Review of Exhibiting Africa: Ways of Seeing, Knowing, and Showing

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By Diana Pope, Staff Writer

This February, anybody can gain a fresh perspective on the history of African Art by visiting the student-organized exhibit Exhibiting Africa: Ways of Seeing, Knowing, and Showing in Canaday Library.

Students from the museum studies course, “The Politics and Poetics of Race” gathered an array of artifacts, sculptures, and photographs that portray the cultural and religious history of Africa. As part of the class, students visited the Philadelphia Museum of Art’s “Creative Africa” Exhibition and discovered the college’s growing collection of African artifacts.

Although the exhibit is incredibly small, observers can learn a large amount about African cultural history. The exhibit focuses on the importance of women as caregivers, mothers and decision makers in African societies, and explores the concept of “womyn motherhood.” Located in the center of the exhibit is a giant, spoon-like sculpture that is dedicated to the work of the Dan people of Liberia and Cote d’Ivoire. The sculpture is designed to acknowledge the generosity and hospitality of women from these cultures. The carefully carved details and shapes on the body of the spoon are particularly intriguing.

In the center of the exhibit is an array of photographs entitled “To see, To capture.”  Alliyah Allen (HC ’18) documented the reactions and expressions of different students in a museum studies course as they visited museums and performances. In one picture, a Bryn Mawr student gazes curiously at a magazine in a public park. Having Bryn Mawr students as central to these exploratory photographs adds a new and fascinating dimension to the exhibit.

Arguably the most mysterious facet of this exhibit is the “Yoruba Door” located alongside the collection of photographs. Museum studies students had to start from nothing when they found this door- it had no collection records attached to it. Upon further examination, viewers discover that it was created by Olowe of Isi, an influential 20th century Yoruba artist. This door features articulated, wood-cut figures who are probably engaging in a ceremony. Even though Bryn Mawr collectors are fairly certain that this door was created by Olowe, this artwork is different from many of his other pieces, causing some to question its origin.

Overall, the exhibit features a wide range of artifacts that are dedicated to understanding the historical roots of the African cultural conscience. It’s amazing to witness the product of the hard work that Bryn Mawr students undertook to collect, organize, and assemble artifacts for the various displays.

This exhibit will be on display until March 5 in the Special Collections Room of Canaday Library.


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