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NOMA to present ‘Ancestors of Congo Square’

17th May 2011   ·   0 Comments

The New Orleans Museum of Art (NOMA) will present “Ancestors of Congo Square: African Art” in the New Orleans Museum of Art on May 13 to July 17. In keeping with the spirit of the centennial year, which highlights the museum’s vast and diverse permanent collection, one of the most impressive areas of the museum’s holdings is an extensive African collection. This exhibition highlights the collection as well as the connection between New Orleans and Africa.

On the occasion of the exhibition opening, a 376-page book of the NOMA’s African collection will be available, produced by the New Orleans Museum of Art and published by Scala Publishers of London. Curator and editor William Fagaly, has been the African curator at NOMA for over four decades.

There are over 225 color illustrations of pieces in the book including a number of field photographs of similar works in their native Africa,” said Fagaly. “This will be one of the first publications to include CT scans and x-rays revealing the contents of African terra cotta sculptures.”

Gallery displays will feature a 38-second loop of a CT scan that reveal the inside contents of a 11-17th century terra cotta sculpture. There will also be short video loops of tribal dances in Africa that feature works similar to the ones on view. Nearly a dozen photographic blow-ups will show Africans dancing similar masks featured in the exhibition.

The title of the exhibition is a nod to the historic Congo Square right outside the French Quarter in New Orleans where enslaved Africans were given a day off to gather. In Congo Square they could socialize, dance and sing freely. The exhibition is a metaphor for the people who came together, representing different areas of Africa, to create one common spirit.

“Many times an exhibition will inspire a book. In this instance, it was truly African curator William Fagaly’s book that has inspired this exhibition,” said Susan Taylor, director of the New Orleans Museum of Art.

The book features catalog entries by 48 prominent scholars from North America, Europe and Africa, containing information not published previously. The book represents the most recent research about what is known about these works of art and the state of the field. A seminal work in the field of African art, students, scholars, African enthusiasts and the general public alike will enjoy this book both for its educational and aesthetic value. The book is available in the Museum Shop for $75.

The book and the exhibition are dedicated to the musicians and dancers who gathered in Congo Square on these free days, and to the artists (mostly anonymous) whose artworks are featured in both the exhibition and the book. There are over 200 pieces featured in the book. The exhibition will feature the top 100 pieces. Dan Kershaw, of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, will design and install the exhibition on view in NOMA’s first floor Ella West Freeman galleries.

This story originally published in the April 25, 2011 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper.

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