Interplay: Material, Method and Motif in West African Art


Interplay explores the dynamic intersections of materials, methods and motifs in four West African contexts. Beginning with the Yoruba of Nigeria, the first section illustrates how artists have applied a single material, indigo, as both a dye and a pigment, to reference core concerns of the social, political and spiritual realms. The Cameroon Grasslands segment of the exhibition brings into focus the use of specific motifs to reinforce messages about the royal court and its leadership across a wide range of media. Similarly, examples from the royal arts of the Akan (including the Asante and Fante of Ghana and the Baule of the Ivory Coast) demonstrate how the majority of motifs allude to a common corpus of verbal expressions, which communicate important cultural maxims. The final section of Interplay examines Bamana bogolanfini (mud cloth) in Mali and the interrelationship between traditional-style cloths and more contemporary forms.

The majority of arts on display in this exhibition were not meant to be viewed in isolation; instead, they were conceived as active components of thriving communities. For example, when appearing in public, an Akan chief would display all of his regalia (stool, swords, jewelry and textiles, etc) together. For the Akan, this amalgamation of diverse art forms and their attendant proverbs would amplify, not obscure, the aesthetic and socio-political power of a single object. By juxtaposing art forms that share common elements, Interplay invites viewers to consider the ways in which understanding the relationships between different objects enhances wider appreciation of the richness of West African arts.

Pieces displayed in this gallery are from the University of Iowa Museum of Art's permanent collection, and will be on view through October 21, 2012.