This page is a record of an exhibit that took place
in 2002. The individual links below will take you to
the CURRENT VERSION of the pages
that formed part of that exhibit.
"African Metalworks" focuses on the impressive and diverse ways metal was forged, cast, hammered and embellished in traditional African sculpture and artifacts. The exhibition is arranged in groupings of related works, emphasizing the strength and variety inherent in the metal work from each tribe. Forged iron pieces include selected groups of Fon royal staffs, Yoruba osanyin healing staffs, Dogon multiple lamp structures and Bamana figures. Cast pieces in bronze or brass range from Benin figures, reliefs, bells and royal leopards, Dogon equestrian figures, Yoruba edan figures, Cameroon bracelets and pipes to small Ashanti goldweights, all made by the one-of-a-kind lost-wax process.
There are also displays of large Turumba, Bangala and Kuba currency pieces, bracelets, anklets, Ethiopian crosses, Taureg necklaces, pendants and more. Works that incorporate both metal and wood include plated Bakota and Mahongwe reliquary guardians, Malinke and Bamana masks, Yoruba orisha oka staffs, knives, spears, axes, tools and Bakongo nail fetishes. The pieces served ritual or functional purposes and played important roles in their communities, making this a spiritual as well as a beautiful show. Using metal required great technical skill, displaying a strong love for the material and a desire for objects of permanence. The patina of age and use embellish these creations with unusual power.
BENIN, Bronze Heads
The extraordinary bronzes of the Benin kingdom in what is now Nigeria exhibit a virtuosity and sophistication of style that has astonished the Western world since they were visited in the 15th Century. Their work was brought to Europe following a punitive expedition by the British in 1897, causing a great sensation. The people of Benin, called Bini, are descended from the Ife, also known for their remarkable bronzes. Almost all Benin art was created to honor the king , or Oba, who has reigned, with his ancestors, from the 15th century. Styles have changed over the years. Although similar to many older works, these are all 20th C. pieces. Each is still sculpted by hand, then cast in bronze by the lost wax process. Heads that do not depict the king show members of his court or the Queen.
BENIN, Cast objects, Nigeria
The varied objects on this page include two altar posts, each of which is fitted in the middle of two halves. There are three pieces that were placed on ancestral altars and two ceremonial swords, as seen held by the Oba on many figures and plaques. The cocks were placed on altars honoring past queen mothers.
BENIN, Bronze Leopards
Bronze Leopards, a royal icon, were often used as royal water vessels. Water was poured from the mouth over the Oba's hands in cleansing rituals. They were kept on royal altars. All stand without bases. Many have minor holes, casting flaws.
BENIN, Bronze Figures
Bronze pieces from the Benin kingdom are known the world over. Almost all their art was created to honor the king , or Oba, who has reigned, with his ancestors, from the 15th century. Styles have changed over the years. Although similar to many older works, these are all 20th C. pieces. Each is still sculpted by hand, then cast in bronze by the lost wax process. Figures that do not depict the king show members of his court
BENIN, Bronze Plaques
Almost all Benin art was created to honor the king , or Oba, who has reigned, with his ancestors, from the 15th century. Styles have changed over the years. Although similar to many older works, these are all 20th C. pieces. Each is still sculpted by hand, then cast in bronze (or other copper alloys) by the lost wax process.The plaques were mounted on the walls of the Oba's Palace and record the history of the Benin kingdom. Most depict the king or warrior chiefs.
In conjunction with the recent show "The Artistry of African Currency" at the Smithsonian's National Museum of African Art, we are displaying examples of many types of 19th-20th C. metal currencies, including weapons, tools, musical instruments and jewelry used for barter and forms created to look like these objects. This is an elegant, historic collection of work.
Functional gongs struck by wood sticks, these iron forms also often functioned as ritual objects or currency.
MOSSI, Heads, Burkina Faso
The Mossi, better known for their wood figures, posts, doors, dolls and headdresses, also cast these elegant brass heads depicting and honoring ancestors.
KUBA, Knives, Axes, Spears and Currency, Dem. Rep. Congo
Knives, axes, currency blades and spears, all made of forged iron, attest to the skills in metal of the Kuba and related peoples of central Africa. Most exhibit an inventive variety of form and workmanship far beyond what was functionally necessary. Specialists in the field will identify these pieces much more specifically.
Ethiopia has been a Christian nation since the 4th C. and the silver crosses take three major forms. Those with hollow round bases were mounted on staffs and carried during processionals or displayed on altars. Medium-size crosses with no bases were hand carried during services. Small pendant neck crosses were worn by Christians originally because of a 15th C. decree.
YORUBA, Osanyin Staffs, Nigeria
These iron staffs, surmounted by birds and dedicated to Osanyin, deity of herbal medicine, promoted healing and discouraged witchcraft. The birds hobor the powers of elderly women, who could transform themselves into birds, to gain their support in the healing. The staffs were placed in the ground next to the ailing person.
BAMANA, Marka Masks, Mali
These metal covered masks are some of many different types associated with different Bamana (or Bambara) men's groups, which include Kore, Ndomo, Komo, Kono and Jo, Styles vary by region plus there are also similar masks from the Marka, Malinke and Bozo peoples living in the same area.
BOZO, Masks, Mali
These large colorful masks are assembled from several pieces of wood, carved, then decorated with paint, scraps of metal and fabric. They were sometimes displayed on boat prows, since the Bozo fish on the Niger River. They are neighbors to the Bamana and Marka who also make masks covered in metal.