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Museum Project: African Art Section Coursework

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Metropolitan Museum of Art, African Art Section

Apparently, African styles in clothes have been a very trendy motif for a long period of time within many designers’ collections and still are. However, not everyone knows how hard and evidently poor the life of Africans is since the only export demand for Africans are beadworks and artifacts which concerns art production. The occupational opportunities for men and women of South Africa are evidently not varied enough for women not to get involved in hard urban work. Ranging from colorful jewelry to extravagant dolls, women make the best off-the-wall pieces out of colored glass beads. The beaded colorful dresses are met friendly at the global market. However, along with unemployment, Africans are merely happy that their crafting is in great demand locally and internationally. This entails beading to be not only a hobby but also a nice income opportunity and a kind of hope for the future for Southern Africans. The primary reason for that is starvation and poverty in many regions of South Africa, although this does not seem to be true when you see such masterpieces as beadworks and wooden sculptures.

South African Cultural History

The art of beading tells a lot about South African cultural history. African rulers used to encourage people to go in for art and crafts because chiefs wanted their enemies to see the superiority in the way they dressed – the beaded suits. Besides, wearing such clothes distinguished rulers from common people. The art of South Africa is so different due to its history. It was isolated economically and politically before the apartheid period in 1994, South Africa does not dominate other Africa countries’ trade (MMA, P.42). The rest of Africa mainly cooperates and exchanges trades with Europe and the US. Although many missionaries offered to surrender beading for the sake of learning to read and write, Africans still produced beadworks. Besides, the beadworks have distinctive colors. This is an amazing invention of tribes who can differentiate the beadworks as ‘love messages’ depending on the color it’s made of, for example. Or you may know right away it is a Sangoma (healer and seer) after her beaded headpiece, covering the face. The art heritage of South Africa is very rich. Although it is not abundant in sculpture, still the art of beading is probably the main feature South Africa is known for around the world. Since the middle ages, African goods were of high value, and foreign sailors were ready to exchange many goods of theirs for ivory and other treasures of Africa, among which were beadworks.

Museum of Natural History Peoples of Africa Exhibition

Traditional garments and clothes of southern Africans almost always contain symbols and messages. For example, a lot depends on the garment shape: if a woman is wearing a Kaba and long skirt – she is unmarried, and if a woman has Akan on it indicates her marital status. Also, there is Abosoo, designed for carrying children – it is a stretch cloth situated around her waist. There is Adinkra cloth that is used to have different ornaments and embroideries. Besides presenting the historical symbols, Adinka has symbols that may mean self-sufficiency or wealth, this is a treelike symbol. Looking at indigenous costumes, it is evident that the tribe leader had to embody power, so he used to have a massive headdress with feathers and shells. Moreover, his spear and shield resemble some kind of jewelry continuation, which in Africa is used for solidifying the garment. Besides, jewelry represents South African religious beliefs. Remarkably, different colors of clothes in Africa signal the people of the region are from. In some parts of Nigeria, for example, wearing red color means a threatening color and can be worn only by chiefs because it may scare off the evil. In other regions wearing re can be a color of success and achievement.

Raymond Dart’s Australopithecus Africanus

Australopithecus africanus was my foremost goal. I wanted to see the exhibition with my own eyes in order to guess if we really originated out of Africa. Surprisingly, the skull of Australopithecus africanus resembled one of the firstly evolved human-like postures. The skull resembled human appearance: eye orbits, teeth, and the hole at the base of the skull. It is not that non-paleontologist can decide on such a topic definitely, but it gives some kind of persuasion for you personally. That is why the Early Mankind/ Origins of Man Exhibition at the Museum of Natural History exhibition does present educational value for the students who need to “touch” the science rather than learning it, in theory, all the time. After the exhibition, I was sure that homo sapiens evolved in Africa and then migrated to other countries. Although Dart never continued the further excavations, and there were hostile responses from his peers, the fossils seem to support the opinion that humans evolved in Africa. Besides, it seems to me this theory is truer than the evolution of mankind in Europe because the evolution must have taken place somewhere under warm and comfortable conditions, which proves South Africa was perfect.

Works Cited

Metropolitan Museum of Arts. African Beads: A Book and Craft Kit. New York: Simon and Schuster. 1999. Print.

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