Exhibition: Joli! A Fancy Masquerade from Sierra Leone

fowler-museum-joli-masquerade
Exhibition dates: 11 December 2016 – 16 July 2017

This exhibition features a rare group of eleven headdresses worn in Joli masquerades held in Sierra Leone’s capital city of Freetown in the 1970s. Joli headdresses are among the most unusual, complex and elaborate masquerade configurations we know from sub-Saharan Africa, and they reflect the blending of cultural influences and peoples in the dynamic port city of Freetown. The headdresses in this exhibition were performed to mark the end of the Muslim month of Ramadan. Crafted by Joli Society members, each headdress started with an elaborate armature made of bent and twisted wire, which was padded with polyurethane foam and then covered with textiles, brocades, velvets, netting, Christmas tinsel, fringe, lace and mirrors to create a ‘fancy’ superstructure in a recognisable shape, such as a mosque, an elephant, a biplane or the water spirit Mami Wata. Lastly, a painted wooden face mask or several face masks were attached to the structure, which was worn on top of the head of the fully dressed performer. The exhibition explains the history of Joli and the various threads of influence that led to this fantastic urban masquerade popular for only a brief period in the 1970s.

For more information, visit the website of the Fowler Museum, Los Angeles, USA.

Exhibition: Asafo Flags from Ghana

Mingei International Museum - Asafo Flags from Ghana

Exhibition dates: 6 February – 10 July 2016

This exhibition features thirty-six flags from the West African country of Ghana. A recent donation to Mingei International Museum (USA), these colourful flags dating to the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries feature graphic folk imagery and appliquéd designs on solid cotton grounds. They were commissioned by military organisations known as Asafo, or ‘companies’, whose primary role was to exert power, exercise political influence and maintain codes of conduct within Fante communities. Smaller towns had at least one company, and larger towns up to fourteen. Verbal proverbs are given imaginative visual form on the flags, in which messages and customs are remembered and oral traditions are preserved.

Asafo flags are displayed at funerals, annual festivals and other ceremonial occasions, where they adorn central shrines and are paraded and waved through villages and towns. Intense rivalry among companies once led to violent confrontations, but today this is channeled into peaceful competitions. Colonial influence can be noted in these flags, derived in part from the display of European flags in the region; indeed, the British Union Jack appears on flags created before Ghana gained its independence in 1957.

For more information, visit the website of the Mingei International Museum, San Diego, California, USA.

Exhibition: Painting With Threads – Chinese Tapestry and Embroidery

Met Museum - Painting with Threads

Exhibition dates: 25 October 2014 – 9 August 2015

The thinness and strength of silk make it the ideal material for weaving or embroidering elegant, painting-like images characterised by fluid outlines, rich colours and even the addition of calligraphic inscriptions and seals. Drawn from the Metropolitan’s superb holdings of Chinese tapestries and embroideries, this installation, which features several pieces not exhibited previously, presents dramatic landscapes, flowers and birds, famous immortals and stunning examples of calligraphy, showing the artistic imagination and technical sophistication of China’s textile artists.

If you’re nearby, or planning to visit NYC in the near future, this exhibition is open for seven more weeks.

For more information, visit the website of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, USA.