all photos by Randy Batista except where otherwise noted
The Samuel P. Harn Museum of Art, University of Florida, marked its twenty-fifth anniversary in 2015. The museum opened in 1990 with a modest African collection that has grown steadily ever since, with many significant acquisitions in recent years. The collection originated at the University of Florida Gallery, the ancestral institution of the Harn Museum that began collecting African art in the 1960s. Roy Craven, a historian of Indian art and founding director of the University of Florida Gallery, purchased African art and encouraged donations of African art.1
One of the first objects to enter the University of Florida Gallery collection was a Mano deangle masquerade costume donated by Rosemary and Wallace Eugene Manis in 1977 (Fig. 1). Wallace Manis collected the mask in Liberia, where he worked as a botanist for Firestone Plantations Company and noted that it took two months of negotiating to convince the owner to sell him the mask in April 1940. A photograph of Manis standing next to the mask was taken after it had appeared in a men's society initiation. This image—along with Manis's other photographs, the W.E. Manis Collection, held at the University of Florida's George A. Smathers Library, Special Collections—reflect the fact that Manis collected a number of masks from various sources, possibly with the help of George W. Harley, and displayed them in his home in Liberia.2 One photograph shows the deangle mask prominently displayed in his living room sometime between 1940 and 1941.
Faculty began to shape the University Gallery's collection of African art beginning in the late 1960s. During his tenure from 1966–1972, Jack Flam, a modernist art historian, taught courses in African art at the University of Florida and curated two African art exhibitions for the University Gallery.3 In 1976, the university hired its first African art historian, Jean Borgatti. In 1978, she left the university and Robin Poynor joined the faculty. Both Borgatti and Poynor curated exhibitions at the University Gallery that complemented the newly established African art history curriculum, and Poynor began to build the African collection through purchases and gifts. After this collection of 114 objects was transferred to the Harn in 1990, Poynor worked with Harn staff on additional acquisitions. Through their combined efforts, an increasing number of African objects began to flow into the museum, and the collection's quality, depth, and breadth grew steadily. The museum received several major gifts from local collector Rodney D. McGalliard from 1991 to 1995 that changed its character from a small teaching collection with only a small portion of exhibition-quality works to a collection that included some particularly fine objects.
An Owo Yoruba axe with a figurative handle, acquired in 1993, remains one of the highlights of the collection (Fig. 2). This single-bladed axe was used in the veneration of Ogun and also seems to allude to Osanyin, the god of healing, because its handle features a male figure holding a gourd medicine vessel in each hand. A photograph by William Fagg in 1949 of a shrine in Owo with two similar axes beside an altar allows us to date the axe to the mid-twentieth century or earlier. The style, wear, and patina suggest that it was made sometime prior to that date, perhaps as early as the late nineteenth century. The axe was given by McGalliard, who, in the same year also donated a figurated post attributed to the family of Agbonbiofe Adesina, a noted family of artists who were commissioned to embellish the palace and royal regalia in Efon Alaiye. The post originally supported the roof of the royal palace, as seen in photographs taken in 1958, one by Frank Willett and another by William Fagg, showing the Harn post as well as others carved by the Adesina family in situ.4 The Harn carving depicts a kneeling woman with a covered offering bowl. Her figure is situated above the head of a bearded male, a reference to the oba. The female figure is graceful and dignified, with her head erect and her offering bowl in hand as she kneels. In 2002 the Harn was fortunate to receive a gift from McGalliard of an Owo paternal shrine altarpiece (Oju'po) (Fig. 3). An ode to ancestral endurance and might, it depicts a crocodile biting its prey; a saddled horse; a mud fish with a block head inscribed with zigzags; a tethered bull's head; and a chiefly figure with two retainers. These figures are encased on three sides by a wide interlaced border.
In 1995 the Harn launched a major exhibition of African art from its collection that traveled to four venues in the southeastern United States. The National Endowment for the Arts funded the exhibition and the accompanying book about the collection by Robin Poynor, both titled Spirit Eyes, Human Hands: African Art from the Harn Collection. From 1995 to 1996, Roy Sieber was a visiting Harn Eminent Scholar. In 1996, art history graduate students specializing in African and Oceanic art under Sieber's direction organized a thematic exhibition dealing with the shifting roles of objects over time, “African Art: Permutations of Power,” which opened at the Harn in 1997. The superb quality of objects borrowed for this exhibition inspired the museum to improve the aesthetic quality of its collection by a combination of new acquisitions and deaccessioning. The Harn tapped Sieber's extraordinary connoisseurship to vet the collection, resulting in refinement of the museum's holdings. Leading by example, Roy and Sophia Sieber donated two objects to the Harn in 1994 and 1995 respectively: a gohu society commemorative post from the Mijikenda people of Kenya and a janiform zoomorphic helmet mask (waniougo) of the Senufo originally collected by Anita Glaze and given in her honor.
