversation
from several entry points.
First, in my interest in
African art as social practice.
I run a platform called ‘itinerancy’, which facilitates dialogues
on African arts and social engagement. Second, in my interest in
And Qanita, you’d already mentioned
that I work as the Deputy Dean
of Transformation at the university. Prior to that, I was and still am a member of
the Black Academic Caucus at the university,
but also chairing the works of
art committee, which oversees and manages the university’s art collection.
So already being in some ways caught in these
conversations and discussions about what we do
with the collections that we have
— that we have in the institutions.
So part of these portfolios have been to address
the questions that all institutions are facing.
And that’s the question of
imperialist legacies, you know, through which those institutions are built.
But we expect that this question would
look different from the African continent.
You know, for us, of course, it’s
about once the return happens, what kinds of institutions do we build?
Do we simply just mimic the kinds
of museums that have always existed? But what kinds of institutional
cultures do we then also generate?
South Africa, of course, is different. For many African countries, the call
is for the restitution of objects.
For South Africa, it’s not necessarily that
there are objects that must, yes, of course, there may be some, in some
collections that must be returned to us,
but that South Africa itself has to return
collections from other African countries.
So we stand in the position of colonized
and colonizer, which is a quandary.
And so for me, this question has
always necessitated a need to attend
to spatial politics,
especially in South Africa. You know, so you know, whenever one encounters
the museums, and I think I’m really grateful
to Qanita for having given
us the chance and opportunity to really feel and be with the Lang Collection.
And in my mind, I keep thinking,
what happens when we close our eyes, when we no longer have something
to see, and we hear it?
What are the journeys that we
might learn from listening? Because you walk into the vault and you’re
confronted with a very heavy silence.
But then also the minute you start to
close your eyes, you start to realize that there’s a cacophony of sounds.
But of course, museums are constructed
with this, not just with the idea
of this missing silent sound but also of course,
they are a particular representation
of geography. This we all know, right? It’s about the compression of time and space.
But also often the way that they displayed
are based on a particular kind of or at least
on the basis of geographical taxonomies. So in many cases, when we look at these
objects, we may not know who the maker is.
We may speculate on the provenance; we may
think about the people who collected the object.
But we are almost always
certain of the region objects — of the regions to which the
objects can be traced.
And sometimes we do that, you know,
because of stylistic aesthetics and so on.
But also of course the entry of these
objects into personal collections.
So with these objects, of course we are
confronted with a kind of resounding
of skewed geographies, but also particularly
the unfinished and suspended journeys.
These objects always mark places
that will never exist again. I’m reminded here of the adage that you
can never step in the same river twice
because it always changes so rapidly that it’s completely a different
constituency the second time you step in it.
And it makes me feel in some ways
that there is this experience
that African art collections
are these mournful spaces.
We’re mourning geographies
that will never exist again and we’re mourning spaces
that we can never recuperate.
But there’s also something hopeful in that
experience in the possibilities of the pathways
that we should be seeking to create. But when one thinks about those journeys, and
particularly collecting, collecting in my view
as a kind of journaling of the collector’s
travels, and in many cases, it is about,
you know, not just possessing the
object, it’s about possessing place. So if you think about collectors in those days,
it wasn’t just that I have this
particular sculpture, but look, I have been there, I have been to that place.
So for me then, any meaningful
talk of decolonization has to take very seriously the
question of space and territory.
I am reminded here of the way that
Henri Lefebvre put it, and he says,
“Any revolutionary project,
whether utopian or realistic must,
if it is to avoid hopeless banality, make the
re-appropriation of the body in association
with the re-appropriation of space into
a non-negotiable part of its agenda.”
It makes sense therefore to
consider a peripatetic approach through which we recall the nomadic
wandering itinerant lives of objects
and the people from whom they were taken. Whatever our curatorial result,
it would seem to me
that to hear these resounding would
necessitate movement of the unsettled,
restless in transit beings we encounter
in the carceral geographies of museums.
So this presentation is arranged
in the sense of three vignettes.
They’re not necessarily related. They are about different locations. But again, this is an exploratory
discussion of the personal experience of some
of the collections that we’ve
encountered in South African museums. But again, also the encounter
with the Lang Collection.
So I start with the first one. [ Music ]
Okay. So many of you may be familiar with this
phrase, ‘Doctor Livingstone, I presume’?
