African Cosmos: Stellar Arts

January 31-June 21, 2015
The Carlos Museum hosts a major exhibition from the National Museum of African Art at the Smithsonian entitled African Cosmos: Stellar Arts, the first major exhibition exploring the historical legacy of African cultural astronomy and its intersection with traditional and contemporary African arts. Featuring more than seventy outstanding works of art from throughout the African continent, African Cosmos  considers how the sun, moon, stars, and celestial phenomena such as lightning and rainbows have served as sources of inspiration in the creation of African art from ancient times to the present. The African Cosmos  exhibition  demonstrates that observations of the heavens are part of the knowledge that informs origin stories, artistic expression, and ritual practice in African cultures. Standing at the core of creation myths and the foundation of moral values, celestial bodies are often accorded sacred capacities and are part of the “cosmological map” that allows humans to chart their course through life. A wide array of programming for adults, kids, and families have been planned in conjunction with African Cosmos. Program Brochure: View/Download

African Cosmos showcases outstanding works of art that illuminate Africa’s contributions to the science and practice of astronomy. African interest in and observation of the cosmos date back as far as the stone circle and megaliths of Nabta Playa, a site in southern Egypt dating to the 5th millennium B.C. that has been interpreted as one of the world’s earliest archeoastronomical devices marking star alignments and the summer solstice. In African Cosmos, selected ancient Egyptian and Nubian works of art frame the topic historically, demonstrating Africa’s early engagement with celestial observations and its foundational place in visual arts and religion. The exhibition also includes 19th - and 20th - century works of traditional African art that illustrate the enduring legacy of astronomical knowledge and its use by artists as a rich source of metaphor. Examples include Dogon (Mali) sculptures and masks that connect earth and sky in ritual reenactments of creation; a Yoruba (Nigeria) sculpture honoring Shango, the thunder deity; a Bamana (Mali) antelope crestpiece with an open-work mane that suggests the sun’s path through the sky each day as metaphor for the mythic origins of agriculture; and the drawing of a Kongo cosmogram in Haiti depicting the four moments of the sun, a symbol for the cycle of human life. The exhibition also includes works by African contemporary artists who draw on the cosmos for inspiration.

Major sponsorship for “African Cosmos: Stellar Arts” is provided by the government of the Republic of South Africa and South Africa’s Department of Science and Technology. Additional support is from BET Networks, Stuart Bohart and family, Brand South Africa, Credit Suisse, South African Airways, South African Airways Cargo and the Embassy of South Africa in Washington, D.C.
In Atlanta, "African Stories: Stellar Arts" is part of Emory University's "Creation Stories Project," which has been made possible by generous grants from the Thalia N. and Chris M. Carlos Foundation, Inc.; the Thalia and Michael C. Carlos Foundation, Inc.; the Massey Charitable Trust; and the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.