The collaborative exhibition between Douglas Dawson Gallery and Rhona Hoffman Gallery explores the complex role of fetish in traditional African culture. While often misunderstood in the West, fetish in the context of African art is used to define the objects used by traditional animistic African cultures to control and disseminate the powerful secret knowledge that kept society in balance with the dangerous spirit world.
Until recently many African cultures maintained secret societies into which young males were initiated, usually upon reaching puberty, and instructed in the secret knowledge and rituals necessary for maintaining social cohesion. Associated with the societies were objects imbued with particular powers that functioned as tools for the perilous negotiations between worlds. Early Europeans viewed such objects with great derision on both religious and aesthetic grounds. Only with the evolution of the vocabulary of 20th century modern art has the fetish object been seen in a new perspective.
Many fetish objects’ conceptual foundations are understood, if ever in totality, by a select few mature members of a given cult and meaning is gradually dispensed often in metaphoric or symbolic narrative. They are a physical manifestation of abstract knowledge and in that sense have a certain affinity with 20th century Western sculpture and modern art.
Fetish objects were also created on a more personal level apart from the secret societies. Individual supplicants commissioned specific, and often very personal, fetish objects in collaboration with the shaman to address a particular objective; health, defense from spells, pregnancy, or divination. The object would be taken to the altar of the supplicant where sacrifices would be made and acts of veneration performed; rich, crusty, layered surfaces are physical traces of their personal history.
The majority of the approximately fifty objects and textiles in this exhibition are from West and Central Africa. They include both figurative and abstract sculpture, masks, ceramics, textiles and iron and copper alloy pieces used in divination.
Rhona Hoffman Gallery is an ideal context to present this enigmatic art form; African fetish, to a new and receptive audience. While we cannot know the exact meaning of most of these objects they nonetheless project a profound sense of power, mystery, and art that is very accessible to the 21st century eye.
Download the online catalogue via the link below: https://www.dropbox.com/s/i9t4gpyhehcjyn4/DDG-Catalog-WebSafe-20150416-4-mw.pdf?dl=0
The exhibition of fetish objects takes place at Rhona Hoffman Gallery, Chicago.
Fetish-related textiles will be on display at Douglas Dawson Gallery.
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