You might have of course
seen it in multiple movies. And I don’t — I think there is a questioning
of whether the statement was actually made,
was actually journaled in Henry
Morton Stanley’s journeys to the Congo
under the instruction of King Leopold. And of course, we know of the kind
of violence that journey represented.
But I won’t necessarily go into that detail. Of course, the music here is to begin to
think about particular types of journeys.
So let’s imagine this, it’s 1942. The artist Irma Stern sets
out to travel to the Congo.
While there she acquires mats, figurines, masks.
Well, of course, during this period,
she also travels to Dakar, to Zanzibar.
She gets doors, window frames that become
part of her paintings, but of course,
become part of her personal collection. And today all of these objects that
she’s collected are now housed in a house
that she bought in 1927, in a house
that today is referred to as The Firs. And it’s in Rondebosch in Cape Town.
And of course, you know, this was, of course,
this was the question we were faced with,
what do we do with the West African
works that are sitting in South Africa? Because we now are like Western museums who
are sitting with West African collections.
But if you take, of course, if you start
to think about, I mean, you know, I mean, obviously there’s not enough time to do this.
If you start to think about the individual
journeys of all of those objects and the way
that they trace Irma Stern’s own movement,
take for example, the Luba Caryatid stool prior
to its journey to Rondebosch in South Africa, the stool would’ve been used
during inaugurations of chiefs.
But also one begins to realise
that it’s also part of a not
yet heard of social life and journeys. Irma Stern, like many Europeans in the 1930s
and 1960s would’ve travelled and perhaps
to quote LaNitra Berger, Stern’s
travels represented a period
of South African internationalism that began
to decline with apartheid introduction in 1948.
The South African audience was curious
and interested in other African cultures, perhaps as a confirmation that
White supremacy was an effective way
to maintain a high standard of living. It also would reflect that as
a period of accumulation of African objects
from other African countries
by White South Africans. It cemented a particular kind of ethnic
separatism that was also taking shape
in South African, particularly the social
engineering, the spatial engineering
of apartheid in which people
were then separated by race. Similar kinds of logic that we see in the way
that museums are, but also when you think,
when we start to zoom out of the museum
as a space itself, we begin to realize
that the location of museums in South
Africa, were in spaces that were meant
to create particular types of settler publics
of a growing middle class, bourgeoisie that then
of course would have these cultural
objects, but the idea of being in the world all at the same time.
So in many ways, African collections in South
Africa have a similar kind of dislocatedness
as in European and American museums. And we were faced with this question
about access, because of course,
when in 2015 the ‘Rhodes Must Fall’ movement
started, the question was, you know, ‘How do we provide access, because we have
these public places that cannot be accessed.’
What apartheid special planning did was to
separate people, but also to take them very far
from the city centres, but
also very far from the museums. So how do you take museums to people?
Because obviously the bigger goal is to
change that kind of spatial planning. And you need, you know, leaders with serious
vision [brief laughter] for that kind of work.
But it didn’t actually make sense, you know? So when we realized, oh my goodness,
but we are taking these works
to their so-called communities, these communities would have no
resonance with any of these objects.
And I remember someone in the group saying,
oh, but maybe we then have to appeal to the migrant communities from
West Africa who are in Cape Town.
And again, you know, very problematic way
of thinking because even in Cape Town, there isn’t a homogenous migrant community,
West African migrant community
that one can so easily refer to. And I mean, one begins — and again, I
mean, one can begin to see, you know,
I think something that Qanita you also
mentioned the particular crucial nature
of understanding the way that space works,
but also again, the ironies that are embedded
in the trans-location of European publics onto
African landscapes and what that has meant
for the people who were there,
who occupied those places before, and perhaps in more nomadic senses
than we often make it out to be.
So you know, there is this
bizarre disconnect and estrangement
with African art collections
that necessitates movement. And if you think about the works in the
Irma Stern Collection by remaining captive
in the house, in the museum,
the more they recede
from public life and from the social imaginary. Okay, I’m going to go to the next vignette.
And I’ll try and wrap up everything because I
also realize that I might go a little over time.
Second vignette. [ Musical Instruments Playing ]
>> There’s a train that comes
from Namibia and Malawi. There’s a train that comes
from Zambia and Zimbabwe.
There’s a train that comes
from Angola and Mozambique. From Lesotho, from Botswana, from Swaziland,
from all the hinterlands of
Southern and Central Africa. This train carries young and old African men
who are conscripted to come and work on contract
in the golden mineral mines of
Johannesburg and its surrounding Metropoli.