The collection had a period of transition from 1996 to 2000, and although it grew, it did so with greater deliberation than in the past. The idea of transforming the collection into a “masterpiece collection” was debated and had strong support from the Harn's first director, Budd Harris Bishop. The collection continued to build slowly in the next few years, with acquisitions made through gifts and purchases. Among them were pieces displayed in an exhibition on objects of personal devotion organized by Larry Perkins, curator of Non-Western Arts. They included a Beembe male ancestral figure (mukuya) from Democratic Republic of Congo, a Kota reliquary figure (mbulu) from Gabon, and a northern Nigerian Quranic prayer board, as well as a Kongo crucifix. The mukuya (Fig. 4) acquired in 1998 is typical of the Mouyondzi style, with an ovoid head and sharply elongated beard; a thick cylindrical neck; thrown-back shoulders with short arms bent at the elbow; an elongated, slightly curved torso; flexed legs and large feet. The symmetrical keloidal patterns on the abdomen, sides, and back include three distinct designs arranged in vertical columns. The figure holds a knife in his right hand and a gourd-bottle in his left, suggesting that he was a leader and/or a healer.
An early twentieth century Kota reliquary figure was purchased by the museum in 1998. The figure has a wooden core wrapped with thin brass and copper strips and an inverted crescent surmounts the almond-shaped face. Its nose, eyes, and mouth with bared, sharply pointed teeth are aligned on a cruciform of brass plates. An open lozenge form at the base of the figure can be read as an abstraction of flexed arms. The lozenge shape also appears in finely embossed patterns on the crescent surmounting the figure's face.
By 2000, five years after its last African exhibition, the Museum began work on another collection-based exhibition. “Balance and Abundance: Concepts of Gender in African Art,” which opened in 2001, focused on the complexities of gender roles in historical, traditional African art production, performance, and interpretation and for the next three years sparked new interest in the African collection. The exhibition presented recent acquisitions, major works, and works that were rarely shown, an approach that led to loans and gifts in the course of the exhibition and afterwards.
While a new African exhibition was a major impetus for revitalizing the collection, it did little to alter the previous strategy of collecting, which was to acquire works critical to upcoming exhibitions. Rather than proactively collecting toward an established, specific goal, the curatorial staff relied on a generalized collection plan devised when the museum was founded. The plan's overarching criterion, applied to all areas of the collection, was to seek works that were deemed exemplary aesthetically and historically. The plan lacked an overview of each collection area's strengths and weaknesses and neither identified aspects of each area that would be enhanced by future acquisitions, nor narrated a collection philosophy pertinent to specific collection areas.
The original collection plan reflected the state of the museum in its early days. With only a curator of collections and a curator of exhibitions on staff, neither of whom had expertise in African art, the plan was necessarily open-ended. The collection was formed with an ongoing dialogue with University of Florida faculty, notably Robin Poynor, who drafted a proposal for a survey collection. However, those suggestions were never implemented. As a result the collection had serious lacunae and lacked clear objectives. From the opening of the museum, the primary focus remained on West African art, evident in Poynor's 1995 exhibition and catalog. The collection had examples of a diverse range of historical objects from West Africa, with heavy emphasis on Yoruba and other Nigerian peoples' arts. Many areas of the collection were underrepresented or lacked depth historically and aesthetically. The decision to reformulate the plan was prompted by the growth of the curatorial department as well as an initiative introduced by the new director, Rebecca Martin Nagy, who was appointed in 2002. Nagy came to the Harn from the North Carolina Museum of Art, where she served as both Associate Director of Education and Curator of African Art. As the new Harn director, one of her first initiatives was to mobilize the curators to devise a collection plan to guide the future of the collection. Nagy also established the goal of expanding the curatorial staff to manage the collection areas with the greatest potential for new growth, among them the African collection. By 2005 a completely revised collection plan was in place, and in 2006 she appointed me as the Harn's first curator of African Art.5 Because the collection's strength was concentrated in West African holdings, the plan sought to create a more comprehensive survey collection of West African art. At the same time, it identified specific genres and works from Central, South, East, and North Africa that were underrepresented or not represented at all. Other objectives outlined by the plan were to collect works with attributions, collect ensembles of objects, and build a collection of modern and contemporary works. It became clear that, as an educational institution, the museum would continue to grow its permanent collection with both exemplary objects and objects for study, while also establishing an Educational Hands-On Collection of African art.
The museum's pursuit of a more inclusive representation of the continent—regionally, historically, and aesthetically—gained momentum with Nagy's successful negotiation for acquisitions of important collections of South African and Ethiopian art at the beginning of her tenure. Since then, further acquisitions of East, North, Central, and South African objects and a wide range of West African objects have followed through museum purchases and gifts from local, regional, and national collectors. The emphasis on wood sculpture shifted to more diversified media, resulting in the strengthening of the holdings of textiles, items of personal adornment, ceramics, and two-dimensional media.
Examples of acquisitions since 2002 demonstrate a new direction for the Harn as well as a drive to enhance the depth and quality of its collection. For example, the acquisition of a finely carved chi wara or n'gonzon koun headdress (Fig. 5) in 2006 was a step in strengthening the representation of Bamana works. The headdress was made by a recognized workshop in the Djitoumou region of Mali and collected in the early to mid-twentieth century.
The museum took its first major step toward fleshing out the South African collection by acquiring a group of South African personal adornment objects collected by Frank Jolles. From his extensive collection of Zulu earplugs the Harn acquired thirty-four pairs and twenty single examples spanning the period from the 1920s to the 1990s. The earliest examples are wooden disks with worn surfaces, openwork designs, or simple adornment of metal studs. As cellulose, linoleum, and other synthetic materials were introduced to South Africa, artists incorporated them as intricate mosaics with a wide range of colors and patterns, some drawn from traditional sources and others from contemporary visual culture, including advertisements (Fig. 6). Later in the twentieth century, with the popularity of Lucite and Perspex, earplugs became more colorful, but the use of such hard, brittle materials resulted in less intricate designs. As Jolles has noted, large earplugs were markers of Zulu identity beginning in the early twentieth century (Jolles 1997). The range of materials, techniques, and designs of the Harn's collection of earplugs maps the construction of Zulu identity throughout most of the twentieth century.6
The Harn also acquired an Ngwane woman's beaded wedding cape, or isikoti, dated from the 1960s according to Jolles, who documented the name and location of the owner. Another important South African acquisition in 2003—an ensemble of a young Mfengu matron's clothing and accoutrements—was the first example of a complete dress ensemble in the collection and greatly enhanced the representation of beadwork and personal adornment (Fig. 7). The ethnologist, collector, and author Jean Broster gathered the items for the ensemble sometime in the 1950s–1960s, probably from several sources.7 With over 100 component parts, including garments, beadwork necklaces and pins, bracelets, anklets, belts, tobacco pouch, and purse, from both the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, it demonstrates how dress serves as a record of personal, local, and global histories. The close-fitting long skirt, cape, and turban were adaptations of Victorian-era dress. Toothed rubber rings (gathered from pipes used in mining) and red rubber jar seals, both converted to anklets, were given to the bride-to-be by her fiancé. These are but some examples of modern materials fashioned as adornments that are emblematic of cultural and economic changes in the later twentieth century.
The Harn inherited some examples of South African beadwork from the University Gallery, including two examples of mid-twentieth century Ndebele women's aprons, and subsequently acquired later examples from the 1960s–70s. Other examples of fine South African beadwork came into the collection, many as donations from Dr. Caroline Popper and Norma Canelas Roth and William D. Roth between 2005 and 2010. Among them is an Ndebele blanket dating from the 1960s with an allover beaded pattern suggesting architectural features. A Zulu man's apron made of a black imitation leather bus seat cover, with an intricate beaded waistband and adornments, reflects the cross-fertilization and modernization of materials, technique, and beadwork patterns between peoples in the region (Fig. 8). A second example of an Ngwane bridal cape, with beaded bands that include both geometric and figural motifs, includes images of an urban scene with cars, trucks, and a woman in a short dress and high-heels.
One of the most remarkable and cohesive groups of works the Harn has acquired are liturgical and other religious works from Ethiopia. In 2003 the Harn was able to acquire, through a gift-purchase arrangement with Richard Faletti, a group of significant Ethiopian Christian Orthodox objects, including handheld crosses, processional crosses, personal altars, and manuscripts. Many of these objects were originally acquired by Joseph Knopfelmacher in Ethiopia in the 1960s and later acquired by Faletti. These objects were featured in a catalog of the collection by Allen F. and Polly Nooter Roberts, A Sense of Wonder (1997). An intriguing mid-seventeenth or early eighteenth century pseudo-triptych from the Faletti collection features a central panel painted on copper of an ecce homo, or image of Christ crowned with thorns, called Kwer'ata re'esu in Amharic. The image of the Christ is significant historically, according to Stanislaw Chojnacki, as it fuses a fifteenth century pictorial tradition of Christ crowned with thorns with a Luso-Flemish image brought to Ethiopia in 1520 (Chojnacki 2003:19) Even more intriguing is the Indian influence clearly seen in the delicately painted figure of Christ and the soldiers surrounding him (Fig. 9). Indeed, Chojnacki remarks that this icon epitomizes the impact of Indian influence on Ethiopian culture and art” (Chojnacki 2003:19). The regal cape draping Christ's shoulders appears to be made of red Indian silk, while his tunic appears to be a jama, a wide, ocher-colored robe of fine cotton. The dress and weaponry of the two soldiers flanking Christ, and the gilded floral-patterned field, are also elements from India. It is possible that the artist who painted this image was employed in Gondar at the royal court in the mid-seventeenth century but was knowledgeable about Indian art and culture. It is also plausible that the central panel was produced in India and given to an Ethiopian ruler who then had a local artist paint the images on its side panels.8 In contrast to the central panel, the iconography and style of the four motifs on the inner surface of the side panels, including the Crucifixion, Mary and Child, and Saint George and Saint Susenyos killing the demoness Werzelya, are transitional from the First to Second Gondarene style, so they appear to belong to either the last two decades of the seventeenth century or the early eighteenth century.
