Central Africa's Kongo civilization is responsible for one of the world's greatest artistic traditions. This international loan exhibition explores the region's history and culture through 146 of the most inspired creations of Kongo masters from the late fifteenth through the early twentieth century.
The earliest of these creations were diplomatic missives sent by Kongo sovereigns to their European counterparts during the Age of Exploration; they took the form of delicately carved ivories and finely woven raffia cloths embellished with abstract geometric patterns. Admired as marvels of human ingenuity, such Kongo works were preserved in princely European Kunstkammer, or cabinets of curiosities, alongside other precious and exotic creations from across the globe.
With works drawn from sixty institutional and private lenders across Europe and the United States, Kongo: Power and Majesty relates the objects on view to specific historical developments and challenges misconceptions of Africa's relationship with the West. In doing so, it offers a radical, new understanding of Kongo art over the last five hundred years.
"… splendid, thought-provoking exhibition"—Wall Street Journal
"This rigorous and unshowily erudite exhibition … is that rarest thing: a scholarly blockbuster."—The Guardian
"Curator Alisa LaGamma … has fused aesthetics, history, ethnography and spectacle into an exhibition that is at once entertaining and serious, shocking and deeply satisfying."—Financial Times
The exhibition is made possible by the Gail and Parker Gilbert Fund and the Diane W. and James E. Burke Fund.
The catalogue is made possible by The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.
Power Figure (Nkisi N'Kondi: Mangaaka), 19th century, inventoried 1898. Kongo peoples; Yombe group, Chiloango River region, Cabinda, Angola. Wood, iron, resin, ceramic, plant fiber, textile, cowrie shell, animal hide and hair, pigment; H. 46 1/2 in. (118 cm), W. 18 1/8 in. (46 cm), D. 13 3/4 in. (35 cm). Manchester Museum, University of Manchester (0.9321/1)