Posts Tagged 'The Power of Gold: Asante Royal Regalia from Ghana'

The Power of Pop-Up Art Spot

Since the debut of the Pop-Up Art Spot in 2013, this roaming activity cart has become a favorite stop for visitors of all ages. In a continued effort to make immersive activities that are inspired by nearby works of art, the Center for Creative Connections team has introduced a brand new Pop-Up Art Spot cart designed around special exhibitions. Our first focus is The Power of Gold: Asante Royal Regalia from Ghana, which features over 250 objects revealing the splendor of Asante regalia from the 19th to 21st centuries.

The Power of Gold Pop-Up Art Spot will rotate monthly between two carts of activities until the exhibition closes on August 12, 2018. At the April Late Night, visitors learned about proverbs connected to selected goldweights in the exhibition by playing a match game and making drawings.

In May the cart will focus on textiles. Visitors will observe the detailed patterns in kente cloth and use silk thread to create their own weaving. They can also explore the symbols in adinkra cloth and create a rubbing using various adinkra stamps.

Come try these activities, and more,  in the Power of Gold exhibition on Saturdays from 1:00 to 4:00 p.m. and on selected Late Nights from 8:00 to 10:30 p.m. A special exhibition ticket is required.

Kerry Butcher is the Education Coordinator for the Center for Creative Connections at the DMA.

In Search of Brandon Kirby and the Golden Spider

Earlier this month, the DMA’s exhibition The Power of Gold: Asante Royal Regalia from Ghana opened to the public. What you may not know is that the entire exhibition of more than 250 objects was inspired by a few works from the DMA’s collection. The DMA Member Magazine, Artifacts, explored two of these objects in the Winter 2018 issue. Discover more about the inspiration behind the exhibition and the history of these beautiful pieces:

In 2014, two finely crafted gold artworks joined the Dallas Museum of Art’s holdings of West African regalia. The cast gold spider and T-shaped bead arrived in an elegant velvet-lined display box bearing an inscription with the following information: the items came from the Asante kingdom, were once owned by the kings, and left their original home in 1883.

Sword ornament in the form of a spider, Ghana, Asante peoples, late 19th century, gold-copper-silver alloy, Dallas Museum of Art, McDermott African Art Acquisition Fund, 2014.26.1

Dr. Roslyn A. Walker, Senior Curator of the Arts of Africa, the Americas, and the Pacific, and The Margaret McDermott Curator of African Art at the DMA, began a multi-year investigation into the works’ journey from the Gold Coast (present-day Ghana) to Texas. This research inspired The Power of Gold: Asante Royal Regalia from Ghana, the first exhibition to focus on Asante royal regalia in over three decades. The Cree family were previous owners of the objects, and in their oral history detailing the objects’ relocation from Africa to England they mention a man named Robert L. Brandon Kirby. Who was Brandon Kirby and how did he come to own these ornate examples of gold craftsmanship? These questions drove Walker to dig through British Parliamentary Papers, correspond with international archivists and scholars, and trace census records throughout the US and Europe. Born in Australia in 1852 as Robert Low Kirby, and later recorded under the surname Brandon Kirby and then Brandon-Kirby, he traveled in 1881 to the British colony, where he served in the Gold Coast Constabulary, a police force. He earned the respect of the British governor of the Gold Coast, Sir Samuel Rowe, and during a mission in 1884 he was tasked with delivering letters from Sir Samuel to the kingdom’s various paramount chiefs regarding the pending selection of an heir to the Golden Stool (throne).

Walker’s reconstructed narrative identifies this tour through the Asante kingdom as the context for Brandon Kirby’s possession of the cast gold spider and T-shaped bead, which were probably bestowed upon him by Prince Agyeman Kofi, later known as Asantahene (king) Kwaku Dua II.