Sixteen hours or more a day for almost no pay. Deep, deep, deep down in that belly of the
earth when they are digging and drilling
for that shiny, mighty evasive stone, or
when they dish that mishmash mash food into their iron plates with the iron shackle.
Or when they sit in their stinky, funky,
filthy flea-ridden barracks and hostels,
they think about the loved
ones they may never see again, because they might already have been forcibly
removed from where they last left them,
or wantonly murdered in the dead of
night by roving and marauding gangs of no particular origin, we are told.
They think about their lands and their herds
that were taken away from them with the gun and the bomb and the tear gas,
and the gatling and the cannon.
Now, when they hear that choo-choo train,
[inaudible], and smoking them, and pushing them
and popping them, the crying and the
scheming and [inaudible] and woo, woo. >> Okay, that is Hugh Masekela.
Okay. Very popular now [brief
laughter] revival of Hugh Masekela, but of course he’s referring
to, again, the train,
which was part of the migrant
labour system in South Africa. And you’ll remember Cecil
John Rhodes, of course,
planned to create the railway all the way from
Cape to Cairo in order not only to move bodies
and labour but also of course
to move mineral resources.
But of course, Hugh Masekela enables me
now to think about different types — a different type of movement or different
types of journeys, not just of course
of the European settler collector,
but the Africans themselves.
But also particularly on the question of labour. Now, the other thing that one
encounters, whenever you, you know,
one experiences whenever you encounter
African art collections is also,
is again, the silence around labour. Again, as I mentioned earlier, sometimes
we not know — we may not know the maker,
but the question about who laboured is
also almost always a silent question.
But one of course that is very crucial and
necessary to positioning labour sits centrally
in the usurping of space and
territory and the exercise of power. And in many ways, you know,
African art collections almost seem
to be displayed in ways that labour is eclipsed. Now, I want to think about
the journey of one artist.
And again, there are many, but
particularly Ernest Mancoba, who in 1938 leave South Africa to go to France.
Part of Ernest Mancoba’s work and of course,
you know, he stays there for a long time,
starts a family there, becomes part of CoBrA. I’ve sat in conference presentations where
there are people who can talk about CoBrA
and say absolutely nothing about the labour
that Ernest Mancoba contributed to CoBrA.
But a part of a series of works by Ernest
Mancoba depict the Kota reliquary figures.
Now, of course, a very curious addition because Kota reliquary figures
would have never been something
that is used in South Africa particularly. So it’s a particular kind of
frame of reference that comes
up in his experience with European modernism. And, but they, you know, his exploration
of Kota reliquary figures is
also particularly interesting. So not only is he dealing with the
representation of this sculptural object,
but it also starts to dissipate into marks. It you know, almost starts to become invisible.
You yourself, as a viewer have to start to make
up that shape of the Kota reliquary figure.
But also you begin to think about what this
kind of reference to particular notions
of Africanness in relation to West African
sculptures might have meant for the formation
of modern art and particularly
African artists like Gerard Sekoto.
So post-independence and what Chika Okeke-Agulu
refers to as post-colonial modernism,
something that actually may be better defined
as neo-colonial modernism relied on the idea of these kinds of works and these
kinds of collections as reference
for formulating what it meant
to be modern and African. But remember, there was also a time of complete
overhaul of our understanding of geography,
because this is when the idea of
nations had to be formulated a new.
So they’re very, you know,
shifting from those ideas of tribes to the formulation of modern nation states.
But for someone like Ernest Mancoba, of
course it becomes particularly interesting
to have this insertion, this travelling of the
Kota reliquary figure into this kind and it —
or rather travelling across time and into
this kind of reincarnation of modern art.
Now, something that’s interesting about the
Kota reliquary figure is that of course, it also speaks to the passing on of
knowledge from one generation to another.
It is about — it’s something
that would be placed on a basket in respect of family members and ancestors. But again, I mean, I think it’s particularly
interesting because as much as we can talk
about the disconnect in South Africa
with those particular collections, it’s interesting that many of the
South African artists, Ernest Mancoba,
but even Gerard Sekoto would have
worked with a sort of broader notion of what African art actually meant,
but developing it as modern art.
Now, again, one can go on for much longer about
this particular vignette, but I’ll stop here for the interest of time and move
to the next one, third vignette.
