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Kongo: Power and Majesty at the Met

The exhibition ‘Kongo: Power and Majesty’ at the Metropolitan Museum, New York, 18 September 2015 – 3 January 2016, tells the little known story of the earliest encounters between expansionary western trading powers and the kingdoms of the Central African coast. Over one hundred and forty works from over fifty institutional and private collections are on show, many acquired by wealthy merchants in the 16th – 19th centuries.

A review of the exhibition by Duncan Clarke will appear in HALI 186, an extract follows below.

Kongo: Power and Majesty

Luxury Cloth Cushion Cover, 16th–17th century, inventoried 1674, Angola, Republic of the Congo, Kongo peoples, Raffia, 20 7/8 x 9 in. (53 x 23 cm), British Museum, London. Pattern in relief formed from areas of cut pile and uncut supplementary weft surfaces.

‘The Portuguese navigator Diogo Cão planted a limestone monument at the mouth of the Congo River in 1483, inaugurating a complex relationship that encompassed diplomatic exchanges and gift giving, alliances and wars, religious conversion and transformation, commercial exploitation and ultimately colonial conquest. In exploring the art and artefacts that marked this centuries long process the exhibition both deepened our understanding of the changing nature of European perceptions of African artistry and revealed that two iconic forms of African sculpture emerged not from some pristine ‘tribal’ isolation but precisely from indigenous responses to the disastrous impact of the growing European presence. Excitingly for HALI readers, and extremely unusually for African art exhibitions, textiles in the form of exquisite woven raffia cloths were one of the four major groups of objects through which curator Alisa LaGamma and her team reconstructed this history.’

Kongo: Power and Majesty

Oliphant, 16th century, inventoried 1887, Republic of the Congo, Angola, Kongo peoples, Ivory, L. 23 1/4 in. (58 cm), Diam. 2 5/8 (6.5 cm), MIBACT–Polo Museale del Lazio, Museo Preistorico Etnografico Luigi Pigorini, Rome


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