One might feel in touch with ancient history after viewing the XXVI Dynasty Anthropoid Sarcophagus (pictured) or masks and headdresses from the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Yet these objects on display at the Utah Museum of Fine Arts may actually transcend a gulf that separates cultures, past and present. It is relevant that the University of Utah has chosen, for its Day With (out) Art, to honor the World AIDS Day on Dec. 1 by shrouding the exhibit’s Sowei Helmet Mask from Sierra Leone.
The objects on display are impressive in their craftsmanship and exquisite in their construction. Works in the Egyptian Gallery represent ancient beliefs and metaphysics of the afterlife, while cultural artifacts from other African nations demonstrate their heritage and spirituality. They are truthful and representative of their identity, ideology and their aesthetics. The show brings to fruition the essence of African people and represents various African cultures in an ideal state of purity, civil union, peace and civic identity.
But as the viewer contemplates these works, they are contemplating manifestations of struggling national identities, just as we struggle to find our own. This exhibition is extraordinary in that it brings a holistic vision of African art— some of it millennia old, many of the objects from the 20th century—to Western, modern eyes. They show the essence of cultures that are not merely primitive, or that exist only in magazine articles. This art is a manifestation of real people, and it should be embraced recognizing our commonality and shared struggle.