Harvard University Art Museums
The Art of Identity
African Sculpture from the Teel Collection
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.