Celebrating African decorative design, African Headwear: Beyond Fashion presents approximately fifty objects from the Dallas Museum of Art
s internationally acclaimed collection of African art and from several private collections, including those of Michael and Shelly Dee; Susan Montgomery; Taiye Ozigbo; Sidney Perutz; and John and Karen Reoch. Through form, materials, and imagery, African headwear communicates information about the wearer, including an individuals ethnic group, gender, age, marital status, social and economic status, military rank, role in government, religious affiliation, and profession. This exhibition presents headwear from sub-Saharan Africa, where what one wears on ones head is both fashionable and meaningful, and explores the ways in which headwear signifies status in traditional African societies.
African Headwear: Beyond Fashion highlights works from our renowned collection of African art, including works that have never been on view, in a dramatic and inviting way, said Olivier Meslay, the DMAs Interim Director as well as its Senior Curator of European and American Art and The Barbara Thomas Lemmon Curator of European Art. With the accompanying color brochure, visitors are able to take an in-depth look into the history and artistry of the hats. We are also fortunate to have many exquisite loans of objects from private collections that beautifully enhance the exhibition.
On view August 14, 2011, through January 1, 2012, the exhibition includes objects in a range of materials, including the skin from a pangolin (spiny anteater), wood and copper, various types of nutshells, lion mane, and human hair. In tradition-based African societies, the hat one wears on ones head is fashionable and an outlet for creative self-expression. Regardless of the traditional context in which it is worn, headwear reflects what is new in the environment, such as glass beads, exotic shells, plastic buttons, and synthetic, factory-made dyes and fabrics that are acquired through long-distance trade. Visitors will be encouraged to view six additional hats in the Museums Arts of Africa galleries on the third level; they are among the 150 objects from the collection that are currently on view at the DMA. The exhibition includes a video demonstrating how to transform a rectangular cloth into a gele, the head-tie worn by fashionable Yoruba and other African women in Dallas on special occasions.
The head is considered the most important part of the body in sub-Saharan African societies and the exhibition demonstrates the importance of headwear as a means of nonverbal communication about the wearers position in society and at what stage they are in the cycle of life, said Roslyn A. Walker, Senior Curator of the Arts of Africa, the Americas, and the Pacific and The Margaret McDermott Curator of African Art at the Dallas Museum of Art.
African Headwear: Beyond Fashion contains three thematic sections and includes these highlighted works of art:
Professional Headwear in the exhibition includes hats signifying military and religious occupations. On display for the first time is a Tabwa diviners headdress from the Democratic Republic of the Congo made of beadwork and decorated with fur and feathers and a Lutuxo warriors brass-clad helmet from South Sudan that is lined with human hair.
Mens and Womens Headwear includes a Himba wedding headdress from Namibia made of leather that allows the bride to see in only one direction, toward her husbands home and her new life, and a child's hat made of basketry from the Democratic Republic of the Congo that is large enough to shield the entire body from the elements.
Headwear for Kings and Chiefs features a Yoruba beaded royal crown with fringe from Nigeria; a Baule velvet crown from Côte dIvoire decorated with gold leaf ornaments; and a Lega hat from the Democratic Republic of the Congo decorated with seeds, boar teeth, and cowrie shells and surmounted by a hornbill bird skull.
African Headwear: Beyond Fashion is organized by the Dallas Museum of Art and curated by Roslyn A. Walker, Senior Curator of the Arts of Africa, the Americas, and the Pacific and The Margaret McDermott Curator of African Art at the Dallas Museum of Art. Dr. Walker is also the author of The Arts of Africa at the Dallas Museum of Art, the first catalogue dedicated to exploring the Museums collection of nearly 2,000 objects. Commemorating the 40th anniversary of the collection in 2009, which began with a gift of more than 200 objects from DMA benefactors Eugene and Margaret McDermott, the catalogue draws from both historical sources and contemporary research to examine over 100 figures, masks, and other works of art that represent fifty-two cultures, from Morocco to South Africa.