In the same year as the Faletti objects were acquired, the Harn purchased a uniquely large Ethiopian church mural (Fig. 10). Richard Pankhurst (2006) has identified the mural as a depiction of King Takla Haymanot of Gojjam fighting the Sudanese dervishes. He interprets it as a propagandizing retelling, sometime between 1896 and 1910, of a famous episode in Ethiopian history, the Battle of Sarwaha in 1888 that resulted in the vanquishing of the Ethiopians, despite appearances to the contrary in the painting. However, Girma Getahun interprets the scene as the Battle of Metemma that occurred in 1887, when the Ethiopians were the victors, in keeping with inscriptions in Ge'ez on the mural that speak of the King's divinely guided victory.9 The unusually large format, approximately twenty-five feet in length, allowed the artist(s) to include richly detailed images of the emperor and his entire retinue on horseback. The secular subject distinguishes this painting, as murals used in the church were almost exclusively devoted to religious imagery until the late nineteenth century, when secular themes were permissible if they supported the church's interests. Pankhurst suggests that the work could be by one of the provincial artists of Gondar who specialized in battle scenes.
The Faletti collection also includes historically and stylistically diverse cast- and rolled-bronze (or cuprous alloy) processional crosses. An openwork bronze cross fashioned as a tree of life with birds perched in the branches is an example of an ornate style originating in the twelfth century. A cuprous alloy cross from the late fifteenth or early sixteenth century is delicately inscribed with the image of Our Mother Mary and, on the obverse, the three figures of the Holy Trinity surrounded by the Four Heavenly Creatures (Heldman 2009, Roberts and Roberts 1997:132) (Fig. 11). This unusually small processional cross was probably adapted from a personal pendant or hand cross. The image of Mary holding the Christ child, flanked by archangels Michael and Gabriel, indicates that the pendant was made sometime after the mid-fifteenth century, when Emperor Za'ra Ya'eqob mandated that all Christians in Ethiopia were to carry icons bearing the image of Our Lady Mary (Heldman 1994). The inscribed images are in the style of Frē Seyon, the most influential artist of the emperor's court at the time.10 After the museum acquired the Faletti crosses, Marc Ginzberg donated an iron Latin handheld cross from Ethiopia. Its spare, delicate form is stylistically similar to examples from the fourteenth century, when the Jesuits sought to Catholicize the Ethiopian church.
The Faletti works acquired by the Harn also include a bound psalter with vivid illuminations, dating from the seventeenth to the eighteenth century, and a bi-folio from the monastery of Gunda Gunde from the late fifteenth or early sixteenth century with images of the Virgin and Child and the Apostles. Two nineteenth century healing scrolls also came from the Faletti collection. One, depicting the Ethiopian saint Samuel of Waldebba riding a lion, is signed by Walda-Anbasa Goshu of the Beta Esrael, evidence of the involvement of Jewish spiritual specialists in mystical healing practices (Fig. 12).
Ecclesiastical painting is a dynamic art form that continues in Ethiopia. Tapping the vitality of contemporary Christian Orthodox painters, the Harn commissioned twelve paintings from the well-known cleric and painter Qes Adamu Tesfaw in 2002. Completed in 2004, the paintings include iconic imagery inspired by biblical narratives as well as images of Ethiopian saints. In 2009 the Harn acquired a diptych, Episodes from the Life of St. Yared, painted by the Ethiopian-born artist Daniel Berhanemeskal, an academically trained secular artist, who is a descendant of church painters. His diptych illustrates two scenes of the life of St. Yared, who was divinely inspired to compose chants, or zema, and notation for liturgical music.
The Faletti collection of Ethiopian objects significantly enhanced the museum's representation of the Horn of Africa. In 2005 it was strengthened further by a gift from Kathryne and John Loughran, who gave a total of 140 objects, 57 of which were from Somalia. Other works from the Loughran collection include beads and brass objects from Francophone West Africa. Among the Somali works were silver and gold jewelry and other accoutrements for personal adornment. One of the finest examples is an opulent porte Quran necklace with large round amber beads, agate beads, and small spherical ivory and silver beads, with a tubular silver pendant (Fig. 13). Such beautiful adornments were appropriate gifts for a bride, not only for enhancing her beauty and status, but as economic support, since they could be sold in the event of divorce. With both the powerful substance of amber and the porte Quran offering spiritual protection, the Harn pendant is referred to as xirsi, or “protection” The Loughran gift also included other bridal gifts, such as gold and silver bracelets, silver anklets and earrings, a silver comb, and a silver kohl pot: ten Somali textiles (futa benadir); brassware for domestic use, such as a brass coffee service; several delicate headrests adorned with interlace patterns; and a heavy wooden roundel for a roof support carved with rosettes and interlace motifs.
By 2003 the Harn began to actively seek works in underrepresented mediums such as ceramics and textiles. While the collection included examples of West African clay sculpture and ceramics and some Zulu beer pots, the museum sought a broader range of ceramic vessels and sculpture. Another impetus for collecting ceramics, which is largely a women's medium, was to balance its representation of gender-based artistic production, since most of its holdings were wood carvings, a medium dominated by men. The Harn was fortunate to receive an anonymous gift of ceramic vessels from West, Central, and East Africa in 2005, among which were a Gbinna vessel, a large Dogon jar, a Lobi beer brewing pot, several Zulu beer pots for storing and serving beer, Tutsi and Baganda bottles, honey pots from Guinea, a Bariba figurated shrine vessel, a Songye pot, Mangbetu and Azande bottles, storage jars from the Toussian and Kasena, a Lobi beer-brewing pot, Maninka, Nupe, and Igala waterpots, and two large Makonde water pots.
