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Negro Arts of Barotseland (Margaret Carson Hubbard Collection)

DATES January 01, 1936 through March 31, 1936
ORGANIZING DEPARTMENT Arts of Africa
COLLECTIONS Arts of Africa
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  • February 16, 1936 From the head waters of the Zambezi in the heart of south Africa Mrs. Margaret Carson Hubbard, the explorer, has brought a collection of the arts of Barotse land, which has been placed on exhibition at the Brooklyn Museum in a gallery adjacent to the permanent collection of African arts. The Hubbard collection comprises iron work and the complete kit of tools of an iron worker, baskets, pottery, wood carvings including very fine animal sculpture, and ceremonial masks and dance costumes.

    Among the primitive tribes, of the veldt in northern Rhodesia, the Barotse, stand out as exceptionally fine physical types and far more reliable than many of their neighbors. From some points of view their way of life is extremely primitive. Their houses are conical straw huts. Their ordinary clothing ragged animal skins, though they are proud of scraps of cloth and, cloth garments they obtain by trade. The little boys run naked. The skirt of a little girl looks like a string mop tied about her waist by a leather belt. They live by agriculture, hunting and fishing. But in the arts of pottery, basketry, iron working and wood sculpture they show themselves true artists, exhibiting great skill in these crafts and a keen sense of beauty’ in general forms and in decorative ornament.

    Spears and other equipment for hunting and fishing and a complete iron worker’s kit of tools exhibited at the Brooklyn Museum together with photographs of the smith at work beside the trench in which he builds his fire show clearly the craft of the primitive metal worker.

    Baskets, pots, and carved wooden bowls and boxes display a variety of large and beautiful forms and an interesting use of ornament, much of it geometrical, the rest derived from human and animal figures.

    Animal sculpture in carved wood shows keen observation and a feeling for simplicity and beauty of form. There is no kinship between this work and the crude fetishes of the west coast of Africa so often exhibited. Keen wit there is and a feeling for caricature, illustrated by comical figures of European missionaries.

    A complete ceremonial dance costume together with many accessories of the dance, musical instruments and photographs showing dance ceremonies give an indication of the importance of this art in the life of the people. The Likishi dancer is a professional dancer who goes from village to village performing a ceremonial dance which marks the maturity of the boy in whose honor it is performed. The dancer wears a complete striped suit of woven fibre and a mask (throughout the dance), but in the course of the a dance he also puts on and takes off various accessories, headdresses for instance and a heavy skirt of beads made of sections of hollow reed, which resembles the Hawaiian grass skirt. Important among the musical instruments are drums, a kind of wooden xylophone much like that in use in the Orient, and a sort of small harp with metal keys instead of strings which vibrate in different tones when they are plucked by the fingers.

    Mrs. Margaret Carson Hubbard who has recently returned from Barotse land with this interesting collection of Barotsc work and with moving picture films which she is now engaged in developing and editing, has described her first three years in South Africa in a book called “No One To Blame.” It is a fascinating and romantic story of adventure in pursuit of wild animals. On a later trip Mrs. Hubbard secured a moving picture for Warner Brothers. Her recent trip was made independently for the purpose of taking pictures and collecting ethnographical materials.


    Brooklyn Museum Archives. Records of the Department of Public Information. Press releases, 1931 - 1936. 01-03_1936, 024-5.
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