Harvard University Art Museums

The Art of Identity
African Sculpture from the Teel Collection
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The long-term special exhibition The Art of Identity: African Sculpture from the Feel Collection will open at the Fogg Art Museum, Harvard University Art Museums, 32 Quincy Street, Cambridge, Massachusetts, on November 30, 1996. The exhibition brings together selections of African sculpture from the William E. and Bertha L. Teel collection, an extraordinary group of arts from sub-Saharan Africa that were compiled over nearly thirty-five years. Sixty-eight sculptures will be on display.

The Art of Identity is organized by Suzanne Blier, professor of African art and architecture, Harvard University, and James Cuno, Elizabeth and John Moors Cabot Director, Harvard University Art Museums. It is co-curated by Suzanne Blier, Aimee Bessire and Mark Bessire. The exhibition and related programs are supported in part by The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation and the Massachusetts Cultural Council, a state agency.

Few artistic subjects are more important than identity. Representations of identity provoke important questions across a range of cultures and genres, impacting our reading not only of persona, but also issues of gender, religion, place and forms of governance. Identity provides a valuable lens for understanding the way the arts of Africa embody and display recognizable aspects of selflhood, community and nation. The diverse collection of sculptures in The Art of Identity illustrates the complexity of art traditions in Africa and offers the opportunity to examine issues of identity in African art.

Through their varied aesthetics, symbolism, performance contexts and ceremonial use, African arts stimulate responses concerning individuality and community concerns. The themes of masking, gender, community governance and religion within the exhibition, all provide further insight to the many facets of identity in African art. For example, royal arts serve to fortify chiefly identities through links to previous generations of kings, or status based on wealth differentials and separation of the populace. Yet, royal arts can also reinforce non-royal identity as they engender recognition of cultural unity through symbols of the king. Individuals are reminded of their religious commitment and identity through the arts related to worship which honor the specific gods, spirits or the memory of one's deceased relatives.

The Art of Identity is intended to be viewed on several levels. On one level, it brings together African sculpture from many different cultural groups which can be appreciated for their aesthetic complexity and the power of their form. On another level, it is intended to provide information about the specific aspects of identity that might be reflected in the indigenous viewers of the arts in cultural context. At the same time, this exhibit addresses the identity of African art within the larger history of art as displayed alongside other great art traditions in the Fogg Art Museum galleries. The exhibition represents the identity of the Teel collection as much as it represents the African identity of the sculptures. It is important to acknowledge that African art is affected by the context in which it is exhibited. The exhibition wants to reclaim the identity of African art that has been neglected in the context of aestheticized museum exhibitions in order to allow the objects to be recognized for their cultural and museological identities.


Gallery Talks Gallery talks are free with the price of admission.

Sunday, January 12 with Suzanne Blier, professor of African art and architecture, co-curator of the exhibition. Fogg, 2:00 p.m.