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.
April 2nd, 2015 | Artifacts
This type of Middle Eastern goblet drum is used across the region and is referred to by many names: tabla/tablah, darbouka/darboukah/darbukkah/derbouka, or tombek/doumbek. This example is Palestinian and was made in Jordan in the 20th century. The body of the drum is wheel-thrown glazed ceramic with a stretched animal hide creating the drum head. A piece of plastic twine is used to attached the hide and tighten it as needed. In general, this style of drum is held under one arm or laid on its side over one leg to be played. This example is made in the Egyptian style, which means that it has rounded edges on the head, as compared to the Turkish style which has a raised rim. The different designs allow for slight variations in the playing technique.
This drum was made to be used in wedding ceremonies. The glaze shows hand prints and the Arabic word “Mabruk,” which means congratulations, especially in the context of a wedding. The drum is used as accompaniment to dabke, a folk circle dance that is traditionally performed at Arabic weddings and other joyous occasions.
February 23rd, 2015 | Artifacts
The Ticuna (also known as Tukuna or Tikuna) live in the Amazon rain forest of Brazil, near the borders of Peru and Colombia. They were among the first major Amazonian tribes to come into contact with Europeans. However, despite the passing of more than 400 years, the Ticuna have preserved their traditional religion, rituals, language, and art forms. They are one of the last remaining large indigenous populations in Brazil. The Ticuna are known especially for their ritual masks and costumes. This body mask is made predominantly of bark cloth, a paper-like fabric made from the inner bark of certain trees, with raffia fringe. It features a pigmented beeswax face and emphasized male genitalia. Traditionally, this type of mask is worn by men during girls’ initiation ceremonies. Men also create the masks. Vegetable dyes were used to paint the cartoon wolf image on the front of the mask, making it a unique blend of traditional form and modern influence.
December 2nd, 2014 | Artifacts
This seven-piece nativity scene was made in Santa Clara Pueblo, New Mexico, just north of Santa Fe. Santa Clara potters are renowned for their highly polished blackware, which they have been making since the late 19th century. Pueblo women make pottery with a technique largely developed during the Classic Pueblo period (1050-1300 CE). Although the nativity set pieces were each molded from a small lump of clay, Pueblo pots are made from coils of clay that are then smoothed into the final shape without the help of a potter’s wheel. The shiny finish is created by the artist rubbing a smooth polishing stone over the piece repeatedly. The pieces are finished in a reduction firing during which the artist smothers the fire with horse manure, which traps thick smoke around the pieces. The carbon in the smoke turns the clay black. The process has many possibilities for problems, and only three out of five pieces emerge from the fire without damage, making Pueblo blackware rare and highly collectible.
November 10th, 2014 | Artifacts
This Iban ceremonial textile, known as pua kumbu, was made in the town of Kapit, in Sarawak, Malaysia, on the island of Borneo. The Iban people, known as the Sea Dayak during British colonial rule, are the largest ethnic group in the state of Sarawak.
Most pua kumbu are woven on back-strap looms by women. The decorative pattern is created by Ikat dying, a tie-dying process during which the individual threads are dyed before being woven. This pattern contains human-like figures known as engkaramba. In the past, these powerful figures could only be woven by wives and daughters of chiefs. They are representations of deities in the Iban’s shamanistic religion and can offer protection from danger. The act of weaving is a deeply spiritual undertaking that establishes an Iban weaver’s womanhood and status. Specific patterns like this one are often passed down from mother to daughter.
Pua kumbu translates as “grand blanket;” however, the pieces are very rarely used as sleeping blankets. Pua kumbu are recognized as sacred cloths throughout Iban mythology, dictating their use in rituals and ceremonies. In one creation myth, the pua kumba already existed at the beginning of time, and the first man and woman were brought to life by the Ancient God underneath it.
Although the cloths maintain these historic connections to shamanism, now the textiles also serve as a symbol of indigenous identity, separating the Iban from the majority Muslim Malay population.
September 16th, 2014 | Artifacts
Children in Mexico grow up playing with skeleton toys like this one. The toys teach them about mortality, but also make sure their first impressions of death are cheerful. Craftsmen have made toys specifically for the Day of the Dead since at least the mid-1800s. Folk artist Gumercindo España Oliveres, known as Don Chinda, made this toy, as well as the other toys on display in our current exhibit, Life After Death: The Day of the Dead in Mexico. He has been making toys with the help of his wife, children, and grandchildren for over 40 years in Santa Cruz de Juventino Rosas, Guanajuato. His toys often have some element of movement. As this one rolls forward, the skeleton on the cart sits up.