American Exhibition of African Art


The African artwork intends to show what happened during the African set up in the early centuries before civilization. The artwork showed a series of events from one event to the other. The description also falls to the physic of the African people who were keen on exposing their muscular body structure in the case of men and their seductive body parts in the case of women. From Katherine Coryton White artworks, she has selected a few of the African cultures through the different exhibitions she purposed to educate the public with about the rich native culture of the African people. As such we shall look into plate 33 and 34 that show “the Akan Funeral Procession” and “Gambia River People Funeral Possession” where the West African Akan and Gambia River communities were involved in sending their dead to the graveyard.

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Description of the Exhibition

In this exhibition, we have two different cultures’ portraits that arise from a similar series of events but vary in structure. The plate 33 describes the Akan society in West Africa conducting a funeral procession. Here, we see both sexes involved in the activity. There is dancing by women at the different levels of the procession. In essence, the women are in front and behind the deceased body carriers. We see also small children dancing beside the deceased body as it is carried away to the grave. Further, women are seen passing under a shelter to signify the change of worlds as the deceased in left behind in the spirit world, and they cross to the world of the living. Also, we see a man giving directions to what should be done at the ceremony.

In the other plate, 34, the symbolism of the structure of people used is almost similar to plate 33. Here, we see lots of men involved in the procession. First, they are dressed in war attire by carrying spears and shields and seem as if they are having a fight. Apart from the warrior characters, we see also those who look like musicians in the same order of activities. Further, we see a man carried by others to represent the powers of the living over the dead. There is also the presence of animals in the exhibition that indicated the occurrence of a special sacrifice to appease the dead through some rituals. Also, there is a crowd of persons at the far left of the picture who are witnessing what is taking place in the procession. The exhibition also shows persons giving directions to the specific groups of persons involved the celebration.

Interpretation of the Exhibition

The artwork shows a culture that was respected by the West African communities. From the picture, a lot is involved to please the dead. Here we see most dance choreographies that different people are involved in while laying someone to rest. The dance moves are meant to please the dead for his or her spirit to travel peacefully from one world to the next. In this case the person’s spirit to travel from the human world to the spirit world of the dead. The two plates indicate the different positions by each special member of the society anticipated to perform a specific event in the funeral. The positions vary depending on the relations a given person had with the deceased. From the two plates, we see that both male and female genders are involved the activities during a funeral possession. Typically for an African setup, the men have been given priority in some of the activities involved as to carry the deceased body, to lead the possession and to give directions. It also noted that children are also involved in the possession for them to learn what is expected of them in the next generation. Further, the plates also give the importance of dancing in the African setup. We see it unites people together for a common activity in the society as a way of promoting culture. Also, the three plates indicate a special position of the steps that are followed to ensure safe travel of the dead to their final resting point. The differences in the portraits used give a different perspective on the imagination and experience of the two Western Africa communities. The exhibitions place an essence in the process involved in the process of parting with the dead in African set ups.

Historical Situation of the Exhibition

The exhibitions relate to the West African Akan society that was known for their rich culture. The exhibitions date back to the seventeenth century when a European traveler witnessed the same procession activities that were conducted between the living and the dead. The plates show a series of events that took place at the time as compared to the current traditional practices. In essence, the observation made has changed in the manner of cultural practices that take place between the westernized societies by then and the African practices. De Marees accounts have been subjected to several tests as the time he traveled to the Gold Coast region then and now. Another historical situation is addressed by Richard Jobson, who gives another picture in plate 34 as another version of the plate 33 between the two communities. The outward appearance of the two plate indicates a change in culture gradually as the current state the two communities take little participation in the show exhibition. It is important to note that the two plates indicate the conditions that have changed over time about what is taking place in the society. The two plates took a time to be adapted in the US setup as a means of educating the new society on what is different from their common practices.

Responses to the Exhibition

The exhibition plate 33 has received several responses from different art experts who either criticize of support its position in the art field. The manner of drawing has attracted the attention of many who have praised it through the positions the different characters in the drawing have taken. For example, the bending of knees by women in some of the involved activities has clearly indicated the different dancing moves they are involved with. In essence, the exhibition is sketched but the true chronological order of events have been shown. Another response involves the commentary on the chronological events that have been labeled in the two exhibitions. The pictures are placed in to indicate the occurrence of a specific event that affected the society at the time in the past. The approach given to each exhibit approves what each character was involved towards a certain event.

Strengths and Weaknesses of the Exhibition

The exhibition shows a true reflection of the Akan people. As such the world is able to appreciate the different set of cultures that different communities embraced in their respective countries. The culture is strong in essence that it has letters to show a chronological order of events from what happened from the start to what happens to in the last stage. Such a strong exhibition gives it a strength characteristic as compared to other African artifacts that stand alone. The interrelationship amongst the characters involved makes it easier to understand and elaborate to those who are new in matters of cultural understanding. Here, we see women, children, and men involved in the procession process of sending off the dead. As such, an individual will be in a position to appreciate the community involvement of all activities irrespective of whether it is a happy or sad occasion, and, in this case, celebrating the death of a specific person. From the setup, we are informed of the importance of the dead having a peaceful send off as they can stay calm and leave the living move on with their lives. Moreover, the plates have ensured that the activities involved are captured to indicate what take place at every given step.

The plates provide some challenges to the exhibition. To say the least, it only gives an account of a person who visited the West African territory and drew what he witnessed. The events might be true or at the same time fixed upon the interpretation of a single artist. The events may also change from one person to the other depending on their type of gender, age and status in the society at the time. From the exhibitions in the three plates, it is conclusive enough to say that they are based on the imagination and artwork of a specific person. Further, it does not show the faces of the single dancers apart from the 35th plate that has actual person’s faces. This aspect prevents authenticity of such an event as it might be corrupted to fit the imagination of a specific group of persons.

Possible Improvements of the Exhibition

The artwork has a few improvements that can be met to ensure the plates face have a better texture and interpretation by the public or interested persons. The two plates can be given facial identification for each character in the processions. The identity given will ensure that the people feel connected to the artifacts and appreciate the need for differences in cultures. Although the two plates give similar events of two different cultures, they need to merge their familiar events to give a better understanding of the then Gold Coast burial cultures. The differences shown in the two will mean that the exhibitions are based on the interpretation and observations of individual travelers. Further, a keen interest can be put on the exhibition orders on the plate positions. They can be placed at different sites to prevent the obvious contradictions as seen from their external presentation. Further, the two plates need a proper presentation of the African culture that focusses mainly on a given practice that is followed by the society. From this perspective, the exhibits require a balance of characters that are used to explain what African thought on the role played by each member of the society. It is clear that in the two pictures, the different genders are preferred for certain positions that should be depicted properly upon proper dressing of the characters.

In conclusion, the two plates, 33 and 34 have each a representation of the African funeral procession of two similar cultures in the Gold Coast region of the continent. The exhibition has found meaning in the American society to ensure an understanding of a past generation as depicted by past travelers in the region. The two plates further promote a difference in artwork as they involve several characters on a single set. The message portrayed shows a mixture of events that require separate and related interpretation to make meaning for what is intended by the sketch artist of the two exhibitions.

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