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Throughout Gainesville, there are many opportunities regarding diversity that tie into the art that is shown in the Harn Museum here at the University of Florida. Specifically, the African Art collection within the museum offers multiple pieces of art that act as both beautiful lessons as well as representing diversity in the Gainesville community. African art is a type of art that has been around for as long as something that is 75,000 years old. Various types of African Art are still relevant today and are even great representations of diversity. “Foreign colonization of most countries in sub-Saharan Africa took place from 1840 onwards and different values became omnipresent. A lot of African art was acquired for curious means by travelers, traders and missionaries in the century before and left the continent. Colonialists most often did not give indigenous art the merit and attention it deserved and thereby African art history was not preserved or documented.” (Evans). African Art representation within the Harn Museum is strong and important because of the diversity it brings to the museum.
This wooden shell carving is a miniature ancestral figure. “Striking miniature ancestral effigy figures are among some of the most notable art forms of the Beembe people of southwestern Congo. The Beembe believe ancestors are a source of vital power, and effigy figures are a means of channeling their power to their descendants.” (Harn). This specific figure has the same structures as many did from this time. These figures are used as a safety barrier from spirits and are very sacred figures that Beembe people worshipped and cherished often. The Beembe people had a lot of faith in these figures. People were often scared of their powers and the abilities they had within a society. This one, like many others, was most likely kept with one specific family. Many wealthy families had their own and used them for protection. Symbolic figures were very popular within African societies, and with all of the different types of figures there were, each had its own meaning and use. The many different uses and examples of African symbolic figures can compare well to the diversity there is within Gainesville. This is because of the different groups of African people that there are that all fall under one similar category. Within Gainesville, there are multiple groups of people, but all fall under the same category as well in terms of where they live.
This bizarre looking piece of bark was from one of Skunder’s trips to Uganda. This bark was “used locally for burial.” This specific piece has a large background story with it. Skunder was aware as to how to treat the bark in an artistic way. This is because of how sensitive the bark really was. The figures shown that come together on the bark cloth represent the beauty of mother nature, as well as shows volcanoes with lava flowing, and mountain formations. This piece can give the viewers the right idea regarding what Skunder had an interest in. There is an abstract form of cosmological views. “The concentric circle motif in the center serves as a cosmogram in many cultures, including ancient Ethiopia, and also suggests the layout of Ethiopian Christian Orthodox churches, the dominant site of Ethiopian spirituality and art production for centuries. The Ethiopian reference is strengthened by the image of the lion, possibly alluding to the Ethiopian saint Samuel of Waldebba, who rode a lion he tamed.” (Harn). The artist wanted this to be an inviting piece, letting the viewers truly get a sense of what it is all about. There is something special about this piece regarding its materials. The work does not have much color, which can make it seem difficult to show a lot of emotion. However Skunder created a sense of space that uses light shifting and shadows to create something much more special. When a viewer looks at this piece, they are supposed to feel the emotion and the story that Skunder put into this. This is not just for show, but supposed to be a relief constructed to tell a story.
At first look, this piece of art does not strike the viewer of an African artist, however this work represents a very important and historically significant group of ideas. There is something very special about this piece and that is the fact that each part of the piece as a whole was produced at different times by different artists, all of different decent. “A most extraordinary cross-culturalism is evident in the paintings on the center and side panels and the backing, which reflect diverse European, Indian, and Ethiopian styles and iconographies.” There are many different images being depicted within this piece. The center panel shows Christ with horns. This center panel is the imagine behind the title of this piece. The horns are striking his head. This piece is a great representation of diversity because of its diverse group of artists that came together to create it. The central panel shows a strong sense of Indian influence. All five images within the piece come together to share one meaning. Triptychs are common forms of art that are broken up into three parts but are held together in something that can be used to create an altarpiece. There are many famous triptych paintings that also tell important stories. One very famous altarpiece/ triptych is the Annunciation Triptych (Merode Altarpiece) by Robert Campin. The triptych shows three images showing Virgin Mary and the angel Gabriel. This was a significant story because of what the angel had come to tell Mary. She was going to be the mother of Jesus. This very detailed triptych was something that people admired. Triptychs that tell stories are important to those who view them. Here in Gainesville, the idea of diverse artwork is popular and common. Art that is shown throughout the community is represented by multiple cultural groups and people.
Art can be classified as many things, and a piece does not need to be a painting or a sculpture to be considered as art. Clothing is often respected as art in many cultures. In African art, specific types of clothing are sacred and special to the people who belong to it. The purpose of this dress is to show a married woman status, wealth and ethnicity. It connects whoever is wearing it to their family and ancestors as well. “Different tribes throughout the continent pride themselves on their national dress which they use for ceremonies and special occasions.
There are many varied styles of dress and the type of cloth plays an integral role in fashioning the garment. The fabric often reflects the society in general as well as the status of individuals or groups within that community.
In some instances traditional robes have been replaced or influenced by foreign cultures, like colonial impact or western popular dress code.” (Evans). The idea of clothing as art is a unique and cool thing because of how different each item can be. Many cultures throughout the world consider specific articles of clothing as significant as the Mfengu people of South Africa did here. Every little aspect of this dress represents something important to these people. Everything from the color combinations, to the strands of beads are significant. African people of this time were also able to tell a lot about the person wearing the clothing based off of specificities within the clothes. Color of the clothing would vary depending on how old the person was who was wearing it, as well as the types of “add ons” that the clothing had told everyone how important the one wearing the clothing really was. Sometimes, clothing was passed down from generation to generation which created legacies and showed the importance of some families. Clothing is a cool and important art because it can be so representative for many people. Here in Gainesville, there are not only people from across the country, but from around the world as well. I feel that clothing can show and say a lot about a person, and here we are lucky enough to have such a diverse community that we are able to see a culturally diverse group when it comes to clothing relating back to peoples ethnicities.
Just like clothing, accessories are also a major part of many cultures and societies. This necklace is an example of what a traditional gift for a bride was during this time in Africa. Because it is a wedding gift, if the woman were to get a divorce, or her husband would pass, she would have to get rid of it so it would no longer be in her possession. Women would sell these items in order to survive, because owning or keeping them after no longer being married could be bad luck. Something that is very common within African art is pieces, sculptures, and jewelry representing figures that help fight off evil spirits. This specific necklace, among many things, is also supposed to represent something that protects the wearer. This necklace is supposed to protect the person wearing it from diseases and misfortunes that could be caused by evil forces. “Amber, copal, and stones that are blood-red in color, such as agate and carnelian, were thought to have healing and prophylactic powers; the Harn necklace, which includes both agate and amber, is thus a doubly fortified healing device.” (Harn). Jewelry was also often buried with its owners as a form of symbolism to carry out their death. The more precious or rare items that were within the piece of jewelry, the wealthier and more important the people were who wore these accessories. You could compare some African jewelry to African masks as well. Most of the time, African masks are used in ceremonies or dances, which are very popular in the African culture. Sometimes, jewelry is used within performances as well. Because many things can be thought to be art, the multiple possibilities of pieces in the African world can be considered art, especially jewelry. Jewelry was a very common and important aspect to African culture.
Across the city of Gainesville, cultural diversity has a strong presence. At the University of Florida, we are lucky enough to have our own art museum that showcases the talents of local artists, as well as shows us students a taste of history through the art that is displayed.
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