Kongo artwork comes to Harn

It will displayed side-by-side with American pieces

Kongo artwork and American artwork influenced by the early Kongo Kingdom will be displayed at the “Kongo Across the Waters” exhibit, including, this American basket. (Courtesy of the Harn Museum of Art)

Published: Wednesday, October 9, 2013 at 1:47 p.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, October 9, 2013 at 1:47 p.m.

Striking connections between the art and culture of the Kongo Kingdom of western Central Africa and African-American art and culture will be explored in "Kongo Across the Waters," an exhibit that also will shed light on the little-known fact that the first Europeans and the first Africans in North America arrived simultaneously as conquistadors.



* What: “Kongo Across the Waters,” an exhibit of artwork from the early Kongo Kindgom and also America.

* When: Oct. 22-March 23.

* Where: Harn Museum of Art, SW 34th Street and Hull Road.

* Information: Call 352-392-9826 or visit www.harn.ufl.edu.

The exhibit, which opens on Oct. 22, will run through March 23 at the Samuel P. Harn Museum of Art at SW 34th Street and Hull Road. Museum hours are 11 a.m.-5 p.m. Tuesdays-Fridays, 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Saturdays and 1-5 p.m. Sundays.

"We want to show a connection of how much Kongo has impacted African-American art and culture," said Susan Cooksey, curator of African art at the Harn Museum.

The exhibit will consist of a regalia of Kongo kings, including swords and heavy metals, as well as ivory carvings, crucifixes, medicinal bundles, pottery, artifacts, baskets, textiles, maps and other objects.

The exhibit celebrates Kongo-influenced cultural traditions primarily in southeastern U.S., including Florida, and commemorates 500 years since the first African conquistador, Juan Garrido, came to the Americas. The exhibit coincides with Viva Florida 500, the 500th anniversary of Juan Ponce de León's arrival in Florida.

"They (Africans) came as conquistadors," said Cooksey, adding that the presence of African explorers means that the first Europeans and the first Africans in North America arrived simultaneously.

"That they (Africans) came as explorers is now becoming common knowledge," said Cooksey, adding that the "Kongo Across the Waters" exhibit was developed to highlight a milestone in the history of African presence in North America and to show the great influence the Kongo Kingdom has had in this country.

"Kongo has had a profound and enduring influence in our culture and who we are," Cooksey said. "A lot of things around us comes from there."

Cooksey said Kongo artwork and American artwork influenced by the Kongo Kingdom will be displayed side-by-side.

The exhibit of more than 160 works of historic and contemporary art and artifacts will include loans from the Royal Museum for Central Africa in Tervuren, Belgium, that have never been on display in the U.S. and spanning nearly five centuries from the 16th century and beginning with the ancient Kongo Kingdom, which covered parts of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Angola, Republic of the Congo and Gabon.

The exhibit is a collaboration by the Harn Museum, the University of Florida and the Royal Museum.

Cooksey said the Kongo, which was the first African kingdom to embrace Christianity, sent emissaries and students in the 15th century to study in Rome. Cooksey said its culture was very cultivated, with beautiful cities, wealth and sophistication.

Cooksey said huge numbers of Kongo peoples were brought to America as enslaved people and they expressed themselves through artworks that were skillfully designed and crafted and aesthetically complex. She said American music has its roots in the Kongo and the exhibit shows its manifestation and influence and includes footage of performances taped at Kongo Square in New Orleans.

"This (exhibit) is a very unique approach and very specific about African roots here in America," Cooksey said. "We're very fortunate to have this opportunity. It's like suddenly becoming the Smithsonian overnight. I think people will walk away excited and feeling they know a little bit more about who they are."

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