Genesis: Ideas of Origin in African Sculpture

November 19, 2002–July 6, 2003

The Importance of a Family's Origins

Finally, the importance of a family's origins was represented through works by Baga, Bwa, Kurumba, Mossi, Fang, Bwende, Tabwa, Hemba, and Boyo sculptors. The sculpted and graphically articulated masks of the Bwa from Burkina Faso feature the buffalo, butterfly, serpent—emblematic animal forms that relate to family founding myths—and abstract plank designs (private collection). In central Africa, preserving knowledge about a clan's original ancestors takes the form of highly idealized humanistic representations, such as the regal, serenely composed, full-bodied portraits of Hemba ancestor figures from present-day Democratic Republic of the Congo (private collection). The leaders who own such works use them to situate themselves within a carefully drawn-up genealogical tree that connects them to larger-than-life progenitors who exist at the boundary between history and myth.