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Central Africa's Kongo civilization is responsible for one of the world's greatest artistic traditions. This international loan exhibition explores the region's history and culture through 146 of the most inspired creations of Kongo masters from the late fifteenth through the early twentieth century.
The earliest of these creations were diplomatic missives sent by Kongo sovereigns to their European counterparts during the Age of Exploration; they took the form of delicately carved ivories and finely woven raffia cloths embellished with abstract geometric patterns. Admired as marvels of human ingenuity, such Kongo works were preserved in princely European Kunstkammer, or cabinets of curiosities, alongside other precious and exotic creations from across the globe.
With works drawn from sixty institutional and private lenders across Europe and the United States, Kongo: Power and Majesty relates the objects on view to specific historical developments and challenges misconceptions of Africa's relationship with the West. In doing so, it offers a radical, new understanding of Kongo art over the last five hundred years.
Kongo across the Waters examines 500 years of cultural exchange between the Kongo, Europe, and the United States, showing the rise of Kongo as a major Atlantic presence and the transmission of Kongo culture through the transatlantic slave trade into American art.
Drawing from the incomparable collections of the Royal Museum for Central Africa in Tervuren, Belgium, including masterpieces that have never before been seen in the United States, this groundbreaking exhibition investigates how the Kingdom of Kongo in West Central Africa evolved over five centuries and contributed to the cultural life of enslaved Africans and their descendants in North America. Manuscripts, maps, engravings, photographs, and videos provide contextual information, and the accompanying 448-page catalog further explores the art of the Kongo and of the Kongo diaspora.
Kongo across the Waters is a joint project organized by the Samuel P. Harn Museum of Art, University of Florida, Gainesville, Florida, and the Royal Museum for Central Africa, Tervuren, Belgium, and is supported by an indemnity from the Federal Council on the Arts and the Humanities. At Princeton, supplementary interpretive content has been developed by the Princeton University Art Museum. The exhibition at Princeton has been made possible by generous support from the National Endowment for the Arts; the Frances E. and Elias Wolf, Class of 1920, Fund; Susan and John Diekman, Class of 1965; the David A. Gardner ’69 Magic Project; the Department of Art and Archaeology, Princeton University; and an anonymous fund. Additional funds have been provided by the Allen R. Adler, Class of 1967, Exhibitions Fund; Heather and Paul G. Haaga Jr., Class of 1970; Holly and David Ross; Andrew W. Mellon Foundation; the New Jersey State Council on the Arts/Department of State, a Partner Agency of the National Endowment for the Arts; and by the Center for African American Studies, the Program in African Studies, the Office of Religious Life, the Lewis Center for the Arts, and the Department of English, Princeton University. Further support has been provided by the Partners and Friends of the Princeton University Art Museum.