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Past Exhibitions

The Art of Power, The Power of Art: Bronze Sculpture of West Africa

January 17th. 2005. - June 30th. 2005.

Exhibition and catalogue by

Narcisa Knežević-Šijan, art historian and MAA senior curator

Exhibition catalogue

The Art of Power, The Power of Art: Bronze Sculpture of West Africa

Exhibition objects


About the exhibition

Bronze sculpture of West Africa serves as a testimony of a bountiful and highly developed artistic tradition. This technically advanced and aesthetically refined form of expression has been and still is the preoccupation of art historians, anthropologists and artists. One of the reasons for this lasting and dynamic interest in West African bronzes lies in the fact that they are part of the cultural heritage of the world.

The demanding cire perdue technique was used in the production of bronze objects. Bronze casters of West Africa formed special guilds and held an important position in society due to their skills and knowledge. Their special status in the great African kingdoms was backed by the king himself, who was the only one entitled to order bronze objects from metalworkers, and who held all rights in the distribution and usage of this material.

In the Benin kingdom (14th - 19th century) and also in other kingdoms of West Africa, different bronze objects were made for the royal palace and associated with court ceremonies. Ancestral altars dedicated to past kings, were furnished with cast brass commemorative heads. The straightforward gazing eyes of the oba *(king), so it was believed, possesed the ability to see into the other world, communicating the divine power of the king to survey his kingdom.

The fifty exhibited bronze-cast pieces of technological sophistication and overwhelming naturalism that belong to the Museum of African Arts and private collections date from the 19th and 20th centuries, and merged with the lasting traditions of the people of contemporary Nigeria, Ghana, Burkina Faso, Ivory Coast, Cameroon and others.