Peninsula Fine Arts Center (PFAC) is excited to announce its upcoming exhibition series. The series is comprised of two exhibitions African Art: Power and Identity and Cash Crop. This exhibition will open to the general public January 19, 2019 and concludes on April 28, 2019. The journey began in Africa, the cradle of human life. In the summer of 1619, the Dutch ship carrying 20 captured Africans landed in Virginia. Since that dangerous passage, the presence of Africans has had a profound impact on the culture of America and Virginia.
In 1483, Portuguese explorers first arrived in the Kingdom of Congo, where they discovered an artistically sophisticated society in present-day Democratic Republic of the Congo, Republic of Congo and Angola. A trade of objects and ideas continued throughout the sixteenth century. However, millions of enslaved Kongolese were soon transported to the Americas as a part of the slave trade. Nearly one quarter of the first-generation African slaves in the US were from the Kongo region alone. This exhibition examines the visual arts and vibrant culture of Western and Central Africa, the places and kingdoms of Africa where enslaved Africans derived.
Helmet Mask (Mukenga), Kuba Culture. Courtesy of the Longwood Center for Visual Arts
The African Art: Identity and Power exhibition observes the importance of the objects to those who commissioned, created, and used them. Identity suggests the idea that each piece has been created for a specific purpose and within a specific setting. Some objects may be identified with spirits, and others may represent human ideals or cultural values. Power can be political, religious, or social – it can also refer to regalia, masks, or sculptures used by various types of social organizations, or to items used in ritual contexts by divination priests and priestesses, or devotees of particular gods.
This exhibition seeks to address the slave trade and colonialism through the lens of the artistic traditions of African art. We celebrate the creativity of African artists who have made utilitarian objects of great beauty. Made to fulfill a specific function, each object was also skillfully conceived to provoke visual and tactile delight. Collectively, these are objects that were meant to be both used and seen. African artists use a variety of materials – they carve wood and stone, cast metal, model clay, and work with beads and into a rich array of forms. This exhibition includes loans from Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Longwood Center for Visual Arts, and multiple private collections.
Cash Crop by artist Stephen Hayes, a piece composed of 15 life-sized casts of the artist’s friends and family. The 15 statues, each confined by shackles and bound to a wooden shipping pallet, represent the 15 million African people forcefully brought to the New World. While the slave trade had a major impact on the economic development of the modern world, it also contributed to the emergence of a new African diaspora, particularly the spread of people of African origin to the Americas. Today there are tens of millions of people of African origin who, as a consequence of the forced removal of their ancestors, live in the Caribbean, the United States, Brazil and other countries in the Western Hemisphere, as well as elsewhere outside Africa. When these millions of people were physically removed from their homelands, they took with them their languages, beliefs, craftsmanship, skills, music, dance, art and other important elements of culture. As a result, today we’re surrounded by the legacy of the slave trade in a multitude of form.
Photo Credit Stephen Hayes
The Peninsula Fine Arts Center is located at 101 Museum Drive within Mariners’ Museum Park in Newport News, Va. The center is open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday and 1 to 5 p.m. Sundays; PFAC is closed on Mondays. Admission is regularly $7.50 for adults, $4 for children (ages 6-12) and free for children 5 and under. Annual membership is $40 for individuals and $60 for families. For more information, call (757) 596-8175 or visit www.pfac-va.org.