On view March 18 – June 8, 2014
Curated by Dr. Chris Steiner of Connecticut College, Spirits of the Forest, People of the Herd: African Art in Two Worlds(March 18 – June 8, 2014), is an exhibition of art and artifacts from two very different regions on the African continent: the forests of coastal West Africa and the mountainous plains of Uganda. In one case, art serves to manifest the presence of spirits that guide and control religious and social life; in the other case, art is tightly integrated into the everyday needs of pastoralists whose very existence revolves around the welfare and fertility of the herd.
The “People of the Herd” section features the domestic, decorative and ceremonial objects of the pastoral Bahima of western Uganda. This traditional world of herding now no longer exists, the victim both of civil war and the pressures of globalization. The objects exhibited, wooden milk pots, gourd storage vessels, baskets, beaded containers, and jewelry, all explore the role of “beauty” in the material culture of a nomadic African people, and demonstrate how functional form and aesthetic preferences are seamlessly bound together in their visual world.
In “Spirits of the Forest” objects from several New England collections are on loan to showcase the arts of Liberia and Sierra Leone. Featured in this section of the exhibition are masks and ritual objects from the Gio/Dan and Mende ethnic groups that communicate the relationship between the world of the living and the spirits of the forest. Here the exhibition examines how material objects express religious beliefs, and how objects help regulate social relationships and political hierarchy in small-scale African village societies.