Saturday, September 29, 2012

African Cosmos: Stellar Arts

Where: African Art Museum

When: through December 9, 2012

I realized as I walked over to see this show that it had been a while since I'd visited the African Art Museum.  It seems as if they don't offer as many special exhibits as the other Smithsonian museums.  I'm not sure why that is, but I wish they offered more.  I don't know much about African art, and attending these shows is a good way to learn.

The theme of this exhibit is how the sun, moon, stars, lightning and rainbows have influenced African art.  What I really liked about it is how the curators blended ancient artifacts with modern African art.  For example, an Egyptian mummy case was placed between two displays of light used as artwork, including one that was a video of planes taking off and landing - I was reminded of the show I just saw at Air and Space.

At the beginning of the show, there is a picture of the Nabta Playa in southern Egypt.  It's one of the earliest known calendars - it resembles Stonehenge, although not in such good repair, and is 7,000 years old - more than 1,000 years older than Stonehenge.  The first room is made up almost entirely of Egyptian pieces; once again, I was amazed at the age of these items.  How they have managed to survive for thousands of years is incredible.

There are also video displays - the one that caught my eye was of ants running through sugar.  The video is reversed, so it appears that the background is black and the ants are white - it really does look like a starry sky.  Another item is something called Rainbow Serpent, by Romuald Hazoume.  It's an enormous circle made of recycled jerry cans (used to carry gasoline).  When I say it's enormous, it must be 10-12 feet high.

Verdict: This is an interesting show.  It's got lots of different kinds of art, something for everyone.  It's quite large, so you'll have to skim through on a lunch hour, or come back for a second look to see everything.

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