May 19th, 2016 | Artifacts
This early 20th century Chinese scroll painting is currently on exhibit in Incredible Journeys: The Life Histories of Museum Objects, which focuses on how the featured artifacts came to be at the MOA. The painting is in the Northern Song style, which, rather than depicting the subjects in three-dimensional detail, aims to show how the objects in the painting and in real life are alike in spirit. The style plays on the dichotomy between realism and abstraction.
The scroll was collected by Marion Dudley, who lived and worked for the YWCA in Hong Kong and Shanghai between 1927 and 1947. She collected dozens of paintings, silks, porcelains, and other decorative objects. Chinese society was experiencing cultural and political upheaval during the period Dudley lived there. As a result, many artists sought to preserve traditional aesthetics while also incorporating Western techniques.
February 2nd, 2016 | Artifacts
The Yoruba peoples are found in the West African countries of Nigeria and Benin. They consist of many distinct ethnicities, but are united by similar languages, common religious practices, and shared history.
This Yoruba mask was used as part of the Gelede masquerade celebrating female ancestors and elderly women. For the Yoruba, mask performances, along with music and dancing, are a way of recognizing female status. Without the kind of attention provided by such spectacle, the spirit world is thought to lash out and punish the living.
Gelede masks are composed of two parts: the head and the superstructure. The head is the abstracted and idealized feminine face. Its expression is serene, demonstrating the timelessness of the spirit world. In contrast, the superstructure represents the ever-changing physical world. Its forms update with new trends and fads. This mask features a leopard, a symbol of power. This type of mask is worn on top of the head, with a veil covering the dancer’s face. This mask is on display in the MOA’s newest exhibit, Death at the Crossroads: A Dramatic Reading of Yoruba Art.
December 8th, 2015 | Artifacts
This Christmas card comes from the collection of Marion Dudley, who was a missionary with the YWCA. She lived and worked in China from the mid-1920s until World War II. The card includes images of men lighting firecrackers and a traditional Chinese dragon dance. These activities are usually associated with Chinese New Year, which falls in late January or early February depending on the lunar calendar. The dragon dance brings good luck for the coming year, while the firecrackers scare away evil spirits. In this case, these traditional festive images are adopted to celebrate the birth of Christ.
November 3rd, 2015 | Artifacts
This toy car was made by a boy of about 10 years old in Ouassou, Côte d’Ivoire, in the late 1990s. Cars like this one are made by youths in many parts of Africa using whatever materials are available, such as the sandal soles cut to make the wheels on this car. The car is in the shape of Peugeot minivan, likely modeled after one of the many used vehicles shipped to Côte d’Ivoire to serve as “bush taxis.” These vehicles stop to pick up passengers as they make circuits through major cities, or as they cruise the roadways between rural towns. This object is on exhibit in our new student-curated permanent exhibit, Childhood: Exploring Youth Culture Around the World. Anthropology student Maeghan Livingston researched this object for the exhibit. The accompanying photos, taken by former MOA curator, Beverlye Hancock, show the toy being made and used in Côte d’Ivoire.
September 21st, 2015 | Artifacts
This outer case, or coffin, of a mummy was created by applying plaster on top of layers of cloth and then painting the plaster. After a body underwent preservation processes, it was put into this type of coffin. The Egyptians were firm believers of the afterlife and viewed the process of mummification as necessary to ensure their arrival to the next world. It was typical for the wealthy class to have elaborately decorated mummy cases that were painted with Egyptian gods or other religious symbols. On this piece, Ra, the sun god, and the most important god in the Egyptian pantheon, is represented in the upper left. The figure in the upper right is Nepthys, a protective goddess of the dead. Anubis, son of Nepthys and the god of embalming and the dead, is in the lower left corner. Anubis watches over the mummification process, so it is particularly fitting that he appear on a mummy casing. This fascinating artifact is currently on exhibit in MOA’s Cabinet of Curiosities.
June 17th, 2015 | Artifacts
Large brass statues, such as these leopards, were owned by royalty in the Bamun (also spelled Bamum) kingdom, located in the Grasslands of Cameroon. Brass leopards enhanced the prestige of the king, known as the Fon, as it was his privilege to use images of leopards to mark his position. Depictions of leopards also appear in beaded art, thrones, stools, and other royal objects. Wealth was also indicated by the possession of live leopards kept in the king’s compound. Bamun society is very hierarchical and is organized around the Fon, making the markers of his superiority very prominent. Today, these leopards mark the entrance to our summer exhibit, MOA’s Cabinet of Curiosities.