African Cosmos: Stellar Arts

January 31-June 21, 2015
The Carlos Museum will host 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 will demonstrate 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.

African Cosmos  will showcase 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 will frame the topic historically, demonstrating Africa’s early engagement with celestial observations and its foundational place in visual arts and religion. The exhibition will also include 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 will also include works by African contemporary artists who draw on the cosmos for inspiration.


The exhibitions and educational programs in conjunction with the Creation Stories Project have been made possible by generous grants from the Thalia N. and Chris M. Carlos Foundation, Inc.; the Thalia and Michael C. Carlos Foundation, Inc.; and the Massey Charitable Trust.