For more than two millennia, ironworking has shaped African cultures in the most fundamental ways. Striking Iron: The Art of African Blacksmiths reveals the history of invention and technical sophistication that led African blacksmiths to transform one of Earth’s most basic natural resources into objects of life-changing utility, empowerment, prestige, spiritual potency, and astonishing artistry.
Striking Iron is an international traveling exhibition organized by the Fowler Museum at UCLA that combines scholarship with objects of great aesthetic beauty to create the most comprehensive treatment of the blacksmith’s art in Africa to date. The exhibition includes over 225 artworks from across the African continent focusing on the region south of the Sahara and covering a time period spanning early archaeological evidence to the present day. Striking Iron features artworks from the Fowler collection as well as American and European public and private collections.
Striking Iron: The Art of African Blacksmiths is organized by the Fowler Museum at UCLA. The curatorial team is led by artist Tom Joyce, a MacArthur Fellow originally trained as a blacksmith, with co-curators Allen F. Roberts, UCLA Professor of World Arts and Cultures/Dance; Marla C. Berns, Shirley & Ralph Shapiro Director, Fowler Museum; William J. Dewey, Director, African Studies Program and Associate Professor of African Art History at Pennsylvania State University; and Henry J. Drewal, Evjue-Bascom Professor of Art History and Afro-American Studies at the University of Wisconsin–Madison.
Major funding for Striking Iron comes from the National Endowment for the Humanities and the National Endowment for the Arts. Generous support is also provided by the Fowler Museum’s Martha and Avrum Bluming Exhibition Fund.
The National Museum of African Art is grateful to Nancy and David Barbour, Nicole and John Dintenfass, Lydia Puccinelli Robbins, and members of the museum’s Advisory Board for their generous support of its presentation of Striking Iron: The Art of African Blacksmiths.
Closes Sept. 29, 2019
In the cities of the West African nation of Senegal, stylish women have often used jewelry as part of an overall strategy of exhibiting their elegance and prestige. Rooted in the Wolof concept of sañse (dressing up, looking and feeling good), Good As Gold examines the production, display, and circulation of gold in Senegal as it celebrates a significant gift of gold jewelry to the National Museum of African Art’s collection.
Visionary ideas propel the greatest human accomplishments.
Visionary: Viewpoints on Africa’s Arts, the National Museum of African Art’s most recent, large-scale presentation of its collection, is the first to offer broad thematic connections between artworks across the spectrum of time, place, and medium. Visionary aims to get visitors to look with fresh and focused insight and, in so doing, to see works of art—and each other—with new eyes.
Commissioned from internationally renowned artist Yinka Shonibare MBE, the installation of Wind Sculpture VII at the entrance to our museum promises to mark a new landmark of public art on the National Mall. The ship-sail shapes of Shonibare’s Wind Sculpture series, painted to appear like his trademark wax-print cloth material, evoke cross-continental connections—in history, in trade, in politics, in ideas, and in contemporary art.
Greeting visitors in the museum’s entry pavilion, select pieces from the museum’s permanent collection reveal the skill and range of African artists who create art empowered to counter physical, social, and spiritual problems. Works of diverse materials and expressive styles might contain medicines, draw upon the power of the divine, or address such global issues as the HIV/AIDS crisis.
Water is in all of us—to live, we need water to drink. Featuring artworks from the museum’s permanent collection, this exhibition proves that water is one of most potent forces on earth. Its currents flow through myths, metaphors, and rituals. Diverse and wide-ranging in material, time period, style, and intended use, the objects in this exhibition span the continent of Africa to explore the importance of water for both practical and artistic purposes.
A towering and visually striking sculpture of Haitian leader Toussaint Louverture by contemporary Senegalese artist Ousmane Sow is the centerpiece of an exhibition of important acquisitions of the past decade at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African Art. African Mosaic: Selections from the Permanent Collection showcases museum purchases and gifts and provides a glimpse into the collecting opportunities and decisions that exist for art museums.
African Mosaic: 50th Anniversary Room
In 1963, during the height of the civil rights movement, retired U.S. Foreign Service officer Warren M. Robbins (1923–2008) established the Center for Cross Cultural Understanding to “show the rich creative heritage of Africa, and to underscore the implications of this heritage in America’s quest for interracial understanding.” The following year, Robbins expanded his vision and opened the Museum of African Art. Originally housed in a Capitol Hill town house once owned by the great intellectual, abolitionist, former slave, and statesman, Frederick Douglass, the museum became part of the Smithsonian Institution in 1979 by an act of Congress and was renamed the National Museum of African. Over the course of its five decades, the museum has become home to more than 12,000 works of art that speak to both the talent and skill of diverse African artists and communities, and the unique history of this institution and the individuals who have helped to shape it.
Donated to the museum in 2005, the Walt Disney–Tishman Collection is known for its unique and rare works of traditional African art from throughout sub-Saharan Africa. The collection has been instrumental in defining the field of African art history in the United States and abroad.
The Connecting the Gems of the Indian Ocean: From Oman to East Africa project is proud to present Sailors and Daughters: Early Photography and the Indian Ocean World, the Museum’s first-ever online exhibit made possible by a gift from the Sultan Qaboos Cultural Center. Sailors and Daughters reveals the expansive maritime societies of Zanzibar, the east African coast, and Persian Gulf. From the 1840’s, cameras traced the international migrations of traders, sailors, sons, and daughters through Indian Ocean ports, continuing trade that dates back over five millennia. For instance, a highlight of the exhibition brings together early images by German photographer Hermann Burkhardt of Oman in 1904, which resemble photographs captured in Stone Town. East African cities flourished as hubs of both land and sea trade routes, which extended to the central African interior, the Middle East, Indian Ocean islands, western India and the Far East.