The museum's holdings of over 200 textiles, which includes garments, blankets, hats, flags, and masquerade costumes, began with a core group of Yoruba, Baule, and Sierra Leonean textiles mostly assembled by Robin Poynor for the Center for African Studies at the University of Florida in the early to mid-1980s This corpus consisted of strip-woven textiles, dyed imported cloths using a variety of resist techniques, as well as stamped and stenciled cloth. Examples included a range of both older men's and women's weaves, such as a finely woven Yoruba bridal cloth (oparo eletu) with indigo ikat stripes, as well as brilliant green and fuschia stripes; a group of kola and indigo dyed textiles by Sierra Leonean artist Kahdi Kamara; and Fulani blankets (khasas), with varying motifs. After the museum opened, more textiles were acquired. Two hammocks (kpokpoi) made by Mende male specialist weavers were given, one in 1995 by Rodney D. McGalliard and another in 2002 by Dr. Lewis Berner, an entomologist who lived in Ghana between 1942 and 1944 and travelled and collected widely throughout West Africa. Both hammocks have weft-faced strips, small areas of float weave, and supplementary weft patterns. These richly patterned cloths demonstrate the wealth and prestige of their owners. The Berner hammock is exceptionally finely woven and was collected between 1942 and 1944. The Harn also acquired three commemorative cloths Berner collected in Ghana, including an Ewe kente and two commemorative wax prints. One manufactured in England commemorates an earthquake that shook Accra in 1939 (Fig. 14). On the cloth, a large eye looks from the upper left while a hand grasping a lightning bolt stretches from the right over the city of Accra. Banners read “sikpon wosomo; nyonmo hewale tsii” and “asase wosow; onyame tumi” meaning “the earth shakes” and “God's power is big” in the Ga and Twi languages, respectively.11 The museum was also fortunate to acquire some fine examples of indigo-dyed cloth (adire) from Nigeria. In 2006, an exquisitely ephemeral thread-resist-dyed cloth (adire alabere) created by the celebrated Nigerian artist Nike Davies Okundaye was given to the Harn by Christopher Hardymon Poynor (Fig. 15). A year later Robin Poynor donated a fine example of a starch resist-dyed cloth (adire eleko), an Olokun cloth he purchased in Oshogbo in 1973.
In the course of planning for a major exhibition on African textiles, “Africa Interweave: Textile Diasporas,” the museum acquired a broad range of textiles, many fashioned into tailored garments, masquerade costumes, and flags. It also collected contemporary art inspired by textiles or incorporating textiles. In 2009, the Harn acquired a significant group of textiles from Barbara and William McCann, who collected many of them in North and West Africa in the late twentieth century. Highlights of the McCann collection include a Fulani wall covering (arkilla kereka) from Goundam, Mali (Fig. 16); a wall hanging (tapi) with a popular motif called “Escalier” from Mali; several finely woven and embroidered Hausa and Yoruba men's robes (including examples of agbadas, rigas, and a girke fari) from Nigeria; Amazigh garments from Egypt, Tunisia, and Morocco; and Amazigh wool rugs from Libya and Tunisia. The Amazigh textiles and garments were some of the first significant works from North Africa to enter the collection. Some examples of the garments include an indigo-dyed, embroidered head-covering, or tajira, from Tunisia; a wool shawl (bakhung) from Tunisia; a dark wool cape (akhnif) with large red apotropaic “eye” motif on the back from the Ouaozuite or Cheleuh region of Morocco; a sumptuous wool wedding tunic with silk embroidery from Tunisia; and a wedding ensemble of embroidered pants and tunic for a bride from Siwa, Egypt. These textiles form a continuum of iconography and techniques of weaving and dyeing with the Fulani and other Sahelian textiles in the collection.
Many acquisitions and exhibitions of textiles were influenced and informed by Victoria Rovine, who joined the University of Florida faculty in 2005. Rovine collected works in the course of her research in Mali at the request of the Harn, including an embroidered woman's robe (tilbi) created by Baba Djitteye, a Timbuktu-based artist; a beaded and embroidered tunic and skirt made of imported brocade cloth (locally known as bazin) from Malian designer Maimouna Diallo; and three examples of dyed bazin from Bamako. Rovine's and Poynor's students also made significant contributions: MacKenzie Moon-Ryan collected a sample group of kanga cloths in Tanzania; Christopher Richards procured textiles in Ghana from the market and from master weaver Samuel Cophie; Courtnay Micots collected cloth commemorating Obama's 2009 visit to Ghana and two Fancy Dress masquerades, and Jordan Fenton collected Ekpe-related garments and a masquerade.