We are almost there. [ Music ]
Okay. So this is [inaudible] it says, we —
the lyrics say we will leave the township.
And I started to think about what
kind of geography this might be, especially when we start to think
about, of course, the museum.
In South Africa, we can’t avoid it because
whenever you start to talk about excess, it’s about when and whenever we
start to talk about communities,
it’s about black townships specifically. And the reason for that, I’ve already
stated and of course this song says,
we will leave the township, but I, you
know, one starts to actually realize that museums themselves also have
— they’re internal townships.
And so how do we transcend
those internal townships, those black townships, the
ghettos within museums.
This particular vignette is not necessarily
about the museum or the collection at all,
but I want to kind of think about broader. So if these objects are to travel, if these
museums are to open, what are the kinds
of terrains we might be encountering? What are the kinds of public
spheres we might be encountering?
One of the projects that I’m currently working on at the moment is based
on an area called Evaton.
Now, Evaton is particularly interesting
because it wasn’t actually established by the apartheid government in the
1950s following The Group Areas Act.
It’s actually, it’s a miracle,
in fact, because in — most of the plots in Evaton were
purchased by Black land owners in 1902.
This is something we were
talking about yesterday. Now, if you can imagine in the
1800s, this would’ve been the time
when the Dutch descendants, who today
of course, we refer to as Afrikaners,
would have travelled northwards into the
country and would’ve settled in this area.
So in the 1800s, this area
belonged to Afrikaner owners.
But given the Anglo-Boer War those
Afrikaner owners, and I think at the end
of the Anglo-Boer War, towards the end of the
Anglo-Boer War in 1902 those owners, of course,
then sold it to two British colonels. But again, because at the end of the
war, there were not many resources,
Britain also did not want to
spend money sending resources to,
you know, to you know, following the war. So those two British colonels then
decided to sell it to black landowners.
And but at the time, of course, it was very
difficult for Black people to own land.
You couldn’t own land in your own name. You had to buy it in trust,
which means that you,
even if you bought it yourself you would
have to have it signed off by a White person.
But in that year, 1904, well in those years,
1904, 1905, one case was won which showed
that actually there is no legislative basis upon
which they can say Black people can’t own land.
So luckily at that point, Black
people bought large tracts of land
and could become independent
in that particular area. Now, by 1905, the African American missionaries,
African what is it, the AME church bought land
in Evaton in South Africa, and of
course, established institutions like Wilberforce College,
which was of course named
after Wilberforce here in the United States. So you have, of course, these very
interesting transatlantic journeys
that we actually don’t expect, might have
also created the kinds of geographies into which we imagine the movement
of these objects will take place.
Now, of course, by 1913, South Africa
passed the Land Act, which meant that most
of the arable land, in fact, 90% of the
arable land would be given to White owners,
and the Black majority would be
contained within 10% of that land.
And so over time, of course, the, you know,
Evaton became very you know, cosmopolitan space
with Black and White land owners’ kind of
non-racial space, if one can call it that. But only by the 1950s, their apartheid
government started moving White people
to different parts of Evaton,
but eventually outside of Evaton
but also forcibly removed other
people where the White areas were, where areas were declared White into Evaton.
So today, Evaton, of course, represents that
kind of history, but also the hidden layers
into which — into the kinds of
terrains that we’re talking about. There is not a single museum in Evaton.
And the recent project that we did was
about talking about what, you know,
what kinds of representation
of heritage should be — should we be exploring within spaces like
black townships, but also particularly spaces
that may be seen as black townships,
as black townships that were formulated in the 1950s were very small little
places really just to house the labour
that would then service White South Africa. Whereas Evaton, of course,
differs significantly from this.
And of course, in the latter years, Evaton,
becomes really just sort of the centre
of the politics, the bus
boycotts, the rent boycotts. But again, I think also that happens because
by the 60s and 70s it became a sore point.
So they began systematically dispossessing
people of their land by raising rent,
but also creating things like
permits that people had to pay for.
And then forcing them into
a kind of municipalization, which meant that either they
sacrifice part of that land
or they don’t get any sort
of municipal services. But I mean, again, although this
particular vignette has nothing to do
with actual objects not that it doesn’t
have anything to do with actual objects, but it allows us to begin to think
about how problematic these spaces are.
And again, what are the broader unseen museums
and heritages of apartheid and colonialism?
So the place or places themselves
become artifice and artifacts.
