Art in Cameroon: Sculptural Dialogues, on view at the Neuberger Museum of Art
through August 14, 2011, highlights two iconic works in the Museums African collection: an expressive nineteenth-century figure from a Bangwa kingdom, attributed to a master carver whose identity is contested, and an intricately-carved mid-twentieth- century ivory tusk from the Kedjom Kitingu kingdom, both located in the Cameroon Grassfields. Twenty-eight powerful objects drawn from private and public collections, set these two works from the Neuberger Museum in a larger context. Ranging in scale from imposing architectural elements to small, embellished pipes, the objects are organized by type figures, masks, pipes, and tusks. This sculptural ensemble reveals the dynamic nature of Grassfields artistic expression resulting from regional interactions and trade. It also sheds light on the extraordinary creativity found among smaller kingdoms situated in the northern periphery of the Grassfields.
It is the goal of this exhibition to both to bring together several carefully selected works that are among the greatest sculptural achievements of Cameroon art and culture, notes Marie-Thérèse Brincard, Curatorial Advisor for the African collection, Neuberger Museum of Art, who curated the exhibition, and to contribute to their understanding and appreciation through juxtapositions and in-depth analyses both in the exhibition and in the accompanying publication.
Among the rarely seen objects included in the exhibition are two of the boldest carved sculptures created in the Cameroon Grassfields notes Ms. Brincard: one, an emaciated female figure, is hunched over, seemingly in pain; the other, a male figure, bent over with human hair that forms his beard and two heavy braids which extend on each side of his head. Each figure carries a bowl and both are from the small kingdom of Zua in the northern periphery of the Grassfields. Although from the same kingdom, these two powerful sculptures were carved by two distinct masters and their workshops.
In the catalogue essay, Dr. Christraud Geary, an eminent scholar in the Cameroon Grassfields, is able to reveal the complete history of these two enigmatic sculptures from the time they left Cameroon in 1911 to their arrival at the Ethnologisches Museum in Berlin. She discusses how the two pieces were then separated: the female figure travelled to Paris, the other remained in Berlin. Both sculptures were displayed again in the landmark 1935 Museum of Modern Art exhibition, African Negro Art. Art in Cameroon: Sculptural Dialogues brings these works together for the first time in seventy-six years.