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Ancestors of Congo Square: Exhibition of African Art at the New Orleans Museum of Art
The title of the exhibition and its accompanying book is a nod to the historic Congo Square adjacent to the French Quarter in New Orleans.
NEW ORLEANS, LA.- The New Orleans Museum of Art (NOMA) presents Ancestors of Congo Square: African Art in the New Orleans Museum of Art on May 13 to July 17. In keeping with the spirit of NOMA’s centennial year, the Museum highlights one of the most impressive areas of its permanent collection: its extensive holdings in African art. Additionally, the exhibition looks at the strong artistic and cultural connections between New Orleans and Africa.

The title of the exhibition and its accompanying book is a nod to the historic Congo Square adjacent to the French Quarter in New Orleans, where African American slaves would gather to socialize, make music and dance in the 18th and 19th centuries. Like Congo Square itself, the exhibition is a metaphor for the process of people coming together from different areas of Africa to create a common spirit and culture. Both the book and the exhibition are dedicated to the musicians and dancers who gathered in Congo Square, and to the artists (most whose names were not recorded) whose artworks are featured in both the exhibition and the book.

The exhibition is marked by the publication of a 376-page book about NOMA’s collection of African art, produced by the New Orleans Museum of Art and published by Scala Publishers of London. Exhibition curator and catalogue editor William Fagaly has been curator of African art at NOMA for over four decades.

"Many times an exhibition will inspire a book. In this instance, it was truly African art curator William Fagaly's book that has inspired this exhibition," said New Orleans Museum of Art director Susan Taylor. Fagaly adds, “There are over 225 color illustrations of pieces in the book, including a number of field photographs of similar works in their native Africa. This will be one of the first publications to include CT scans and x-rays revealing the contents of African terra cotta sculptures.”

Along with catalog entries by 48 prominent scholars from North America, Europe and Africa, containing information not published previously, the book represents the most recent research about what is known about these works of art and the state of the field. “Ancestors of Congo Square” proves to be a seminal work in the field of African art, and students, scholars, African enthusiasts and the general public alike will enjoy this book both for its educational significance as well as its aesthetic value. The book is available in the Museum Shop for $75.

While over 200 works of art are featured in the book, the exhibition focuses on 100 of the most important ones. Dan Kershaw designed and installed the show. Gallery displays feature video footage of a CT scan revealing the inside contents of a rare terra cotta sculpture by the Djenne people. There is also a video footage of African dances featuring works similar to the ones on view in the exhibition. Nearly a dozen photographic enlargements show Africans dancing similar masks featured in the exhibition.





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