This page is a record of an exhibit that took place
in 2002. The individual links below will take you to
the CURRENT VERSION of the pages
that formed part of that exhibit.
"African Metalworks" focuses on the impressive and diverse ways metal was forged, cast, hammered and embellished in traditional African sculpture and artifacts. The exhibition is arranged in groupings of related works, emphasizing the strength and variety inherent in the metal work from each tribe. Forged iron pieces include selected groups of Fon royal staffs, Yoruba osanyin healing staffs, Dogon multiple lamp structures and Bamana figures. Cast pieces in bronze or brass range from Benin figures, reliefs, bells and royal leopards, Dogon equestrian figures, Yoruba edan figures, Cameroon bracelets and pipes to small Ashanti goldweights, all made by the one-of-a-kind lost-wax process.
There are also displays of large Turumba, Bangala and Kuba currency pieces, bracelets, anklets, Ethiopian crosses, Taureg necklaces, pendants and more. Works that incorporate both metal and wood include plated Bakota and Mahongwe reliquary guardians, Malinke and Bamana masks, Yoruba orisha oka staffs, knives, spears, axes, tools and Bakongo nail fetishes. The pieces served ritual or functional purposes and played important roles in their communities, making this a spiritual as well as a beautiful show. Using metal required great technical skill, displaying a strong love for the material and a desire for objects of permanence. The patina of age and use embellish these creations with unusual power.
BAKOTA, Guardian Figures
These figures were mounted on containers holding relics of important clan ancestors, serving as guardians. Two-dimensional and sheathed in metal (brass or copper), the figures include projecting shapes around the face that refer to elaborate coiffures, and a diamond shape below the neck that is an abstracted body form.
DOGON, Bronze Riders
These cast equestrian figures express status, prestige and power. They would bring honor to the ancestors, the current leadership and the owner of the sculpture. Although rare, horsemen as icon have existed for 1000 years in Mali. Some would depict a hogon, the supreme officeholder, a semi-divine leader of great wisdom, or even a mythological emissary from a distant land.
DOGON, Cast objects, figures, hairpins, Mali
These cast figures and objects, despite their small size, exhibit the technical skill and artistry that Dogon blacksmiths brought to their work. Made by the complex traditional lost-wax process, these are all small enough to be cast solid. The Dogon used metal for their most important ritual objects as well as everyday objects, farming implements and weapons.
DOGON, Forged Iron objects, figures, masks, lamps, Mali
These forged iron masks, figures, lamps and other objects exhibit the technical skill and artistry that Dogon blacksmiths brought to their work. They would do the smelting to get the iron from iron ore, then heat and hammer out both the tools and weapons used and the important ritual objects.
FON, FIGURES, Republic of Benin
Figures and staffs made of iron and brass were displayed in royal compounds to affirm kingly power. They usually depicted a king with related motifs. Numbers 1-3 and 9 are mostly formed from iron sheets. Parts of them and Figure 4 and all of those on 5-8 are cast in a copper alloy, probably brass. Numbers 5-8 were parts of staffs called "Asen" and commemorated past rulers. The staffs were stuck in the earth.
FON, Royal "Asen" staffs, Republic of Benin
Staffs made of iron and brass were displayed in royal compounds to affirm
kingly power. Usually depicting a king with related motifs, they were called
"Asen" and commemorated past rulers. The staffs were stuck in
the earth, ours have black metal bases (included). Some are more abstract
or depict birds and served another function.
MAHONGWE, Guardian Figures
These figures were mounted on containers holding relics of important clan ancestors, serving as guardians. The Mahongwe are a subgroup of the Bakota, who, like the nearby Fang, also make reliquary guardians. Sheathed in metal (brass or copper wire), the figures are highly abstracted. They are dedicated to Bwitti, the spirit of the ancestors.