Exhibit is Kimbell Museum’s first focused on African art in 25 years

DAVID TAFFET | Senior Staff Writer

The Language of Beauty in African Art, a new exhibit at the Kimbell Art Museum, gives “insight into African cultures and their ideas of beauty,” according to the museum’s director, Eric Lee.

Three murals open the display to show that much of what is shown was part of a multi-sensory performance.

That includes masks, jewelry, helmets and more in this massive exhibit of more than 200 pieces of African art from West, Central and Southern Africa.

While this exhibit may not be everyone’s taste, it certainly is mine. I have a collection of masks and carved statues, some from Africa, that I mostly picked up at street markets. They don’t have the value of these museum-quality pieces, but I learned several things about them at the exhibit.

According to Constantine Petridis, the show’s curator, in many African languages, the word beauty extends beyond visual beauty and includes goodness.

In some sets of sculptures, statues of women are the same size as or even larger than the companion male figure. In many of the African cultures represented, women have equal status to men. Even where the public power was a man, women were equally influential in those areas as advisors.

Beauty in African art has a purpose. In some cases, it’s created to attract and please deities or to protect. Ugly masks made with horns and tusks were rough and terrifying, powerful and dangerous. These war-like creations were intentionally the opposite of beauty.

Works included in a final category of works transcends ugly and beauty and are sublime, powerful figures in an aggressive posture taking a threatening stance that were created by a carver and a ritual specialist working together.

Most of the works in this vast exhibit date from the late 1800s and early 1900s. Shows like this are rare. This is the first time in 25 years the Kimbell has focused entirely on African art.

The Language of Beauty in African Art runs April3-July 31 at the Kimbell Art Museum, 3333 Camp Bowie Blvd., Fort Worth. $18. See more photos from the exhibit online at DallasVoice.com.