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Genesis: Ideas of Origin in African Sculpture

November 19, 2002–July 6, 2003

The Foundations of Important Central African Pre-Colonial Kingdoms

A grouping of Kuba, Luba, and Chokwe works considered the foundations of important central African pre-colonial kingdoms in the present-day Democratic Republic of the Congo and Angola. Historically, artists in Kuba and Luba societies created works for their respective royal patrons that were viewed as elements of larger visual ensembles designed to invoke the origins of their civilizations. The Kuba culture hero, Woot, considered the first human, is recalled through a type of mask form that may be worn by the king in performances at the court. This and two other royal mask types featured in the exhibition are enhanced with lavish appliqués of costly prestige materials—including copper sheeting, cowrie shells, and beads—obtained through regional trade networks. At the time of a Luba king's investiture, royal insignia are bestowed upon him as critical emblems of his authority, as was originally done for the first Luba king, Kalala Ilunga. A typical Luba treasury—which includes such objects as a seat of office, a spear, a staff, an axe, and a ceremonial vessel—were reconstituted in the exhibition through outstanding examples of each category.