Gallery Views of Art and Power in the Central African Savanna

March 1-May 31, 2009
Kelvin and Eleanor Smith Exhibition Hall

This exhibition of 59 works from 28 Belgian and American lenders reveals the political dimension of so-called power figures from the Luluwa, Luba, Songye, and Chokwe peoples. The term power figure, which replaces the once commonly used expression fetish, typically refers to a figurative container for magical and/or medicinal substances derived from plants, animals, minerals, and even humans. The exhibition looks at works that refer to both religious beliefs and worldly leadership and thus combine power in both a sacred and a secular sense. This exploration demonstrates that a special type of power figure-characterized by its rather large size, a refined finish, and a detailed anatomy and decoration-developed at a time of political centralization and the emergence of an elite among high-ranking officials, thereby countering the still commonly held notion that African art is devoid of any history.


This exhibition was organized by the Cleveland Museum of Art. Support for education and public programs for Art and Power were provided in part by members of the Friends of African and African-American Art and the African-American Advisory Committee. The Cleveland Museum of Art is generously funded by Cuyahoga County residents through Cuyahoga Arts and Culture. The Ohio Arts Council helped fund this exhibition with state tax dollars to encourage economic growth, educational excellence, and cultural enrichment for all Ohioans.