Artful Animals is a new family-friendly exhibition of artworks that presents the animals of Africa in a new light, dispelling myths and stereotypes and highlighting where and why they are represented in community performances, paintings and textiles by traditional and contemporary artists. The exhibition opens at the Smithsonians National Museum of African Art
Wednesday, July 1, and continues through Feb. 21, 2010. The exhibition of 125 works is accompanied by complementary activities at the museum, as well as the National Postal Museum, the National Zoo, The Smithsonian Associates Discovery Theater and the National Museum of Natural History.
Our staff overhears students and even teachers in our galleries using terms such as primitive and jungle with references to Tarzan and the Lion King, said museum educator Deborah Stokes. Artful Animals will serve to correct inaccurate notions that Africans live with wild animals and that Africa is an untamed place.
This exhibition has a serious purposeto inform and educate, said Johnnetta Betsch Cole, director of the museum. At the same time, it is a whole lot of fun. Who can resist a slit gong in the form of a buffalo, a pink shark mask, a fantasy coffin in the shape of an elephant or a hat made out of pangolin skin? Most important, Artful Animals reaches young museum-goers and school groups who are dearly important to this museum.
While the exhibition appeals to families, the objects will interest visitors of all ages who enjoy or want to learn more about African art, said curator Bryna Freyer. In addition to buffalos, sharks, elephants and pangolins, visitors will find artworks featuring animals from apes to warthogs. Highlights include:
Works of art from the museums famous Walt Disney-Tishman African Art Collection, some of which have never been displayed at the museum
Colorful Asafo flags from Ghana
A Bamana chi wara crest mask, popularly associated with African art
A portrait of a pig painted by a barbershop painter in Benin City in Nigeria
A six-foot-tall Senufo bird from Côte dIvoire
A toy turtle made from a gourd
Masks in the shape of crocodiles, elephants, hippos, sawfish and pangolins
A flywhisk of elephant hair
Works by such well-known modern African artists as David Koloane, Pilipili Mulongoy and Twins Seven Seven
Teddy bears made of South African mohair inspired by the designs of the Ndebele peoples and a colorful embroidered bear from a womens craft cooperative
By inviting the Smithsonian museums and Discovery Theater to participate in the programming, the National Museum of African Arts goal was to present African animals not only as works of art but also to explore this theme through the lens of anthropology, history, science and the performing arts.
For instance, the National Zoo has produced signs that identify zoo animals featured in Artful Animals. The National Postal Museum will highlight stamps from its international collection designed with African animals. The National Museum of Natural History, home to the largest African elephant on display anywhere in the world, has developed activity carts on communication and elephants. Discovery Theater adds performances, dance and storytelling to the mix. Programming is sponsored by the Smithsonian School Programming Fund.
In addition to the exhibition, the National Museum of African Art has developed a number of activities, tours and hands-on stations. A guide for people who are blind or have low vision has been created with tactile graphics and Braille to make the exhibition more accessible. The exhibition also features labels for young audiences and a free activity guide that will be available at all of the participating venues.