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Exhibition at New Orleans Museum of Art explores the art and civilization of the Kongo peoples
Kongo peoples, Lower Congo, DRC,
Ivory scepter, 19th century, Collection RMCA Tervuren, EO.0.0.43708. Photo R. Asselberghs , RMCA Tervuren ©.

NEW ORLEANS, LA.- The exhibition Kongo across the Waters explores the connections between the art and civilization of the African Kongo peoples with that of African American art and culture in the United States. The Harn Museum of Art at the University of Florida and the Royal Museum for Central Africa in Tervuren, Belgium jointly organized this extensive exhibition, including over 160 works of art and artifacts. The exhibition introduces audiences to the art of the Kongo region of Central Africa and the Kongo diaspora to the New World.

“Art and music of the Kongo has strongly influenced the culture of New Orleans evidenced even today by the myriad of cultural activities that take place in our own Congo Square,” said Susan M. Taylor, director of NOMA. “This exhibition promises to resonate with the history and traditions of New Orleans.”

“Many of these extraordinary art works have rarely, if ever, traveled from the Royal Museum in Belguim to other museums,” said William Fagaly, The Françoise Billion Richardson Curator of African Art. “It is a pleasure to be able to demonstrate the connection between the art of Africa and its manifestations in the New World, particularly the American South.”

More than 160 works in the exhibition are organized into sections defined by geography and time. In the first two sections, visitors are introduced to the Kongo Kingdom and its early encounters with Europeans. Europeans brought with them new ideas, different models of political organization, and many new trade objects. The Kongo peoples responded to these introductions by incorporating and adapting them within their own traditions. The third section examines the flourishing of the Kongo in the 19th and 20th centuries-the various structures of power and religious beliefs, and also the influence of trade with Europeans. Visitors are then transported "across the waters" to discover archaeological evidence of Kongo in early North America, particularly in the Southeastern United States. This includes evidence of ritual activities, as discovered through materials intentionally buried in mansions of colonial Europeans and in slave cabins, and also continuities in the production of domestic wares. Carved wooden canes, ceramic vessels and coiled baskets are prominent in this portion. The legacies of Kongo culture have also resonated in African American musical traditions, and a short film included in the exhibition featuring Luther Gray and Freddie Evans illuminates some of the New Orleans connections.

The final section demonstrates that Kongo culture continues to inform and inspire contemporary art throughout the Atlantic world. It includes works by Edouard Duval-Carrié (Haitian-Floridian), Renée Stout (American), Radcliffe Bailey (American), José Bedia (Cuban-American) and Steve Bandoma (Congolese).

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