Before 2010 the museum had already acquired some masquerades with cloth body-coverings, including an early twentieth century Yoruba Egungun with multiple layers of cloth strips and cloth head-covering; three Igbo maiden masquerades made of appliqued cloth; the aforementioned deangle mask with its blue and white strip-woven tunic and head-covering; and a kuosi society elephant mask with an indigo resist dyed cloth (ndop) tunic and beaded cloth head-covering. To complement these examples and make the point that textile techniques and styles in masking are easily adapted and borrowed, the Harn has since purchased other masquerades. In 2010 it acquired a northern Edo Okakagbe mask made by Lawrence Ajanaku (Fig. 17). The appliqued fabric body-covering with over-stitched motifs is an obvious correlate with Igbo maiden masks, and indeed, an artist from the Igbo-Igala border area brought these techniques to the northern Edo town Etsako around 1920 (Borgatti 1979:4). The mask is one of the attendants of the main character, Great Mother.
In the same year, Jordan Fenton, who was conducting doctoral research on the Ekpe society in Calabar, assisted the Harn with the acquisition of an Ekpe society masquerade, Ebonko. Fenton had worked with an artist, Ekpenyong Bassey Nsa, highly acclaimed for his innovative and spectacular designs for Ekpe masquerades (Fenton 2011:147). Ekpenyong's Ebonko purchased by the Harn is a stunning example of the ostentatious display of wealth that is the mask's primary purpose in the Ekpe society. Using imported materials for its gold spangled body and head covering with red accents, wrapped with many yards of satin, and with mirrors embedded on its headpiece, it flaunts the wealth accrued by Ekpe from centuries of international trade. With the help of an Ekpe chief, Fenton also acquired an ensemble of chiefly attire, including a long white eyelet lace openwork shirt, an indigo-dyed ukara cloth skirt, beaded velvet shoes and hat, and a rayon and linen iridescent scarf. Sumptuously attired in this ensemble, the chief would have appeared in public processions with masquerades during investitures for title-holders and at other events.
Yet more splendid masquerades were collected in 2012, when Courtnay Micots purchased a Roman soldier mask and a “Chinese” style mask for the Harn from artists who specialize in Fancy Dress masquerades (Micots 2014). Fataawu Belloe designed the Roman Soldier mask and Louis Abeaku Yamoah constructed its costume using imported brocade cloth, sequins, and Christmas tree ornaments. The soldier's helmet, made from ephemeral materials of Styrofoam, aluminum foil, and plastic rosettes, is worn over an imported rubber Halloween mask of a wizened old man. The Chinese Fancy Dress mask body-covering made by Francis Kodwo Coker consists of multicolored layers of ruffled fabric. Nana Kofi Anthony Awuah Donkoh created a see-through face mask of painted mesh with brightly colored fabric hair. These flamboyant masks represent genres that clearly reflect the impact of imported materials and images that are transformed into ever more innovative forms in the hands of local artists.
In the last decade, the Harn has made acquisition of contemporary works of African artists a priority. In the early 2000s Curator of Contemporary Art Kerry Oliver-Smith purchased the first of the Harn's contemporary works, two Seydou Keita photographs, Untitled #59 and Untitled #298, both from 1956–57; a photograph by Zwelethu Mthethwa, Untitled (2002); and two groups of works by William Kentridge, including a suite of nine photogravures with dry-point etching, Zeno Writing (2002), and Promenade II (2002), a series of four bronze figures. While the procession of half-human, half-mechanical figures in Promenade II also resonated with Kentridge's filmic imagery, it was not until 2014 that the Harn acquired Tango for Page Turning, Kentridge's film (Fig. 18) for his theater piece Refuse the Hour (2012–13). Based on the concept of a flip book, the film features animated figures of a man—Kentridge himself—and a woman rendered in black-and-white drawings on the pages of an antiquarian tome. As the pages turn, they appear to dance to a vocal accompaniment, a fragmented resampling of Hector Berlioz's song Specter of the Rose. As the figures move toward each other, striving to literally be on the same page, their images are interspersed with fields filled with white and black geometric shapes, a calligraphically rendered horse, and two chairs—recurrent symbols in Kentridge's work.
In 2003 the Harn hosted “Gawu,” a solo exhibition of El Anatsui's work that included seven works made from metal fragments, five of which were clothlike relief sculptures. In 2005, the Harn purchased one of the sculptures, Old Man's Cloth (2003) (Fig. 19). This seminal work, made from liquor bottle tops and copper wire, with its glistening surface of gold, silver, red, and black crinkled metal, evokes an opulent but decaying strip-woven garment with stressed seams and tattered edges.
Following the success of “Gawu,” the Harn organized an exhibition of Magdalene Odundo's recent works, “Resonance and Inspiration: New Works by Magdalene Odundo.” Driven by overwhelmingly positive reception of the work, the Harn purchased Vessel Series 1, no. 2, a black symmetrical vase with a dramatically flared rim (Fig. 20) and Vessel series 1, no. 1, a nearly identical shape but with a brilliant orange-red color, which was acquired with funds specifically donated for this purchase.