And so the study of museums and decolonization
of museums and our curatorial practice can’t
but engage in this, in the kind of
spatial sacrifices that are facing us.
So these scenarios are kinds of hypothesis, and
again, as I said, very exploratory on my part,
but they reflect multiple journeys
within countries like South Africa within the African continent,
but also beyond it.
Itinerancy and the historical and habitual
restlessness of objects and people may enable us
to carve untrodden pathways in the framing of
institutions and the publics that they inhabit.
So taking curatorial itinerancy as a practice
of mobility, fluidity, and the restless quest
for social engagement and justice, these
reflections traverse across time to speculate
on what it may mean to humanize
classical African art collections. So what do we mean when we
begin to particularize in terms,
when we talk about communities, when
we particularize, what are the terrains that we’re actually talking about?
And, you know, does that actually, you know,
we would, and in many ways we would need
to begin to undo those geographies first. So while many African art collections
signified disposition, displacement
and capture, there is continued movement. Their transatlantic journeys, their
dissociation from everyday life and the pursuit
of their reintegration beyond
institutional and national boundaries to precarious and often uneven publics.
And again, I mean this is a kind of
contrast to the kind of immobile and slow to transform institutions which would
require for us to develop modes of generating
and disseminating knowledge
through nomadic approaches. And in contrast to the permanence
and hubris that is displayed
in the domineering architecture of
imperial and colonial institutions.
And in this way, we begin
to think about knowledge as much more fluid, social and relational.
And to think about it as a kind of
epistemic justice that needs to be pursued,
which would involve the recognition of
multiple sites in which knowledge is generated and exchanged, it would necessitate
moving between boundaries
and reclaiming the collective right to space. And in some ways, you know, it’s
reminiscent of the Zulu saying
that “ukuhamba kuwukubona,”
to move, to travel is to see.
But it also means that to
learn one must make a journey, and it feels as if we’ve suspended these
journeys in terms of the collections.
And so and movement is transformative
since it potentiates new encounters.
And so you know, if we begin to think of
our own curatorial practices or ourselves
as curatorial practitioners and think
of ourselves as pedagogical nomads
in this way we begin to transgress
multiple forms of social boundaries. And even from the, you know, from, even in
terms of class, not just race and gender.
This would mean that curatorial practice
also becomes more responsive to the change
in conditions within which senses of community
could be created, which are also responding
to the geopolitics of colonialism
and subsequent national independence.
Therefore, even the way that we think
about the geographical scale of community
which could specify sometimes local community
of practice, but could also be extended to refer to, for example, the diaspora,
national and global political
communities of transatlantic —
— Pan-Africanist kind of understanding and also
the acknowledgement that there are communities
that are constantly being created
and exchanges and trans, you know, transforming and changing communities.
So again, I mean, I think one of the ideas
that I lean on when I talk about the importance
of itinerancy in our curatorial practices,
I lean on an idea by Emeka Okereke,
he calls it kinopolitics,
which is the social politics of movement, the word kinetic and politics.
But it’s the social politics of movement
within countries and across their borders which of course he defines as I am, where I
think and in this way one can begin to think
about a sense of transness as
a central part of our practice.
Not just transness in terms of
transformation, but also the transit.
And as I said, many of these
objects are like in transit objects, but also a kind of temporariness that we
have to accept being transitory as well.
So yeah, so thank you. I mean, this I think brings me to the end of
my talk, but again when one thinks about being
in the uMbombela, one wants to not necessarily
be in the train that was constructed
to move labour, but one wants to
be in the gathering that allows us
to understand transitory or
transness or trans communities. Thank you so much. [ Applause ]
>> Thank you so much, Nomusa. It was really emotional hearing
all that South Africa music. Thank you so much for bringing that to us.
So our next and final speaker, Juliana
Bevilacqua is an assistant professor
and Queen’s National Scholar in
art and visual culture of Africa and Africa diaspora at Queens University.
She’s worked as a research and curator at the
Museu Afro Brasil in San Paulo for 10 years,
and she’s done extensive curatorial and research
work in different museums in Brazil to explore
and share African art and
Afro Brazilian collections. She’s also published extensively
and has a new book out.
So let us welcome Juliana. [ Applause ]
>> Hello everyone. I hope you are not so tired, [brief laughter]. I would like to congratulate Agnes for
this great initiative and also I would
like to thank Qanita for inviting me.
