Category Archives: African Art

Mark’s Remarks: “Shangaa: Art of Tanzania”

In “Mark’s Remarks,” Portland Museum of Art Director Mark Bessire discusses all things PMA—from art in the galleries to his favorite treat in the PMA Café.

In this edition Mark highlights the stunning exhibition of Tanzanian art, Shangaa: Art of Tanzania, on view through August 25. Shangaa is the first major exhibition in the United States to focus on the traditional arts of Tanzania.

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“Shangaa” means “to amaze” in Swahili and that’s exactly what this exhibition does.

Artists’ Studios: David Driskell

In our Artists’ Studios series four artists talk about how their studio and sense of place affect their work, and what Maine means to them.

Artist and scholar David Driskell is regarded as one of the world’s leading authorities on African American art. He is also a part-time resident of Falmouth, Maine.

*On Saturday, November 17 at 11 a.m. join us for the Portland premiere of David Driskell: In Search of the Creative Truth. Q&A with David Driskell will follow the screening. Purchase tickets here.

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Produced by Allen Baldwin at Strongpaw Productions.

Power and Iconography in African Art: Dr. Aimée Bessire’s Course Part 1

By Vanessa Nesvig
Coordinator of Special Projects

Last week at our staff lunch table, we all talked about the fantastic lecture Aimée Bessire gave the day before on African art. We all thought we had learned so much on a subject that we didn’t know very much about, and we shared our favorite parts.

To narrow the tremendous field of African art, Aimée used objects from the upcoming David Driskell exhibition as a place to start the conversation on Power and Iconography. We learned how interwoven these concepts are when talking about royal dress and adornment. Using visual icons that symbolized myths and stories from each culture, kings and royal women assert their standing by wearing these metaphors predominately in the form of gold in the Akan culture group and beadwork in the Yorba culture. Even the fabric woven has a name and a moralizing story with it, as in the “Liar’s Cloth” worn by lawyers. We loved the comparison of rulers wearing powerful and symbolic garb in the picture of Prince Charles of England walking with the Asante Henea from Ghana.

Diving deeper into the metaphors of particular objects, we saw divine (royal) power symbolized as feline ferocity in the form of leopards or two crocodiles with one stomach between them referring to the king and his closeness to his community. My favorite was an emblem of a chicken looking backward that had two meanings. One referred to a story that tells of a chicken whose chicks were killed as she scratched her back sending a moral reminder for the royal bearer to always watch over his people. The second was a metaphor for a ruler to always have to look back at the past, in order to move forward. This positive and negative symbology in one image reminded me of the Asian yin and yang concept in imagery.

But we all agreed, we loved the Linguist and his staff the most. The idea of having a royal person whose role is to “translate” what the citizens say to the king to be something more beautiful and lyrical for his ears was at first foreign to us, but then realized was akin to our Secretary of State! The staff was filled with many proverbial metaphors including the gold cast jaws of humans referring to the Linguist’s role as translator. This interconnection with the visual and the verbal proverb was the theme of the lecture. We look forward to today’s lecture on Religion and Expression.

Tickets are available at the door for the next two lectures on 10/14 and 10/21. Tickets are $15 and $12 for members for each lecture. Lectures begin at 4:30 p.m. Learn more…