In 2006, in preparation for Rebecca Nagy and Achameyelah Debela's co-curated exhibition “Continuity and Change: Three Generations of Ethiopian Artists,” the Harn purchased Skunder Boghossian's Time Cycle III (Fig. 21). The work reflects the impact of Boghossian's return to Africa after his years studying in Europe and teaching since 1971 at Howard University. His journey back to his native continent in the mid-1970s clearly inspired the composition and content of Time Cycle III, a relief constructed of bark cloth the artist collected in Uganda (Nagy 2007:56). The concentric circular motif in the center of the composition serves as a cosmogram in many cultures, including ancient Ethiopia, and also suggests the layout of Ethiopian Christian Orthodox churches, the dominant site of Ethiopian spirituality and art production for centuries. The Ethiopian reference is strengthened by the image of the lion, an emblem of the Ethiopian imperial state. Letters in Amharic combined with other alphabets spell out the word “welcome,” suggesting that the rectangular space encasing a circle symbolizes a space—whether spiritually charged space or alternate time-space—that the artist invites the viewer to enter.
Two works from the exhibition, Elias Sime's mixed media work Untitled (Fig. 22) and Bisrat Shibabaw's Moonlight Sonata, captured the attention of a local benefactor, who purchased them for the Harn's collection. Sime's work, which is composed of objects he collects, features a central white plastic plate surrounded with alternating concentric circles of black and multicolored buttons sewn onto the canvas with colored thread. According to the artist, the buttons represent the people of the world who surround the plate, which serves as a symbol of the universal need for food and sustenance.
“Continuity and Change” was complemented by a video installation, Salem Merkuria's IMAGinING Tobia (Fig. 23) which the museum purchased in 2007. The tri-screen installation recalls triptych icons as it celebrates the beauty and diversity of Ethiopian landscape, peoples, and culture, focusing on the sacred rituals of the Ethiopian church. In 2005 Drs. Israel and Michaela Samuelly donated a painting by the Ethiopian-born artist Wosene Kosrof, titled Scrolls of the Ancestor IV (1994). The acrylic painting features vibrantly rendered graphic symbols, calligraphic script, and abstracted forms of iconic ancestral images from diverse African cultures. For example, motifs of Kota reliquaries are framed by narrow long strips inscribed with images and scripts that recall Ethiopian healing scrolls.
In 2004 the Harn hosted the Fowler Museum's innovative exhibition “A Saint in the City: Sufi Arts of Urban Senegal,” curated by Allen F. Roberts and Polly Nooter Roberts. The overwhelmingly positive response to the exhibition and the contemporary Senegalese artists it represented led to the acquisition of the Viye Diba's mixed media work from 2007, Traces (Fig. 24) and five works by Yelimane Fall in 2012, from his Jawartu series. Traces, with its subdued, earth-colored horizontal fields that seep into the cloth strips covering the surface, suggests constraint, but also processes of decay and transition. Fall's series of paintings illustrate the poem Jawartu, written by the Sufi saint Sheikh Amadou Bamba, and each painting is inspired by one of the poem's twenty-nine verses. Fall's paintings acquired by the Harn are interpretations of verses 1, 2, 8, 17, and 22. A composition of graceful blue and yellow curvilinear forms (Fig. 25) is Fall's exuberant response to the eighth verse, which translates from Arabic as “May I be the object of no acts of protest or menace! May my life be a celebration until my entrance to Paradise.”12
In 2013 the Harn collected two works by Steve Bandoma, an artist whose work was known in South Africa, Democratic Republic of Congo, and Europe, but not in the United States. However, Bandoma's series of multimedia works that situate Kongo power figures, nkisi, in contemporary contexts became an intriguing addition to the exhibition “Kongo across the Waters,” which opened at the Harn in 2013 and focused on the ongoing legacy of Kongo artistry in Africa and the African diaspora. In Acculturation (Fig. 26) Bandoma's nkisi is activated by cut out images of fashion models' glamorous hands clutching nails, and a television test screen in place of medicines (bilongo) embedded in his abdomen.
In 2014 the Harn purchased an Ekpeye Aarungu masquerade headdress from Richard Gilbert, who acquired this and other works when he was a nurse in Port Harcourt in 1970–71. The carpentered mask (Fig. 27) includes colorful motifs of aquatic life, such as snakes and crocodiles, with lotus-stemmed projections with inset mirrors on each side. These are surmounted by a framework that surrounds a palm wine tapper on a tree, a tailor at work on his sewing machine and two propeller planes, one red and one green, one diving and one flying above the tailor's head.
An inscription on the side informs us that this is “Opu Arungu No. 1.” The mask compares to a headdress John Picton documented in Ogbo, Nigeria, in 1966. According to Picton, Aarungu masking was a reinterpreted hybrid of the Egbukere masks that originated with the Kalabari Ijo and moved to Abua (Picton 1988:46). In 2015 the Harn was able to acquire fourteen more objects from Gilbert's collection, including an Ekpeye “Elder Daughter” (Adanwonsai) headdress; Afikpo masks “Yam Knife” (mamaji) and a mask expressing youthful exuberance, known by its secret society name “igri”; two Anang Ibibio figures and one Ekong puppet representing women initiates for mbopo; Ekong puppets representing a Nigerian policeman; and a male spirit being with snakes and mirrors on its headdress. It also included Anang Ibibio shrine figures, including a Bishop, clad in a bishop's miter and shorts, said to be part of a village entry shrine, and a mini-skirted, loafer-shod Anang Ibibio Mami Wata figure. This delightful figure was shown in the 2008 exhibition “Mami Wata: Arts for Water Spirits in Africa and its Diasporas,” curated by Henry Drewal, and pictured in the catalog (Drewal 2008:124).
