SHANGAA – SURPRISING THE US

by Ben Taylor

A new exhibition of traditional Tanzanian art in New York, titled Shangaa is receiving positive reviews from art lovers and critics. It is “sensational” according to the New York Times reviewer, Holland Cotter.
“As was true of most East African art, Tanzanian mate­rial was overlooked by 19th and 20th century collectors, who had their sights on other parts of the continent,” wrote Cotter. “And because so lit­tle art from Tanzania was in museums, the assumption grew that there was none worth having. One look at the tiny, disc-shaped Makonde mask that opens the show tells you otherwise.”

Shangaa- Mask, Hehe

Many of the pieces are on loan from German museums, where Tanzanian art has been relatively well-known. Yet the show makes it clear that the colonial history that pro­duced the German familiarity with Tanzanian art was not a happy one. Depictions of slavery, and of the indiffer­ence of slave masters, are among the exhibition’s most striking sculptures.

Traditional medicine and witchcraft are another recurring theme. Many of the objects were originally intended for use in healing and divination practices.

Shangaa: Art of Tanzania, was on show for three months at the QCC Art Gallery of the City University of New York, under the curation of Gary Van Wyk, and for three months at the Portland Museum of Art. (Daily News)

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