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The first major exhibition of Tanzanian art in the U.S. on view this summer at the Portland Museum of Art
Karagwe, Tanzania, Bull, n.d. Iron, 7.8 x 12 inches. Private Collection, Belgium.
PORTLAND, ME.- This summer, the Portland Museum of Art hosts the first exhibition of Tanzanian art in the United States. Shangaa: Art of Tanzania, on view at the PMA from June 8 through August 25, 2013, features 166 awe-inspiring objects. Organized by the QCC Art Gallery of the City University of New York (CUNY) and curated by scholar of African art Dr. Gary van Wyk, the exhibition brings together stunning objects from private collections and major German museums that have rarely been seen outside of Africa or Europe.

“Audiences will be challenged, engaged, and inspired by the great Tanzanian cultural objects in Shangaa,” said PMA Director Mark H.C. Bessire. “For the first time in the United States, the great artistic traditions of Tanzania will be brought together to expand our knowledge of East Africa. The Portland Museum of Art is very proud to bring this crucial scholarly exploration of Tanzania to our community and museum members. I am also proud to be an advisor on this scholarly project as we follow our vision to present progressive exhibitions beyond our collection that address local and global issues.”

In Swahili, the root word shangaa means to surprise, dumbfound, and amaze, and this exhibition demonstrates that Tanzania is a significant source of inspiring art. Spanning from the 19th century to the present day, with recent works created by celebrated artists for contemporary events, the objects underscore the vibrant, living traditions of art and culture in Tanzania. The objects range from masks and staffs to figural sculptures and thrones, demonstrating how Tanzanian cultures use art to channel energy to heal, embody authority, mark initiation into adulthood, address the spirits, and celebrate life and competition. This unique exhibition graces two floors of the museum and includes videos showing the cultural objects used in dances and as part of other traditions.

The home of Mount Kilimanjaro, Zanzibar, Lake Victoria, and the Serengeti, Tanzania is a cultural crossroads in East Africa. It is a place where Arab, Indian, European, and American trade routes coincided centuries ago, and Muslim, Christian, and African traditions continue to intermix. At Lake Victoria, explorers reached the long-sought source of the Nile; and Mary Leakey and her team discovered the Laetoli Footprints at Oldupai Gorge. As Gary van Wyk has observed, “Tanzania is a hotbed for prehistory…a veritable cradle of humanity.”

While art of other African regions has been studied and explored by scholars, the art of East Africa, under German rule for much of the 19th and 20th centuries, was long hidden behind the Iron Curtain, inaccessible in East German private collections and museums. The art of East Africa has thus been largely overlooked until now. This exhibition, as Gary van Wyk notes, “seeks to raise the awareness of a lesser recognized, but equally valuable source of traditional African Culture.”



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June 9, 2013

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