BMA showcases African Art called “Subverting Beauty: African Anti-Aesthetics”

The Baltimore Museum of Art (BMA) is showcasing African art in exhibition “Subverting Beauty: African Anti-Aesthetics.”

On view until April 28, 2019, the exhibition showcases two dozen works from sub-Saharan Africa’s colonial period (c. 1880–c 1960). It is a part of the twin exhibition that the museum is hosting, this one focusing on the way artists used unattractive or disturbing visual characteristics to give works social and spiritual power.

“The ingenuity of 18th-, 19th- and 20th-century African artists is superbly represented by the works in these two exhibitions,” said BMA Dorothy Wagner Wallis Director Christopher Bedford. “I am extremely pleased to present an exhibition of world-class Kuba art in the Cone Collection galleries to show the distinctive but parallel approaches to modernism on the African and European continents.”

During the 19th and 20th centuries, African artists created figures, masks, and adornments that people found disagreeable, unnerving, or even frightening. They created works that were significant in the society, some were created to memorializing the dead, others to chase away the forces of evil. The artists who created these objects were spread across the African continent,  from Burkina Faso, Cote d’Ivoire, to the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ghana, Guinea, Kenya, and Nigeria.

The exhibits at the show are grouped in different categories as per its visual characteristic. This is to highlight the techniques used by the artists and the purposes behind them. First are the “Composite” works that merge the features of two or more animals to create frightening, otherworldly creatures designed to ward off evil forces. The second category features “Accumulative” objects, radiate power with expensive and eye-catching adornments that speak to the spiritual and political authority of those who wear them.

Then, there are “Crude” and “Uncanny” objects. The former was created to memorialize the dead and heal the sick, while the second mimics the human form but do not have any facial features. These are unsettling figures,  meant to carry the spirit of a deceased or yet-to-be-born human. The final part features a group of “Disproportionate” masks featuring exaggerated facial features, indicative of the spirit world.

The exhibition is on view through April 28, 2019, at The Baltimore Museum of Art, 10 Art Museum Dr, Baltimore, MD 21218, USA.

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