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Genesis

Ideas of Origin in African Sculpture

November 19, 2002–July 6, 2003

Accompanied by a catalogue

How did the world begin? What is our ancestry? What is the source of agriculture and of kingship, and other societal institutions? African cultures seek to provide answers to these questions through elaborate interwoven traditions of oral history, poetry, and art. Genesis: Ideas of Origin in African Sculpture explores how artists in seventeen distinct African cultures have interpreted these ideas and sought to answer these questions. Within that framework, the exhibition explores in depth the nuanced complexity of one noteworthy classical sculptural form, the ci wara antelope headdress of the Bamana people. The exhibition includes forty exceptional ci wara headdresses, as well as thirty-five noted masterpieces from across sub-Saharan Africa inspired by distinctive myths of origin ranging from the Dogon of Mali, the Senufo of Côte d’Ivoire, and the Yoruba of Nigeria to the Luba and Kuba of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the Chokwe of Angola, and the Ntwane of South Africa.

Genesis: Ideas of Origin in African Sculpture seeks to shed light on the act of human creation as a broad and recurrent theme of African art. While the works of African art included relate to a panoply of social perspectives and traditions, they all reflect a desire to give tangible form to the abstract forces that have shaped the course of human experience. The works of art chosen constitute points of reference that allow individuals to conceive of their place within an expansive history. The artists who executed them have responded to their society's most exalted challenge and in doing so provide insight into their distinctive worldview.

On March 7, 2003, in conjunction with the exhibition, Dr. Ian Tattersall presented a lecture entitled "Africa: Contintent of Origins." Read a transcript (PDF) of the lecture.