Symposiums From Tonto to Tarzan: Stereotypes as Obstacles to Progress Toward a More Perfect Union February 9, 6–8 p.m. For more information, click here.
Film Screenings Dingomaro February 18, 2–4 p.m. For more information, click here.
Celebrating Black History Month Available most days, 10:30 a.m. & 2 p.m. For more information, click here.
An African Art Love Story
Happy Valentine's Day! Here at African Art, we love a good love story, and the unexpected reunion of these two sculptures is one of our all-time favorites.
It's impossible not to fall for these gorgeous, highly naturalistic sculptures, made by a Mbembe artist from southeastern Nigeria. Carved by a master woodworker, they represent a woman holding a child and a man with a rifle. But, until recently, this power couple has been in separate collections, their connection lost.
Like all the best rom-coms, these two met again in New York City, at the Metropolitan Museum of Art's exhibition Warriors and Mothers: Epic Mbembe Art. African Art often loans its objects to other institutions to tell the stories of Africa's arts for people who can't make it to D.C., and sent the female figure (part of the museum's permanent collection since the '80s) to the Met. When the African art expert and collector Heinrich Schweizer heard about this loan, he reached out to one of the show's curators, Alissa LaGamma, to let her know there was a male figure in a private collection—which Schweizer suspected was the female's match. Hoping to finally reunite the two, Schweizer arranged the loan, making it the most complete show of these rare figures ever. And when this sculpture was next to African Art's sculpture, it was clear: They belonged together.
Curators quickly determined that the two pieces were likely carved by the same hand, each work's technique and delicacy echoed in the other. They were once connected by a slit gong, a large piece of hollowed wood used as resonant drum. This drum, and others like it, would have played a central role in the spiritual life of Mbembe communities. Joined figures and drums were all carved from one massive log of iroko wood. Can you spot the matching tree rings on the figures' backs below?
Left: Mbembe artist; male figure; 19th to early 20th century; wood, pigment, lead, iron; 77.8 × 37.9 × 73.7 cm (30 5/8 × 14 15/16 × 29 in.); gift of Heinrich Schweizer in memory of Merton D. Simpson, 2016-12-1; right: Mbembe artist; female figure; 19th to early 20th century; wood, pigment, lead; 68 x 48.5 x 50 cm (26 3/4 x 19 1/8 x 19 11/16 in.); museum purchase, 85-1-12
A true lover of African art, Schweizer guaranteed that this pair will stay together forever by generously purchasing and donating the sculpture to the museum in memory of his friend and a onetime owner of the sculpture, Merton D. Simpson. Currently residing in our state-of-the-art conservation lab, our conservators are hard at work getting this couple ready for display in our next major exhibition, a reinstallation of our incredible permanent collection in the museum's largest gallery, opening at the end of the year.That's what we call a happy ending!
When you give to African Art, your donation goes to projects like reinstalling our Mbembe figures together at last. We know you heart African art—let everyone else know too! Donate and share today!