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  • Striking IronThe Art of African Blacksmiths
  • Allen F. Roberts (bio) and Marla C. Berns (bio)

"STRIKING IRON: THE ART OF AFRICAN BLACKSMITHS" LEAD CURATOR TOM JOYCE WITH CO-CURATORS ALLEN F. ROBERTS, WILLIAM J. DEWEY, HENRY J. DREWAL, AND MARLA C. BERNS

FOWLER MUSEUM AT UCLA JUNE 3–DECEMBER 30, 2018

NATIONAL MUSEUM OF AFRICAN ART, SMITHSONIAN INSTITUTION FEBRUARY 13–OCTOBER 20, 2019

MUSÉE DU QUAI BRANLY—JACQUES CHIRAC NOVEMBER 2019–MARCH 2020

Life has an edge, sometimes keen, sometimes blunt. Enter iron—digging, cutting, shining, or rusting, but always transforming circumstances. Iron is "born" when smelting releases it from rock. How did sub-Saharan Africans affect these complex processes, sculpt natural-draft furnaces by hand, and create malleable iron to change the world? How did smelters and smiths know which ore to select, which wood to cut for charcoal, and how to position logs within the furnace to stoke fires of the astounding heat required to smelt iron? Who knew what to do, how to hammer, when to quench, and what to reheat? What arcane sciences were mastered, what dramas performed? Why this shape for a tool, weapon, or emblem of status and not that, and how was perfection realized and recognized? How did ironworking legitimize and empower leadership and rule, and vice versa, however ambiguous such roles most surely are? As a Yorùbá oríkì praise of Ògún has it, the god of iron may "wear a red cap," reflecting the glow of a blacksmith's forge and the transformative implements there created, but please Ògún, "let me not see the red of your eye!"1

"Striking Iron: The Art of African Blacksmiths," organized by the Fowler Museum at UCLA, will examine how the smith's craft extends from the production of the most basic of domestic tools to the creation of a corpus of inventive, diverse, and technically sophisticated vehicles of social and spiritual power. The project draws on decades of research by its curatorial team, led by artist Tom Joyce, a MacArthur Fellow originally trained as a blacksmith, who lends his technical expertise and nearly three decades of substantive research and study of African ironwork to this project. Working closely with him is a team of co-curators: Allen F. Roberts, UCLA Professor of World Arts and Cultures/Dance; William J. Dewey, Associate Professor of African Art History at Pennsylvania State University; Henry J. Drewal, Evjue-Bascom Professor of Art History and Afro-American Studies at the University of Wisconsin-Madison; and Marla C. Berns, Shirley and Ralph Shapiro Director at the Fowler Museum. In addition, a team of seven international scholars has served as project consultants and content specialists: Rowland Abíódún, Shadreck Chirikure, Candice Goucher, Manuel Jordán, Colleen Kriger, Scott MacEachern, and Patrick McNaughton. Each team member—including additional authors contributing to the book-length publication accompanying the exhibition—brings focused knowledge of a distinctive perspective on African ironworking.

The traveling exhibition will present over 225 diverse artworks from across the African continent, concentrating on the region south of the Sahara and covering a time period spanning early archaeological evidence of ironworking to the present day. The works selected date mostly from the early nineteenth to the late twentieth century, with many documented in the field and others coming from American and European public and private collections, including early European colonial collections. [End Page 66]


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1.

Africa is front and center in this image of Earth taken by a NASA camera on the Deep Space Climate Observatory (DSCOVR) satellite. The image, taken July 6, 2015, from a vantage point one million miles from Earth, was one of the first taken by NASA's Earth Polychromatic Imaging Camera (EPIC).

Photo: courtesy NASA


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2.

Artist unknown (Ekonda peoples, Democratic Republic of the Congo [DRC]) Ritual staff, ca. 1930 Iron, wood; H: 70 cm Collection of Joel and Zachary Cooner

Photo: J. Cooner

MILLENNIA OF "STRIKING IRON"

Across the African continent and as seen via satellite imagery, most unforested lands appear a deep red-orange from prevalent iron ores (Fig. 1). At least 2,500 years...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1937-2108
Print ISSN
0001-9933
Pages
pp. 66-85
Launched on MUSE
2018-02-17
Open Access
No
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