In 2011, the Sao Paulo based Afro Brazil Museum
organized an international conference on museums
and African art, which gathered
curators and scholars from Brazil,
the United States, Mali and Senegal. During a visit to the museum exhibition
rooms, it was possible to notice part
of the American participants embarrassed when
they came across the African art collection.
Only recently I understood that
discomfort probably has different reasons,
but the main one seems to be related
to the fact that most of the works
in that museum were not canonical. The way the works were displayed
contributed to this perception.
Instead of exploring the particularities of
its own collection, the museum visibly tried
to reproduce similar display strategies used in
museums from the north, which were emphasized
by the use of labels with general information that could easily approach works
from different collections.
More than 10 years after that episode,
I would like to bring some thoughts
on how non-canonical collections, but with deep
meanings for their communities could contribute
to the discussion on the colonizing
African art in museum collections.
The history of African art collections
in Brazil, like in most museums,
is initially connected to European modern art.
The art dealer, Ladislas Segy, owner
of the Segy Gallery, opened in New York
in 1950 was an important figure in the initial
formation of some of those collections.
Segy was married to a Brazilian woman from a
rich family and had wide access to collectors
and institutions like the Museum of Archaeology
and Ethnology of the University of Sao Paulo.
Segy gave lectures on primitive art at
the Museum of Modern Art of Rio de Janeiro
in the mid-1950s, reinforcing the connections
between African art and European modern art.
It’s not by chance that Pietro Maria Bardi,
one of the creators of the Museum of Art
of Sao Paulo MASP, for example,
exchanged letters with Segy in 1958
to buy an African art collection for the museum. A deal that did not happen for unknown reasons.
As director of a museum well known for
its European modern art collection,
Bardi was clearly interested in the
relationship between modern European artists
and African masks and sculptures. The relationship between African
art and European modern art
in Brazil, however, did not last long. The 1960 researchers of the African culture in
Brazil, most of them initiated in Candomblé,
an Afro Brazilian religion with Yoruba
origin, based on the [inaudible],
it started to become actively involved in the
creation of the African study centres in Brazil
and African art collections in
museums contributing to a major change
in the profile of those collections. Rather than focus on connections with European
art, African art works were acquired in order
to reinforce the African ancestry of
the Brazilian people through Candomblé.
It’s not a coincidence that the majority of
African art collections in Brazil are formed
by works from the Benin Bay region,
notably from the Yoruba peoples indirectly
or indirect linked to the Candomblé religion. This change was quickly noticed by the
dealer Ladislas Segy who began to offer
to his Brazilian clients, works
exclusively made by Yoruba peoples.
While in New York, he continued exploring
African works from different parts
of the continent and as primitive art. My research on Ladislas Segy work in in Brazil,
that was possible thanks to a University
of Sao Paulo grant in 2017,
showed that Segy was aware
about the specific interest
in Yoruba sculptures. He bought books about Yoruba art
and travelled to Salvador Bahia,
the city in the northeast Brazil, famous for
its Candomblé house and Afro Brazilian culture.
Pierre Verger, a French photographer
who moved to Brazil in 1946,
was probably the most prominent
figure in the process of building collections linked to Candomblé.
After travelling to Benin as a photographer,
Verger realized that Brazil, especially the city
of Salvador and countries
like Benin and Nigeria, had many cultural and religious similarities.
His experience on both sides of the
Atlantic Ocean was the start point
for his [inaudible] research on the ebb
and flow of slaves between Benin Bay
and Bahia is still a seminar
work in Afro Brazilian studies.
Besides his work as a photographer, Verger
was involved in the creation of the Centre
for African Studies at the Federal University
of Bahia in 1959, and in the creation
of the Afro Brazilian Museum in
Salvador in 1944 — 19, sorry, ’74.
He also play a decisive role in the formation
of African art collections at the Museum
of Archaeology and Ethnology of the University
of Sao Paulo, and indirectly in the collection
of the Afro Brazil Museum in Sao Paulo. Since its founder and creator Emanoel
Araújo is a Candomblé member
and was a close friend of Verger. The notion of collecting based on African
ancestry, reinforcing the historical ties
and connections with specific African regions
influenced how Brazilian museums changed the
notion of authenticity. The fact that the works originated from
Africa was enough to consider them authentic.
The example of Afro Brazilian Museum
at the Federal University of Bahia,
is quite significant to understand
the particularities of the African art collections in Brazil.