The museum continued to explore the world of African textiles and dress in the exhibition “Kabas and Couture: Contemporary Ghanaian Fashion” in 2014. In the course of planning the exhibition the museum was gifted a tailored kaba top made from kente, designed by Juliana Norteye, whose label was Chez Julie. The kente kaba's historical importance as a link between traditional dress and new dress styles associated with post-Independence Ghana, and Chez Julie's pioneering role in forging this link in her designs is explored in Christopher Richards's article in this issue of African Arts.
In 2015 the Harn acquired two white masks (lo gbe) of the Zara of Burkina Faso with the assistance of Lisa Homann. The Harn commissioned the masks in 2014 from Gaoussou Sanou, a master artist in Bobo-Dioulasso known for his innovative white mask designs. Sanou created two entertainment masks, a tieboli and a tiebolikoloyiri. Both masks' body-coverings are constructed with handspun, strip-woven cotton cloth, with black applique designs. The headdresses differentiate the mask types: the tieboli has a crest with long, Mohawk-like fringe, and the tiebolikoloyiri's disk-shaped headdress is adorned with cowries. The masks, made for honoring revered members of the Zara community, dance only at night in the light of the moon. Their high-contrast, bold black-and-white patterns and iron leg rattles are aesthetically tuned to the audience's altered sensory perception during their nocturnal performances (Homann 2015: 163)
The most recent acquisition was a gift of an Igbo figural shrine object from Drs. John and Nicole Dintenfass, who acquired it in the late 1960s. The most prominent feature of this sculpture is a large head with an elaborate coiffure centered on top of a two-tiered pedestal, flanked by rows of two female figures on either side of a male figure. The stance and stature of the figures suggests they are supplicants. The style of the figures and their accoutrements seem to reference colonial era dress of the early twentieth or late nineteenth century.
In the last twenty-five years, the Harn's African collection has grown tenfold, as it has steadily striven to meet the goal of serving as both a collection of exemplary art works and as a study collection. It has served as a valuable and accessible resource for African visual arts for the University of Florida students and faculty and also for local and regional communities, becoming one of the most extensive and dynamic collections of African art in the southeast.
The University of Florida Gallery opened in 1965. The gallery expanded in later years to include other campus spaces and became known as the University of Florida Galleries or simply the University Galleries. The Gallery Guild formed in 1974 began to develop a collection with the idea of establishing a permanent art museum on campus. In 1988, it transferred the collection to the Harn Museum of Art which was housed in a temporary space off-campus. The museum opened in its permanent location on campus in 1990.
Rosemary Manis remarked to Robin Poynor that her husband knew Harley. E.W. Manis cites Harley's publication Agents of Social Control in his unpublished notes in the museum files but does not mention meeting him.
Flam's work focused on Matisse but he was also keenly interested in African art. He published an article on Luba caryatid stools in African Arts in 1971. It is likely he influenced Roy Craven's decision to collect African art for the University of Florida Gallery.
The two photographs are illustrated in Poynor 1995:90–91. Another veranda post from the palace of Efon Alaiye attributed to the Adesina workshop is in the collection of the Ackland Museum of Art, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill.
I was appointed in 2006 as a full curator, but had joined the Harn as a part-time curatorial assistant in 2001, and worked as a curator of African art, also overseeing Oceanic and Ancient American collections.
The earplugs in the Harn's collection include a large range of Perspex examples. Jolles also donated the majority of his collection of earplugs to the British Museum in 1999. See Mack 2000.
Gary van Wyk of Axis Gallery, who sold the ensemble to the museum, included documentation that shows Broster's inventory as well as objects not listed on this original inventory. Two other owners had the ensemble after Broster and may have added these objects.
Marilyn Heldman has suggested that the copper panel was likely produced in India, noting that such exchanges of gifts between the Mughal court and their Christian trading partners were common in the eighteenth century. Unpublished manuscript, 2006, based on summary of notes from her examination of the object in Harn storage, July 12, 2006.
The inscription above the head of King Takla Haymonot reads: “Peace be unto you, O honorable king. You are happy with the power of God. You are the conqueror of the enemy.” Translation by Amsalu Akilu in Pankhurst 2006:66. See also Getahun's (2014) discussion of the battle of Metemma.
Marilyn Heldman examined the object in 2006 and noted the stylistic similarity to works by Fre Seyon.
Translation by James Essegby, University of Florida.
This translation was provided by Allen and Polly Nooter Roberts who worked closely with Fall and assisted with the acquisition of the paintings. (personal communication, email 2011).