Art and Architecture of Africa was one of the most unique class experiences I’ve had at Lehigh. We didn’t take exams, or memorize dozens of definitions (only to forget them days after regurgitating them); instead we learned through hands-on experiences and purposeful research. Throughout this semester the entire class was built toward accomplishing one goal: replacing the African Art Exhibit in Zoellner with a more accurate and appealing one. During the course, we learned the curatorial process taken in order to create an art exhibit. This process included research, choosing the best object, writing the wall labels to accompany the objects, choosing the theme of the case, choosing the font and color scheme, and designing how the case was to be set up.
We began by researching Lehigh’s various African Art objects those on display and in storage. Each of us decided on several pieces that we found interesting and aesthetically appealing. We decided on an overarching theme for our new case: West African Performance Art. With help from Professor Kart and input from Coordinator of Exhibitions, Mark Wonsidler, and Head Preparator, Jeff Ludwig, we narrowed it down to eight pieces. Next was the color, font, design and scale of the case itself. Prior to installation, we refined the wall labels that would accompany each object so that they were both accurate and informational. A more in depth look at our step by step process can be found here: https://behindtheglassluag.wordpress.com/.
Being from the business school, this class was an insight into a process that otherwise, I never would have known anything about. Prior to Art of Africa, I had never been to the LUAG portion of Zoellner, now I have my name on one of exhibits (who would have thought!). I have a newfound appreciation, not only for African Art, but for the work that goes behind displaying it. The next time I visit a museum I will have an understanding of everything that goes into creating the exhibit I see before me.
On December 8, 2017, our exhibit: Through the Eyes of Masks: West African Performance Art, was unveiled. All of work we put in throughout the semester came to fruition in a fantastic case.
P.S. As I said earlier we each had the opportunity to select objects we found interesting to be displayed in the case. Unfortunately, not all of the objects that were originally selected made the final cut. The seemingly endless number of different peoples, cultures, and related African art is impossible to fit into one museum, let alone one case. I would be remiss to not give my personal favorite object, the Dan Mask, the public display that it deserves. Below is the wall label that would have stood in front of the Dan Mask:
Dan Mask, Liberia / Ivory Coast Late 19th – Early 20th Century Wood, metal, fur Gift of Ms. Mary Jane Moore LUS 84 1060
The Dan People, an ethnic group from Cote d’Ivoire and Liberia, have many different types of masks with purposes ranging from initiation ceremonies, to celebrations, and spiritual guidance. The Dan have strong spiritual roots and traditions. They believe that their world is split into two realms: the human domain (the village and its people) and the spiritual domain (the forest and its spirits). The Dan mask displayed above is a sacred object used as a ‘passport’ mask. These masks were given to initiates during the Dan’s coming of age ceremony. During travel these ‘passport’ masks serve as an important means of identification and protection outside of the community. Dan masks serve preventative, protective and curative purposes. As a result of these masks being held in such high regard, they must be fed regularly to remain strong. Food is either set before the mask or rubbed directly on it.