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National Museum of African Art presents "African Cosmos: Stellar Arts"
Owusu-Ankomah, Starkid 2007, Acrylic on Canvas 150 x 240 cm. Photo: Jonathan Greet, courtesy of October Gallery, London.

WASHINGTON, DC.- “African Cosmos: Stellar Arts” will be on view at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African Art from June 20 through Dec. 9. This is the first major exhibition exploring the historical legacy of African cultural astronomy and its intersection with traditional and contemporary African arts. The exhibition of some 100 objects considers how the sun, moon and stars and celestial phenomena such as lightning and rainbows serve as sources of inspiration in the creation of African arts from ancient times to the present. Far from abstract concepts, African notions of the universe are intensely personal and place human beings in relationships with earth and sky and with the sun, moon and stars.

“This exhibition, many years in the making, is part of the museum’s series focusing on Africa’s contributions to the history of knowledge—in this case, knowledge about the heavens and how this knowledge informs the creation of spectacular works of art,” said Christine Mullen Kreamer, deputy director and chief curator of the National Museum of African Art. “The project connects my lifelong fascination with sky-watching to the arts and cultures of Africa, which for decades have been my passion and the focus of my professional work.”

The exhibition features a selection of ancient Egyptian and Nubian artworks in wood, stone and papyrus, and 19th- and 20th-century masks, figures and ritual objects made by artists from regions south of the Sahara. The exhibition also includes works by internationally recognized contemporary artists who draw on the cosmos for inspiration, including El Anatsui, the late Alexander “Skunder” Boghossian, Willem Boshoff, Garth Erasmus, Romuald Hazoumè, Gavin Jantjes, William Kentridge, Julie Mehretu, Karel Nel, Marcus Neustetter and Berco Wilsenach.

Exhibition highlights include:

• An ancient Egyptian mummy board ornamented with a representation of Nut, the sky goddess

• Dogon (Mali) sculptures and masks that relate to origin myths connecting earth and sky

• Yoruba (Nigeria) sculptures honoring Shango, the thunder deity, and his wife, Oya, deity of the whirlwind

• Bamana (Mali) antelope crest pieces, whose open-work mane suggests the sun’s path through the sky each day

• Tabwa and Luba (Democratic Republic of the Congo) sculptures connected to ideas about the moon, enlightenment, and special insight

• A monumental sculpture “Rainbow Serpent” by Benin artist Hazoumè from repurposed plastic containers

• A meditative, interactive sculpture “Trembling Field” by South African artist Nel that explores the ephemeral qualities of light as it diminishes into the far reaches of space

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