Friday, September 30, 2011

British Museum - Taster tour of Africa

Again, i snuck off from the libary the other day to run through another of the British Museum's 40 minute 'eye opener' tours.  This time, the topic was Africa.   While I was hanging out in the room the tour was to take place in,  I wandered past a cabinet containing photos and objects from the Innu people.  I have been trying to work on a piece with my friend Ruth about the Isuma Productions film, "The Journals of Knud Rasmussen" (which deals with interactions between Danish explorer Knud Rasmussen, and the Inuit, set between 1912 and 1921).  After spending hours watching that film over and over, immersed in the feel of snow, fur and ice, and the sounds of throat singing and drums, it made me feel strangely both homesick and comforted to see the case with beautiful winter gear and drums and harpoons... and photos not only of people long dead, but also of contemporary life in the north.   You can find the film online for free (subtitled in English)... here is a little taste from youtube.  But...back to the main story!  :-) ....

I wandered from there over to the other wall, where a woman sat with a table of objects that could be held and touched.  The point was to let you get your hands on things that you might see in other places in the museum, so you could get the feel of things.  So, I got to touch a long roll of kente cloth.  I had seen images before, but it was great to get my hands on it, and to realize that it is made up of smaller woven strips, that are sewn together to make the larger cloth.  Up close, you could see clearly how much work would be involved in producing the cloth (and could also understand better why such cloth was worn only by kings, rulers, and the very very powerful/wealthy).

Having touched the cloth, it was all the more interesting to wander downstairs on the tour to see a piece of art called "Man's Cloth" by the artist El Anatsui.  It is made entirely from the metal rings from the necks of (liquor?) bottles, the metal beaten flat, and then woven into the 'cloth', which seems to be loosely draped.    You can see the influence of the kente cloth (and more tangible evidence of the source material) in the closeup.  So interesting to look at something so beautiful made from the carnage and detritus of capitalist consumerism.

We saw many beautiful pieces of pottery on the tour, much of it made by coiling (rather than on the wheel), and all of it making me want to head back to my Eden in the Shuswap, to sit with cousins and friends under Glen and Janet's porch, with my hands deep in the clay.  These pieces were often highly burnished, and I can see myself (and you, Tonia?) spending more summer hours trying that technique out a couple of pots!

And, speaking of Eden, I also got to get a closer look at "The Tree of Life", which is one of the most striking pieces I have seen in a while.  There is a great exploration of it on the British Museum's website here: You can see photos from the making of the tree, read about the artists, etc.

Basically, they asked people in Mozambique to trade in weapons for other things (sewing machines, tools, tractors, etc) took and disassembled the weapons, and used the metal from them to make the tree. Talk about beating swords into plowshares. It is just stunning.

Along side it, other artists have used weapons to make the animals around the tree:  there is a monkey climbing the trunk, a turtle, a lizard, a dragon fly, feathered bird of some sort....   really wild!  I loved it!

1 comment:

  1. Hey, I saw some of Anatsui's work 2010 summer in Denver, then 2011 summer in Seattle. it's amazing, isn't it! So, so beautiful.
    in denver they had a table where you could use the same materials (yes, from bottles, the little wrappers from wine but in foil, if I recall) and linked together with metal thread.


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