Senufo: Art and Identity in West Africa are on view through May 31, 2015 in the Kelvin and Eleanor Smith Foundation Exhibition Hall.This exhibit is rare selection of one of the most popular and studied forms of African art from three countries in West Africa: Cote d’Ivoire, Mali and Burkina Faso. The first presentation of Senufo art in the United States in the last 50 years, this presentation includes more than 160 works borrowed from nearly 60 public and private collections in Europe, Asia, Africa and North America, many of which have never before been publicly displayed. Organized by the Cleveland Museum of Art, Senufo: Art and Identity in West Africa will subsequently also travel to the Saint Louis Art Museum and the Musée Fabre in Montpellier, France.
Senufo: Art and Identity in West Africa offers an expanded view of the region’s dynamic arts and questions the application since the late 1880s of the term Senufo to peoples, languages, places and objects. Through this selection of masks, figures and decorative art in diverse styles and mediums, the exhibition introduces visitors to the Poro and Sandogo societies, the primary settings for the production and use of works of art in the Senufo-speaking region of northern Côte d’Ivoire. Drawing on recent research in Mali and Burkina Faso, the exhibition also includes sculptures not usually attributed to Senufo-speaking artists or patrons, thus shattering the boundaries of the arts typically identified as Senufo.
“Original scholarship has always been a defining aspect of the work of the Cleveland Museum of Art, and this important exhibition offers a new approach to the understanding, and presentation of African art” said William M. Griswold, director of the Cleveland Museum of Art. “While emphasizing the unique nature of every work of art, Senufo: Art and Identity in West Africa demonstrate there are often common formal and functional threads as culture groups influence each other’s arts.”
Highlights of the exhibition include a mother-and-child figure from the Cleveland Museum of Art’s permanent collection. In some areas, maternity figures are related to the Tyekpa association, the female counterpart of male Poro associations, and are carried on Tyekpa members’ heads during funerary ceremonies. Elsewhere, such sculptures function as stationary display figures for Poro. A third highlight of this exhibition is a composite anthropomorphic figure. In this composite piece, a carved wooden figure hidden under a cloth costume, imitates a fiber mask with a triangular head covering. Like the masquerader, the kafigelejo figure carries a club or a whip used as an other worldly policing instrument.
“Aside from showing a large number of stunning objects that demonstrate the striking diversity within the corpus labeled as Senufo,” stated Constantine Petridis, curator of African art at the Cleveland Museum of Art, “the exhibition also includes a variety of works in styles that present-day art scholars, connoisseurs, and collectors typically do not attribute to Senufo-speaking artists, patrons or audiences.” “In doing so,” Petridis continues, “the exhibition illustrates the fluidity and fuzziness of cultural and ethnic borders while also revealing the constraints of labels and simple attributions.”
Also included in the exhibition are a handful of historical photographs and books as well as 14 gelatin silver prints made by French photographer Agnès Pataux in Burkina Faso and Mali from 2006–2008.
To complement Senufo: Art and Identity in West Africa, the Cleveland Museum of Art has developed its first special exhibition mobile application, “CMA Senufo.” When a visitor arrives at the museum to tour Senufo, and joins the museum’s “Art Lens” wifi, the mobile app will unlock unique and exclusive content on a selection of artworks on exhibit from CMA. Through exhibition labels, the visitor will be able to identify objects with contextual, interpretive content, and through the presentation of insightful commentary, high-resolution imagery, and video. CMA app encourages a closer look at some of the exhibition’s individual objects and the story behind Senufo-speaking artists and patrons.
To experience this and other exhibits at the Cleveland Museum of Art, visit their website for admissions and times.