Art Finder Text Detail  
Item Actions
Ratings (0)

: Art and the Life Cycle


Joe D. Horse Capture



Institution Minneapolis Institute of Arts
The new exhibition, "CHOKWE! Art and Initiation Among Chokwe and Related Peoples," celebrates the rich artistic and cultural legacy of the Chokwe and other African peoples. Primarily living in three countries, Zambia, Angola, and the Democratic Republic of Congo, these people have a strong sense of identity, tradition, history and art. This exhibition takes a thematic approach to understanding the role of art in the Chokwe life cycle, by examining how knowledge is transferred from one generation to the next through the initiation process. The exhibition includes ancestral figures, masks, scepters, thrones, and figurative ceramics that illustrate the intimate connection between Chokwe art and life. Objects are grouped into three categories: "Role Models," "Potential Fathers and Mothers," and "Fulfilled Adults.""Role Models" examines the importance of Chokwe chiefs exemplifying the ideal Chokwe person. All chiefs share a common ancestry, dating to the sixteenth century, and follow the concept of sacred kingship, which was introduced by the cultural hero Chibinda Ilunga. Understanding the concept of sacred kingship is critical to comprehending Chokwe spirituality. In the Chokwe cosmos, chiefs are the representatives of God (Kalunga-Nzambi) and act as intermediaries among the people, the ancestors, and earthly forces. Appropriately, Chokwe chiefs and royalty are often associated with religious and social authority.When young people reach the age of social responsibility, they are initiated into Chokwe society. This topic is addressed in the "Potential Fathers and Mothers" section of the exhibition. Both male and female initiates are isolated from the general population, where they are taught Chokwe spirituality, history, morality and social rules. The elders, grandparents, parents, and guardians all participate in the transfer of knowledge to the younger generation. The initiates often learn these values through masquerade performances. There are many different types of Chokwe masks, each serving a purpose and function in education through mythical re-enactment. Video of Chokwe masquerades and the masked costumes in the exhibition provide the visitor an opportunity to feel the energy of the performance.When the initiates graduate, they are reborn into Chokwe society and assume adult roles and responsibilities. One of these responsibilities is to start a family and teach their children the Chokwe way of life.As "Fulfilled Adults" (the focus of the final section of the exhibition), Chokwe people implement what they have learned during initiation. Part of being a member of the Chokwe society is to attain a balance between the self, the spirit world, and the community. Often family ancestors are called upon for assistance. If the ancestors have been honored, they will be helpful, but if they have been neglected, they can cause misfortune. Chokwe use sculptures representing ancestors to aid in this communication.Healers or diviners play a critical role in Chokwe society. The ancestors empowered them to solve the problems of individuals or community. A divination basket, full of symbolic figures and objects that represent the cosmos, is a primary problem-solving tool. The diviner shakes the basket, symbolically activating the Chokwe spiritual world. He then interprets how the objects fall, providing him with insight to the problem and how to resolve it."CHOKWE!" aims to provide visitors with an insight to the artistic and cultural heritage of a complex African society and how they transfer knowledge visually and orally from generation to generation. Understanding the cyclical process of Chokwe life gives us an opportunity to examine how we define our society and pass along knowledge to our children.This exhibition was organized by Dr. Manuel Jordán, Curator of the Arts of Africa and the Americas at the Birmingham Museum of Art. Jordán has spent two years with the Chokwe and is considered a leading expert in this field. "CHOKWE!" has traveled to the Baltimore Museum of Art and will open at the Institute on October 24, 1999.Joe D. Horse Capture is Assistant Curator in the Department of Africa, Oceania, and the Americas at The Minneapolis Institute of Arts."CHOKWE! Art and Initiation Among Chokwe and Related Peoples"
October 24, 1999-January 16, 2000
Dayton Hudson Gallery
This exhibition was organized by the Birmingham Museum of Art, Alabama, with generous sponsorship provided by The Rockefeller Foundation and the National Endowment for the Arts. Presentation at The Minneapolis Institute of Arts is sponsored by Dayton's Project Imagine.Related ImagesChief figure
Mid-19th century
Wood, hair
Kimbell Art Museum, Fort Worth, Texas
This figure represents Chibinda Ilunda, the Luba hunter who introduced the concept of sacred kingship. He wears an elaborate crown and holds a horn and staff, symbols of his royal status. The horn contains sacred substances used during the hunt. Divination Basket
Angola/Democratic Republic of Congo
19th or early 20th century
Fibers, wood, tortoise shells, various materials
National Museum of African Art Museum Purchase
This basket helps a diviner diagnose and suggest remedies for problems that are presented to him by clients. The horns tied to the outside of the basket have been ritually empowered to enhance the diviner's vision. Mwana Pwo Mask
Angola/Democratic Republic of Congo
Early 20th century
Wood, vegetable fiber, glass beads and metal
The Minneapolis Institute of Arts
The Putnam Dana McMillan Fund
This mask embodies the ideal feminine beauty and records traditional Chokwe facial scarification patterns. During a performance, the Mwana Pwo dancer portrays the roles of women in Chokwe society.
Comments (0)
Tags (0)
Source: Joe D. Horse Capture, "Art and the Life Cycle: Discover how knowledge is passed via art through generations in central Africa," <i>Arts</i> 22, no. 8 (October 1999): 6-7.
Rights: ©MIA
Added to Site: March 10, 2009