The Philadelphia Museum of Art will be showing “African Art, African Voices: Long Steps Never Broke a Back,” the first in a series of eclectic exhibits brought to the museum, from Oct. 2 to Jan. 2. The display features an array of artistic objects mostly acquired from the Katherine White Collection, which was formed in the 1960s and 1970s.
Upon entering the exhibit, free listening tours are available. By simply punching the corresponding number into the keypad, an accented narrator details each area of the exhibit. Also near the entrance, a movie screen plays scenes from everyday life in Africa.
The first room contains several exhibits of African clothing, jewelry and statues – all of which are very important to Africans and their way of life. Africans adorn themselves with colorful and ornate jewelry made from leather and beads.
The exhibit continues in the next room with a display of statues and headdresses that allowed Africans to artistically express themselves and their views, even political views.
The next room contains several different types of masks, or “gle.” These beautiful masks are a large part of African spirituality, allowing Africans to take on an entirely different identity in a virtual rebirth into a completely different self. “Gle” are also believed to bring forth the voices of African ancestors. This room also contains a movie screen, showing the masks in use during special African ceremonies.
The last room takes visitors out of the spiritual, tribal feel of Africa and into the unique world of modern African art. Paintings, clothing and other items are on display here. One of the most striking displays is what appears to be a simple rendering of a Mercedes-Benz, but upon closer inspection is a coffin. According to the voice guided tour, these ornate coffins are not uncommon in African culture. Although today these coffins are more often considered art than a proper burial vessel, people are still buried in them. This coffin, however, is a perfect example of how meaningful African art is.
“African Art, African Voices” is free with admission. Admission is $7 with a student ID, but if you go on a Sunday, admission is “pay what you wish.”The museum is open Tuesday through Sunday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Fridays until 8:45 p.m. Although this exhibit is fairly short, it’s worth going to see, just for the vibrant atmosphere. The museum is also running some public events in conjunction with the African exhibit, the entire schedule of which can be found by calling (215) 763-8100, or visiting the museum Web site at www.philamuseum.org.
Chrissy Reese can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.