Passages: Photographs in Africa by Carol Beckwith and Angela Fisher
- Dates: July 14, 2000 through September 17, 2000
- Organizing Department: Prints, Drawings and Photographs
- Collections: Photography
May 2000: Dramatic images of African life will be displayed along with objects from the Brooklyn Museum of Art’s world-renowned African art collection in Passages: Photographs in Africa by Carol Beckwith and Angela Fisher, on view July 14 through September 24, 2000. The photographers have spent thirty years traveling through Africa to document customs, rites of passage, and aspects of ceremonial life. Passages provides a rich portrait of time-honored African traditions in a continent undergoing rapid change.
“This exhibition represents both the wealth of African culture and the photographers’ lifelong passion to document it,” said William Siegmann, Curator of the Arts of Africa at the BMA. “Passages helps to make the Museum’s African art collection come alive.”
The exhibition covers the cycle of life in Africa as well as the spiritual beliefs of its societies. Ninety-five large-scale color photographs will be grouped according to birth and initiation, courtship and marriage, seasonal rituals, wealth and royalty, and finally, death and passage to the spirit world. Among the images in the exhibition are coming-of-age ceremonies for Maasai boys in Kenya and Krobo girls in Ghana; an extraordinary stick fight that is part of courtship among the Surma of southwestern Ethiopia; and the wedding ceremonies of Himba women adorned with the ocher earth of northwestern Namibia. Among the most intriguing ceremonies are the Wodaabe charm dances from central Niger. As part of their courtship rituals, Wodaabe men dress in elaborate costumes and wear makeup for a “beauty contest” judged by women.
“During Beckwith and Fisher’s decades of travels through Africa, they have sought out societies that are maintaining their traditions in the face of encroaching modernization,” Siegmann said. “The photographers are drawn to this vision of Africa above all else, and their deepest desire is to share it with the world.”
Passages will include forty objects, mostly drawn from the BMA’s collection. Some of the works have never been on view before or have not been exhibited in many years. The exhibition provides an opportunity to show these works in a manner that illustrates how they would have functioned in their original settings.
Passages will include:
• A full-body Yoruba Gelede mask,
• An eleven-foot-high Dogon mask,
• A fantasy coffin from Ghana, where coffins reflect the deceased’s occupation,
• Gold earrings from the Fulani people of Mali,
• Berber jewelry from North Africa,
• Ivory bracelets from the Lobi people of Burkina Faso,
• A silver sugar hammer from the Tuareg people of Niger.
The exhibition was organized by William Siegmann, Curator of the Arts of Africa at the BMA, with Barbara Head Millstein, Curator of Photography. Passages will be on view in the BMA’s Morris A. and Meyer Schapiro Wing fifth-floor galleries. Beckwith and Fisher’s moving images first appeared in African Ceremonies, a deluxe two-volume set published by Harry N. Abrams last year. Abrams will publish the images from Passages in a large-format, full-color volume that will be available for $19.95 in the BMA shop.
About the Photographers
Before they began their collaboration, Beckwith and Fisher had each lived and traveled extensively throughout Africa. Carol Beckwith was born in the United States and educated at the Boston Museum School of Fine Arts. She has been cited by UPI as “foremost among photographers who have recorded the cultures of the Far East, Pacific, and Africa.” She is the author of three previous books on African cultures all published by Harry N. Abrams: Maasai, which won the prestigious Annisfield-Wolf Award in Race Relations; Nomads of Niger, based on her three-year experience of living with the Wodaabe nomads; and African Ark, with Angela Fisher, a study of the peoples and cultures of the Horn of Africa. Angela Fisher was born in Australia and educated at Adelaide University. She is the author of the internationally acclaimed Africa Adorned (Abrams), a fourteen-year study of traditional African jewelry and body decoration. This publication was also the subject of a National Geographic cover story.
Passages Public Programs
Thurs. July 20
Join photographers Carol Beckwith and Angela Fisher for a discussion of their work. Free with Museum admission. Iris and B. Gerald Cantor Auditorium
Sat. August 5
Family Film: Kirikou and the Sorceress (1998, Dir. Michel Ocelot, 70 min., France) This animated film recounts the tale of tiny Kirikou, born in an African village on which Karaba the Sorceress has placed a terrible curse. Kirikou sets out on a quest to free his village and discover the secret of Karaba’s wrath. Part of the BMA’s free First Saturday program. Iris and B. Gerald Cantor Auditorium.
Film: Sango (1997, Dir. Obafemi Bandele Lasode, 160 min., Nigeria) This film recounts the epic ascension of Sango, the Yoruba king of the Oyo Empire, from legend to deity. Part of the BMA’s free First Saturday program. Iris and B. Gerald Cantor Auditorium.
Sat. September 17
Performance: Djoniba Dance and Drum Troupe. Join performers of all ages for an interactive African music experience. Free with Museum admission. Iris and B. Gerald Cantor Auditorium.
About African Art at the BMA
The first museum in the United States to display African objects as art, the BMA’s collection, particularly strong in works from central Africa, is one of the largest and most important in the country. In 1995, the African galleries were expanded and reinstalled with 250 works of art, including several pieces that have never before been on public view. Also on permanent display are a carved ivory gong from the Edo people of Benin and an eighteenth-century wooden figure of King Mishe MiShyaang maMbul of the Kuba people of Zaire—both of which are the only objects of their kind in the country.
- ART REVIEW; Two Painters, Far Apart, Intersect in BrooklynMay 26, 2000 By GRACE GLUECKGrace Glueck reviews Brooklyn Museum's shows of landscapes by William Merritt Chase and work of Maxfield Parrish; photos (M)
- FOOTLIGHTSJuly 11, 2000 By LAWRENCE VAN GELDERLawrence Van Gelder column reports on series of free concerts in parks of Brooklyn, sixth annual Amadeus Festival in Newark and Princeton, photographs taken in Africa by Carol Beckwith and Angela Fisher at Brooklyn Museum of Art and 12th season of free summer theater offered by Theatreworks/USA; photos (M)
- SPARE TIMESJuly 21, 2000 "''THE ADVENTURES OF MAY A THE BEE,'' told through rod and shadow puppets and a jazz score, is about a little bee who rejects toiling in the hive and flies off to pursue tastes more exotic than honey. The elaborate puppets range from a pugnacious Maya, who looks like a winged preschooler who has sprouted wings, to a dragonfly resembling Mae West...."
- SPARE TIMES: FOR CHILDRENJuly 21, 2000 "Theater ''THE ADVENTURES OF MAYA THE BEE,'' told through rod and shadow puppets and a jazz score, is about a little bee who rejects toiling in the hive and flies off to pursue tastes more exotic than honey. The elaborate puppets range from a pugnacious Maya, who looks like a winged preschooler who has sprouted wings, to a dragonfly resembling Mae..."
- CRITIC'S NOTEBOOK: A Scene-Stealer Behind the Scenes; Teresa Sterne, Musical Prodigy, Sacrificed Her Own Art So Others Might Be HeardJuly 31, 2000 By ANTHONY TOMMASINICRITIC'S NOTEBOOK: A Scene-Stealer Behind the Scenes: Teresa Sterne, Musical Prodigy, Sacrificed Her Own Art So Others Might Be Heard**Anthony Tommasini Critic's Notebook article on Teresa (Tracey) Sterne, 73, pioneering record producer at Nonesuch Records who failed to disclose to most of young artists she nurtured that she was piano prodigy in her youth; notes that label, which dismissed her in 1979, plans to release two-disk recording of her early work and of selections from albums she produced for label; she suffers from Lou Gehrig's disease and cannot be interviewed; photos (M)