Los Angeles County Museum Of Art Inaugurates African Gallery

Los Angeles County Museum of Art
Royal Museum for Central Africa, RG 22725, photo R. Asselberghs, RMCA Tervuren

The Los Angeles County Museum Of Art is inaugurating its new Africa gallery with an exhibition of art from the Luba Kingdom.

“Shaping Power: Luba Masterworks from the Royal Museum for Central Africa” examines the royal art of the powerful Luba Kingdom, which from 1585-1889 dominated central Africa. Its royal lineage was highly regarded and developed an elaborate artwork to reflect its prestige.
The exhibition includes many objects loaned by the Royal Museum for Central Africa in Belgium, like this mask of a legendary hero. Many of the items depict women. While they didn’t rule, they were considered the spiritual guardians of the kingship and the creators of life. A Luba proverb says, “Men are chiefs in the daytime, but women are chiefs at night.” Among the works of art are masks, headrests, sceptres, thrones and cups.

The new Africa gallery is located next to the Egyptian gallery to highlight the influences the two regions had on one another. In addition to special exhibitions, the gallery will also host the museum’s permanent collection.

“Shaping Power: Luba Masterworks from the Royal Museum for Central Africa” runs until January 5, 2014.

State of the Nation art exhibition open in Johannesburg

Kudzanai Chiurai’s State of the Nation is now open in Johannesburg. The art exhibition, which explores the notion of ‘state’ as a type of utopia, state of mind, and status, will be open to the public through December 3rd, 2011 at the Goethe Institut. This exhibition, from an award-winning artist, features photography prints, large oil paintings, video installation, and performance with an underlying focus on youth culture.

The Goethe Institut’s website offers some history on the artist.

“Born in 1981 in Zimbabwe, Kudzanai Chiurai was the first black student to graduate with a BA Fine Art from the University of Pretoria. Chiurai’s early work focused on the political and social strife in his homeland. Seminal works like “Presidential Wallpaper” depicted Zimbabwean president Robert Mugabe as a sell-out and led to Chiurai’s exile from Zimbabwe”.

All in all, if I were you, and you just happened to be in Johannesburg during this time, I’d check out this exhibition.

Stay at the Herberg Kelkiewyn Lodge in Bedfordview, Johannesburg

Somali murals: funky advertising in the Horn of Africa

SomaliOne of the fun parts of travel is discovering the street art of a new place. Whether it’s the elaborate graffiti of New York or Madrid, the political murals of Mexico, or the current craze of Yarn Bombing, there’s always something cool happening on the street.

In the Horn of Africa, street art takes the form of murals. I believe this is a Somali development, because I’ve seen it much more in Somaliland and the Somali region of Ethiopia than I have anywhere else. There’s a fair number of murals in Harar, Ethiopia, but that has always had close trade connections with the Somali region.

Some are simple, like this ad for a dentist in Hargeisa, the capital of Somaliland. I don’t know why this guy jumped into the frame and bared his teeth but hey, it made for a better picture so I’m not complaining.

Then there’s this mural inside a bakery in Harar. It shows the founder, an Greek expat who opened the most modern bakery in town. One day I met his aged widow, who still presides over the family business. She treated me to tea and regaled me with tales of the old days. She was very proud of the mural and in fact that’s what drew me inside in the first place. Another example of art bringing people together.

Check out the gallery below for more images from Ethiopia and Somaliland.

What kind of street art did you discover in your last trip? Tell us about it in the comments section!

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Ivory Coast national museum ransacked

Ivory CoastDuring the civil war earlier in the year, the national museum in Abidjan, capital of the Ivory Coast, was nearly stripped bare by looters, Art Daily reports.

An estimated $8.5 million worth of art and artifacts were taken while the city suffered bitter warfare between political factions. Some of the most severe fighting swirled around the museum itself, which was used as a sniper’s nest.

Once famous among African museums for its fine collection of art, it is now a pale semblance of its former self, with all the most valuable artifacts gone. The Ivory Coast is home to a rich variety of cultures and a long history of ancient civilizations. A wide variety of arts are practiced there, including making masks like the one shown in this photo courtesy Guérin Nicolas. Luckily, this particular mask is in the Museum Rietberg in Zurich where it remains safe.

Civil unrest and cultural looting go hand in hand. In places like Iraq and Afghanistan, criminals have taken advantage of the chaos and lack of law enforcement to steal their own heritage and sell it on the international antiquities market. By doing so, they take away evidence of their common history, thus making it easier for factions to emphasize their differences and renew the cycle of violence.

Ancient cave art discovered in Somaliland


Somaliland is little-known as an adventure travel destination. The breakaway region of northern Somalia isn’t even recognized as a nation, but traveling in Somaliland I found it to be a fascinating and friendly country. Its biggest draw for visitors is the well-preserved cave art at Laas Geel, shown above.

Now Somaliland has even more ancient attractions with the announcement that archaeologist Dr. Sada Mire has discovered rock art at almost a hundred more sites in Somaliland. The Somali-born archaeologist says the paintings date to various periods from two to five thousand years ago. Images include animals, the moon in various phases, and a remarkable four-thousand-year-old depiction of a mounted hunter.

Ten of the sites are so outstanding that they’ll be candidates for UNESCO’s World Heritage Sites list. Her findings will appear in the next issue of Current World Archaeology.

I met Dr. Mire last year in London, and while she was anxious to promote archaeological tourism to her country, she warned that a lack of funding and education meant ancient sites such as Laas Geel were under threat. Perhaps her spectacular finds will encourage UNESCO and other organizations to take an interest in Somaliland and help foster a sustainable tourism that will be protect and showcase the caves.