When Pierre Verger travelled to Benin
the middle of the 1970s to acquire works
for that recent founded museum he did not
prioritize works used in ceremonies and rituals.
Instead, he commissioned
works from local sculptors. His acquisitions in Nigeria mixed sculptors
made by local sculptors, and those purchased
in the markets of Oyo, Ibadan and Ede. Although those works had not previously
used in ceremonies and rituals,
the alters of the objects were
extensively documented by Verger,
something rare in museums,
African collections everywhere.
During his many research travels between
Africa and Brazil, Verger also worked
as a mediator taking and bringing objects to
be used in ceremonies in some Candomblé house
in Bahia, something that actually has
been happening since the 19th century
through other key Candomblé
figures and dealers. Despite of being bought in markets
or commissioned from sculptors,
those objects gain new functions
and meanings while being used
and collected by Candomblé house and priests. Some of those works eventually found
their way into museum collections.
The relationship between the Brazilian audience
and African art is also aligned with an idea
of ancestry through Candomblé religion and can
be exemplified by the image of an installation
at Afro Brazil Museum in Sao Paulo,
composed of a set of [foreign language],
one of the most symbols of the Orisha Shango.
The display is clearly an interpretation
of an installation dedicated to Shango
at the famous Candomblé house Casa
Branca in the city of Salvador.
As soon as the installation was open in Sao
Paulo, the audience began to offer gifts
and coins, a practice that still happens
inside Candomblé house and on the streets.
Here we can see some, I hope you
can see some gifts and coins.
This example reveals that the symbolic
meanings carried by these objects remained even
after they have been taken to museums
going far beyond an aesthetic [inaudible].
The recent inclusion of works
from other African regions
in some museum collections is still follow
the same criteria, excluding, for example,
the traditional notion of authenticity. The reason for that cannot be
explained exclusively by the lack
of funding an issue faced by most
Brazilian institutions or by the fragility
of the African art field in that country. The few canonical African art collections
in Brazil have never been privileged
in exhibitions or publications.
Part of the African art collection of the
National Museum in Rio de Janeiro, for instance,
was formed through an extinct, sorry, agreement with the Ethnological
Museum of Berlin, the 1920s.
However, it was not fully studied
by Brazilian scholars, curators,
and audience before its destruction
in the 2018 fire.
In 1988, the Museum of Art of Sao
Paulo MASP organized an exhibition,
African Negra Black Africa,
to celebrate the centennial of the abolition of the slavery in Brazil.
The show created by Pierre Verger and
the Italian architect based in Brazil,
Lina Bo Bardi gather four
economical art African artworks
from the Musée de l’Orangerie in France. Verger and Bardi did not hesitate to include
in that same exhibition, 50 Yoruba sculptures
from Brazilian private collectors,
some of them Candomblé members.
Both curators did not create any
hierarchies between the works
from French and Brazilian collections. Curiously, the exhibition design
was a clear reference to xirê,
a cycle where Candomblé members
dance possessed by Orishas.
Despite the inclusion of works from African
societies unrelated to the Orishas religion,
the exhibition Africa Negra and the
installation at Afro Brazil Museum seemed
to be an exception in the Brazilian context. Apparently, museums in Brazil have
difficulty in recognize the specificities
of their African art collections. At the same time that exhibition
criteria are not the same as those
of museums from North America and Europe. Sorry, I have a picture of xirê.
The ways of displaying them and addressing them and labels still use those
institutions as their main reference.
Despite the particular stories and unique
life cycles behind many African works
in Brazilian collections,
they are usually displayed without highlighting their rich particularities.
What led us to understand the
reaction of part of the group that visit the Afro Brazil Museum in 2011.
What would happen if that
same group had a chance to see the Shango installation
and the audience reaction?
What would happen if the participants knew
the history of that African art collection?
I don’t think the reaction would be the same. The history of African art
in Brazil may help us rethink
and problematize categories
that we regard as universal.
Maybe this is the right time to include
collections from the global soul in the discussion about museum, the colonization
and the legacy of colonial practices.
It’s an important opportunity to
reexamine the stories being told
about African art collections. It’s time to bring out of the museum storage
those objects that might challenge the canal
and that are present or hidden in almost every
European or North American museum as well.
What stories might be behind those
objects until today overlooked
by most curators and scholars everywhere. Thank you.
[ Applause ]
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