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A highly anticipated exhibition opens on Friday, Feb. 27 at the New Orleans Museum of Art, celebrated with live music and a guest lecture from its curator.

Exploring a time span of several hundred years and reaching thousands of miles across the globe, with due relevance to the United States in general, and New Orleans in particular, Kongo Across the Waters, organized by the Harn Museum of Art at the University of Florida and the Royal Museum for Central Africa in Tevuren, Belgium, takes a deep look at connections between civilizations of the African Kingdom of the Kongo and African-American culture in the U.S, delving into concepts of colonization, linguistics, anthropology, musicology and art.

The historical Kongo kingdom encompasses modern northern Angola, the Cabinda region, the Republic of Congo and the western part of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, as well as part of Gabon. It existed from the 1300s until 1891 as an independent state and majorly influenced cultural folkways across the globe – including here in New Orleans.

Said Susan M. Taylor, director of NOMA, “Art and music of the Kongo has strongly influenced the culture of New Orleans evidenced even today by the myriad cultural activities that take place in our own Congo Square. This exhibition promises to resonate with the history and traditions of New Orleans.”

Staff Finial, Lower Congo, DRC

Ivory scepter, Lower Congo, DRC

Wooden Grave Figure, Mayombe, Lower Congo, DRC

Two figures, Lemba couple, Mayombe, Lower Congo, DRC

The exhibit showcases more than 160 works of original art and discovered artifacts and is organized into five sections, according to geography and time. The first portion explores the early days of the kingdom and touches upon early encounters with Europeans, who introduced the Kongo to new ideas, ways of political organization and trade objects that were eventually assimilated into the Kongo traditions.

In the next section, visitors to the museum will virtually travel “across the waters” to discover archaeological evidence of Kongo in North America. Here, they are introduced to ritual activities, as discovered through intentionally buried materials that turned up in European-owned mansions and in slave cabins.

In the third portion, placed back in Kongo, power structures and religious belief are explored, along with notions of European trade. The fourth installment returns to North America, taking a deeper look at how Kongo influenced African-American cultures.

Finally, museum-goers can see how the Kongo culture continues to perpetuate and foster contemporary art throughout the world, illustrated by works from Edouard Duval-Carrie; Renee Stout; Radcliff Bailey; Jose Bedia and Steve Bandoma – an international group of artists who all cite the Kongo kingdom as part of their inspiration.

Art and music of the Kongo has strongly influenced the culture of New Orleans evidenced even today by the myriad cultural activities that take place in our own Congo Square. Susan M. Taylor, director of the New Orleans Museum of Art.

In celebration and welcoming of the exhibition, curator Hein Van Hee will present a lecture at 6pm on Feb 27. expounding upon the theme of colonial relations between Africans and Europeans, as well as present culture via true stories based on individual Congolese actors’ written testimonials. He also invites the public to imagine how the Congolese looked at their own changing society.

Following his lecture will be a performance by Bamboula 2000, a local group that is deeply rooted in the soul of Congo Square of New Orleans, drawing influences from the Caribbean and Africa.

The Kongo Across The Waters exhibition is also accompanied by a 450-page publication available in the Museum Shop, which is full of illustrated essays, photography and a catalogue of the exhibition.

Supplemental events in conjunction with the exhibit include: a lecture on March 13 with co-curators Susan Cooksey and Robin Poynor of the Harun Museum of Art at the University of Florida; a symposium on March 14 “Connecting ‘Kongo Across the Waters’ to New Orleans”; a lecture on April 17 by Grey Gundaker of William and Mary College; a reburial and Congo Square celebration on April 18 at St. Peter Street Cemetery; a lecture on May 15 with Matthew Stanard of Berry College; and a lecture on May 22 with John Thornton of Boston University. For more information, check www.noma.org.

Main Image: Woyo peoples, Banana, Lower Congo, DRC, Ndunga mask, early 20th century, collection RMCA Tervuren, EO.0.0.34579. Photo R. Asselberghs, RMCA Tervuren

Slideshow 1: Kongo peoples, Lower Congo, DRC, Staff finial, 17th-18th century, Collection RMCA Tervuren, HO.1953.100.1. Photo J.-M. Vandyck , RMCA Tervuren

Slideshow 2: Kongo peoples, Lower Congo, DRC, Ivory scepter, 19th century, Collection RMCA Tervuren, EO.0.0.43708. Photo R. Asselberghs , RMCA Tervure

Slideshow 3: Yombe peoples, Mayombe, Lower Congo, DRC, Wooden grave figure, Early 20th century Collection RMCA Tervuren, EO.1960.32.1. Photo J. Van de Vyver , RMCA Tervuren

Slideshow 4: Yombe peoples, Mayombe, Lower Congo, DRC, Two figures, Lemba couple, late 19th century, Collection RMCA Tervuren, EO.0.0.42920. Photo J. Van de Vyver, RMCA Tervuren

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The Arts Council of New Orleans

The Arts Council of New Orleans is a private, non-profit organization designated as the City’s official arts agency. The Arts Council serves as one of eight regional distributing agencies for state arts funds and administers available municipal arts grants and the Percent For Art program for the City of New Orleans. The Arts Council works in partnership with the City of New Orleans, community groups, local, state, and national governmental agencies, and other nonprofit arts organizations to meet the arts and cultural needs of the New Orleans community through a diversity of initiatives and services.

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PRC

Preservation Resource Center (PRC) has been preserving, restoring, and revitalizing New Orleans’ historic architecture and neighborhoods since 1974. Throughout its history, PRC has acted as an advocacy agent on a local, regional, and national scale, spreading the word about the city’s rich architectural heritage and the economic importance of preserving this heritage. PRC also takes a hands-on approach to preservation, with a history of successfully restoring over 1,400 properties. The center strengthens and revitalizes New Orleans in a way that is forward-looking and sustainable, yet sensitive to the city’s past and its heritage.

NOMA

As a nexus for the arts in New Orleans, NOMA is committed to preserving, interpreting, and enriching its collections and renowned sculpture garden; offering innovative experiences for learning and interpretation; and uniting, inspiring, and engaging diverse communities and cultures.

The Historic New Orleans Collection

The Historic New Orleans Collection (THNOC) is a museum, research center, and publisher dedicated to preserving the history and culture of New Orleans and the Gulf South. Its holdings comprise more than one million items from more than three centuries, documenting moments both major and minor. Its four exhibition spaces–the Williams Gallery, the Louisiana History Galleries, the Boyd Cruise Gallery, and the Laura Simon Nelson Galleries for Louisiana Art–faithfully depict the multicultural stories of the region, from permanent displays exploring the evolution of Louisiana to rotating exhibitions showcasing history and fine art.

Southern Food

The Southern Food and Beverage Museum is a nonprofit living history organization dedicated to the discovery, understanding and celebration of the food, drink and the related culture of the South. While based in New Orleans, the Museum examines and celebrates all the cultures that have come together through the centuries to create the South’s unique culinary heritage. The Museum is also home to the collections of the Museum of the American Cocktail, the Galerie d’Absinthe, and a demonstration kitchen.

Louisiana Endowment for the Humanities

The Louisiana Endowment for the Humanities is a non-profit organization dedicated to providing educational opportunities to all Louisianans.

The Louisiana Endowment for the Humanities’ mission is to provide all Louisianans with access to and an appreciation of their own rich, shared and diverse historical, literary and cultural heritage through grant-supported outreach programs, family literacy and adult reading initiatives, teacher professional development institutes, publications, film and radio documentaries, museum exhibitions, cultural tourism, public lectures, library projects, and other public humanities programming.

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