Pendant, Ghana, Asante peoples, late 19th century, gold-copper-silver alloy, Dallas Museum of Art, McDermott African Art Acquisition Fund, 2014.26.2

The following year, Brandon Kirby partnered with James Cree (d. 1891), a wealthy Scotsman, to buy cattle ranches in the Territory of New Mexico, thus the Asante spider and bead arrived in the US. According to Cree family lore, Brandon Kirby’s dramatic departure from New Mexico forced him to travel light, leaving behind his mementos of his time in the Gold Coast.

The intricate castings were then passed through generations of the Cree family, landing in Austin, Texas. From there, it was only a few hundred miles and years of research before their reintroduction at the DMA in The Power of Gold. A final historical resource soon joined the spider and bead at the DMA and recently entered the Museum’s collection—an album of photographs by Frederick Grant dated 1883–84 and featuring Brandon Kirby in Kumasi, the capital of the Asante kingdom.

Frederick Grant, Ashanti and West Central Africa, 1883-4 (cover), 1883–84, leather, copper alloy, and paper, Dallas Museum of Art, African Collection Fund, 2017.12

Frederick Grant, Ashanti and West Central Africa, 1883-4 (detail), 1883–84, leather, copper alloy, and paper, Dallas Museum of Art, African Collection Fund, 2017.12

Find out more about Brandon Kirby and the golden spider in the beautifully illustrated exhibition catalogue that accompanies the exhibition.

Dr. Emily Schiller is the Head of Interpretation at the DMA.

Colors of Kente

Alongside the gold ornamentation, furniture, and weaponry, one of the other art forms in the new exhibition The Power of Gold: Asante Royal Regalia from Ghana is kente cloth. The cloth is made from weaving thin strips of woven fabric together to create large blanket-size pieces. You can see in the photo below how detailed the vertical strips can be, and how colorful the patterns are. Once all of the thin strips are created, they will turn into the kente pattern like the ones you see below. Both of these kente textiles will be on view in the exhibition.

Detail of a man’s kente, Oyokoman pattern, Ghana, Asante peoples, c. 1920–1930, Ssilk, Dallas Museum of Art, Textile Purchase Fund, 2015.12

Kente, Ghana, Asante peoples, c. 1925, silk and dye, Dallas Museum of Art, African Collection Fund, 2006.45

To learn more about the kente cloths that will be shown in the exhibition, we invited world-renowned kente weaver Kwasi Asare to be a part of our April Late Night and an Adult Workshop. Kwasi Asare is part of a lineage of kente weavers who played an enormous role in the popularity and visibility of the traditional cloth in Ghana. His father, A. E. Asare, created the kente worn by the president of Ghana, Kwame Nkrumah, in 1957 for his official portrait and visits to the United States. This gained worldwide attention because Ghana had just become the first independent country in sub-Saharan Africa. A. E. Asare also weaved a kente for the United Nations General Assembly in the 1960s. Kwasi Asare, following in his father’s footsteps, weaved a kente to replace the old and fraying version his father had made, which now hangs in the UN building. Kwasi Asare called his kente Adwene Asa, meaning “consensus has been reached.” The Adwena Asa stands as an emblem of diplomacy, peace, and compassion and as an aspirational symbol for all the world’s delegates who gather there. Kwasi Asare will be demonstrating his weaving and leading a tour of the kente cloths in the exhibition during Late Night on Friday, April 20.

Kwasi Asare weaving on his large loom

Prime Minister of Ghana Kwame Nkrumah arriving at the White House, Washington, DC, US, July 1958

Adwene Asa, Kwasi Asare’s kente cloth that hangs in the United Nations General Assembly Building

The last three images are taken with permission from Kwasi Asare’s website.

Katie Cooke is Manager of Adult Programs at the DMA.

Cultural Exchange in Asante History

Cultural exchange takes many forms, historically ranging from forced interaction in war, colonization, slavery, and looting, to the peaceful sharing of items, ideas, and practices. With this nuanced transformation of “cultural exchange” over time, I’d like to offer a sneak peek into the abundance of it in the DMA’s upcoming exhibition, The Power of Gold: Asante Royal Regalia from Ghana. The Asante still exist today with many traditions and international influences, so I hope you recognize a few in the show.

A subgroup of the Akan peoples, the Asante established their empire (1701-1957) in modern-day Ghana. Especially after the 14th century, trans-Saharan trade increased interaction between the Akan in West Africa and Arab and Berber merchants of the Middle East and North Africa, who brought not only salt in exchange for gold, but also the Arabic language and Islamic aesthetic, too. Compare this 12th century Iranian inkwell to this Asante casket kuduo:

Shared elements include the brass material, structural shape, and various etchings decorating the surfaces. Function differed according to needs and tastes: the inkwell for writing, and the kuduo for storing gold dust and nuggets. Calligraphy encircles the inkwell lid, yet also seems to be absorbed into the body of the kuduo, alongside medallions and floral motifs. The Asante found inspiration in Islamic art and calligraphic linearity, mixing a love of geometric patterns with newly adapted horizontal bands of sectioned patterns. These abstract qualities may then illustrate Asante reflections on their past and contemporary sights, in hopes of replicating imagery seen on merchants’ goods, since Islamic influence remained strong throughout the centuries.

Muslims were not the only ones to influence Asante cultural production; 19th century colonizers also imparted their imagery on West Africa. The Asante have a wide array of traditional proverbs and imagery that form the “verbal-visual nexus.” This link probably developed alongside Akan hierarchies, so that royal regalia and materials could help visibly demonstrate the grandeur of kingship. Visible signs range from items like books and foodstuffs, to animals such as porcupines, crocodiles, and leopards.

Proverbs describe aspects of life that can be understood as advice or lessons for the community. Here’s one: “When rain beats on a leopard it wets him, but it does not wash out his spots.” In terms of the leopard’s spots being washed away, this may reference the careful attention a king gives to his character, so as not to ruin his reputation in the kingdom. The British Empire brought with them to Ghana their royal coat of arms, which is thought to have popularized the lion in Asante art. Representations of the Asantehene (ruler, king) thus shifted from the leopard to the lion, as seen in this proverb: “A dead lion is greater than a living leopard.” So, even stemming from colonial presence, we see the Asante adopting desirable foreign elements and making them their own.

Sword ornament in the form of a lion, Asante peoples, Ghana, Africa, c. mid-20th century, cast gold and felt, Dallas Museum of Art, The Eugene and Margaret McDermott Art Fund, Inc. 2010.2.McD

A final example of exchange can be found in our very own backyard. In 1991, Nana Lartey Kwaku Esi II, the crowned head of the Asona (another subgroup of the Akan), enstooled four African Americans in Dallas, bringing Ghanaian royalty to the Metroplex. The enstooled are tasked with disseminating a love of the homeland and possess some of their own royal regalia, including gilded hats and footwear and kente cloths. In addition to sharing uplifting words, such as “we are all one human being under God,” Nana Lartey Kwaku Esi II sought to ensure that African culture, in a Ghanaian context, was shared with those in the U.S. that wish to reclaim their roots. These actions demonstrate the depth and spread of cultural influence in our country and prove that the Asante not only have a living culture, but also ideas worth spreading.

To learn more about the Asante, check out these resources:

  • Doran H. Ross, The Arts of Ghana (Regents of the University of California: Los Angeles, 1977), 9-10.
  • Robert Sutherland Rattray, Ashanti Proverbs: The Primitive Ethics of a Savage People (Clarendon Press: London, 1916), 63.
  • Doran Ross, Gold of the Akan from the Glassell Collection (Merrell Publishers, 2003), 67.
  • James D. Webster, Dallas Weekly, Ghana to Dallas: A Royal Exchange is Coming to America (Oct. 10-16, 1991), 13.
  • Raymond A. Silverman, Akan Transformations: Problems in Ghanaian Art History, edited by Doran H. Ross and Timothy F. Garrard (Regents of the University of California: Los Angeles, 1983).

Tayana Fincher is the McDermott Intern for African Art at the DMA.


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