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August 20, 2014, 6:39 am

Exhibits put focus on Africa

Free Library, UPenn displaying artifacts


This is the closest historians, archeologists and armchair etymology buffs can get to Africa without actually visiting the Motherland, as cultural icons the Free Library of Philadelphia and the University of Pennsylvania’s Museum of Archeology and Anthropology will separately provide insights while celebrating humanity’s birthplace.

The Free Library opens its latest Afrocentric exhibit, “Materials Transformed: The Art of African Sculpture” Tuesday May 15, and features more than 100 objects from the more than 50 African countries.

The exhibit, which runs through the end of August, will feature a myriad of artistic creations, including Sierra Leonean mende minsereh figures, a Nigerian Nupe door, kebe-kebe dance staffs used by the Kuyu people and fon bocio – royal metal animal figurines from Benin – among other native indigenous items.

Many of these items belong to the collection of Mary Sue Rosen and Paul Peter Rosen, and provide a striking, three-dimensional view into the culture and craftwork produced in Africa.

“As the Free Library, we are proud to host compelling exhibitions that illuminate and celebrate the diversity of art and culture throughout our city and our world,” said Free Library of Philadelphia Director and President Siobhan A. Reardon. “We are especially thankful to the Rosens for generously sharing items for their vast collections of African art with us, and I encourage all Philadelphians to come and enjoy [this] exhibition.”

The Materials Transformed exhibit will also feature medicine gourds from Tanzania, brass weights from the Ivory Coast and Ghana, along with traditional war and tribal masks from West and Central Africa.

Across town, The University of Pennsylvania’s Museum of Anthropology and Archeology will celebrate Africa in its own unique method, by way of the ongoing “Imagine Africa” season-long exhibit and performance presentation.

“An Evening to Imagine Africa” commences at 5 p.m. on Wednesday, May 23, and the free event features a hybrid, performance-exhibit type of set up. Billed as a free community night, this event will bring together performances by the West Powelton Steppers Drill team and R&B line dance instructor Kenny J, while writers from the Philadelphia Youth Poetry Movement present their original works to the exhibit attendees.

Members of the East Coast Black Age of Comics Convention will also be on hand, offering their expertise during a comic book creation workshop, while officials with Odunde will be on hand to discuss their plans for its upcoming 37th annual street festival, slated for June 10; City Councilwoman Jannie Blackwell will host this event.

The “Imagine Africa” series covers a major cross-section of the creativity and culture of the continent. The 12-month run features various programs that will look at Africa through eight distinctive pathways: Imagine Strength; Imagine Changing; Imagine the Devine; Imagine Creating; Imagine Healing; Imagine Power; Imagine Strength and Imagine Fashion. The entire “Imagine Africa” series is designed to be interactive, as it seeks feedback from visitors.

“Imagine Africa with the Penn Museum is a twelve-month project investigating your thoughts.

Visitors will see a small selection from the Penn Museum’s extraordinary African collection, and will be asked for their feedback on what they see,” museum officials stated through a release coinciding with the event. “Community groups will be invited to give us more detailed feedback, and in this way, we will form a picture of what most visitors want to know about the vast continent of Africa.

“With this feedback, the museum will plan a re-installation of the African collection, informed by academic and community perspectives.”


Contact staff writer Damon C. Williams at (215) 893-5745 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .