Credit: Mboma peoples, Matadi, Lower Congo, DRC, Sword of honor, c. 16th-17th century, Royal Museum for Central Africa, Tervuren, Belgium
First exhibition in America to deeply explore the legacy of Kongo culture
PRINCETON, N.J.—In 1483 when Portuguese explorers first set foot in the Kingdom of the Kongo located in parts of today’s Democratic Republic of the Congo, Republic of the Congo, and Angola, they discovered a sophisticated society with a strong artistic and cultural life. The exchange between the Kongo and Europe continued as enslaved Kongolese, transported to the Americas through the Atlantic slave trade, left an imprint of their cultural heritage on the development of art and music in the Americas. Presenting masterpieces of Kongo and African-American art, Kongo across the Waters will trace a journey of ideas, artistic practices and religious beliefs across 500 years and three continents.
On view at the Princeton University Art Museum from Oct. 25, 2014 to Jan. 25, 2015, Kongo across the Waters will be the single most important project ever presented at Princeton University that addresses the issues of the slave trade and colonialism through the lens of the artistic traditions of Africa and the African diaspora.
“This exhibition presents some of the finest works of African art in the world, and reminds us of Kongo’s visual legacy throughout the Atlantic world—an idea of central importance, considering the fact that nearly one-fourth of first-generation African slaves in the United States were from the Kongo region,” said Princeton University Art Museum Director James Steward. “In doing so, this represents the Museum’s most ambitious project to date involving African artistic production and culture.”
Kongo across the Waters features over 100 works, including numerous pieces never before exhibited in the United States. It is accompanied by a catalogue with entries by leading scholars in archaeology, history, religion and African and African-American art history. In addition to featuring rare archaeological finds, the exhibition includes sculpture, carved tusks, musical instruments, baskets and textiles from Kongo and the Americas. Works attributed to the Kongo artist “The Master of Kasadi,” the American cane carver Henry Cudgell and the South Carolina basket weaver Elizabeth F. Kinlaw will be on view, along with contemporary art by Steve Bandoma (Democratic Republic of Congo), Edouard Duval-Carrié (Haiti and USA), José Bedia (Cuba), Renée Stout (USA) and Radcliffe Bailey (USA). A video produced for the exhibition reveals the notable influence of Kongolese music on the development of jazz.
Kongo across the Waters is a joint project organized by the Samuel P. Harn Museum of Art, University of Florida, Gainesville, Florida, and the Royal Museum for Central Africa, Tervuren, Belgium, and is supported by an indemnity from the Federal Council on the Arts and the Humanities. At Princeton, supplementary interpretive content has been developed by the Princeton University Art Museum. The exhibition at Princeton has been made possible by generous support from the National Endowment for the Arts; the Frances E. and Elias Wolf, Class of 1920, Fund; Susan and John Diekman, Class of 1965; the David A. Gardner ’69 Magic Project; the Department of Art and Archaeology, Princeton University; and an anonymous fund. Additional funds have been provided by the Allen R. Adler, Class of 1967, Exhibitions Fund; Heather and Paul G. Haaga Jr., Class of 1970; the New Jersey State Council on the Arts/Department of State, a Partner Agency of the National Endowment for the Arts; and by the Center for African American Studies, the Program in African Studies, the Office of Religious Life, the Lewis Center for the Arts, and the Department of English, Princeton University. Further support has been provided by the Partners and Friends of the Princeton University Art Museum.
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