Catalog of an exhibition held at the Menil Collection, Houston, Sept. 26, 2008-Jan. 4, 2009; Cleveland Museum of Art, Mar. 1-Jun. 7, 2009; de Young Museum, Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, Jun. 27-Oct. 11, 2009.
Fragments of the Invisible celebrates the acquisition by the Cleveland Museum of Art in 2010 of 35 stellar works of 19th- and 20th-century Congolese art from the collection of Ren#65533; and Odette Delenne of Brussels. The book, which accompanies an exhibition at the museum, explores the fragmentary nature of African works in Western collections and sheds light on how, in their original settings, many works connected with the invisible world of spirits and deities. Many of the objects have never been published or exhibited before.
South of the Sahara opens with general observations on the immensely rich and diversified artistic heritage of sub-Saharan Africa. Constantine Petridis examines the relationship between contemporary and so-called traditional African arts, and presents examples showing that many African works were originally part of an ensemble or one element of a performance. He discusses how works relate to ideas about leadership and the supernatural and then relates the many misunderstandings that still exist concerning the history and the chronology of African art. Afterdissecting the complex issue of style, he concentrates on the relationship between styles and both time and geography. Finally, Petridis considers the little-known issue of African aesthetics, investigating how the aesthetic preferences of the makers and users of the works differ from those of the Western museum audience and art lovers. Forty-two important works from thirty different cultures are featured in color, including objects from the ancient kingdom of Benin and examples of two of Africa’s oldest archaeological art traditions: Nok in Nigeria and Djenne in Mali. Enriched with many field photographs and much ethnographical information, this presentation emphasizes the extraordinary formal invention and spiritual power of the objects.