Africa. The land of spirits, the exhibition which opens the exhibition spaces of Mudec – Museo delle Culture, is promoted by the Municipality of Milano-Cultura and by 24 ORE Cultura – Gruppo 24 Ore, which is also the producer, and it is curated by Ezio Bassani, Lorenz Homberger, Gigi Pezzoli and Claudia Zevi.
With over 270 works on display, Africa. The land of spirits proposes an itinerary that accompanies masterpieces which are already famous in the Western world and works that narrate the cultural and religious tradition of the African continent, explaining its symbology and importance in the culture of the populations of black Africa. Today, it is in fact almost impossible to look at African art without being conditioned by the expressive codes belonging to the avant-gardes of the 20th century (from Picasso to Matisse to Giacometti) that were the first to underline its aesthetic value.
However, the plastic and decorative sensitivity that 20th century artists discovered in African art does not fully correspond to the subjective idea that the Africans themselves have of their art. In fact, it is not a simple representation or a formal research, but, in a certain way, it identifies itself with the actual contents of the representation. The traditional African artist, in fact, does not copy the visual reality but he reinvents it by creating each time new models with which he represents it. And it is on the basis of the functionality of this relationship that it is considered a work of art. The exhibition itinerary, that runs along 6 halls, accompanies the visitor in a journey that, for the first time, aims at giving an account of both levels of interpretation, by offering an all round re- interpretation of African artistic production.
On the one hand, an explanation is provided as to how some of the most famous and monumental African art masterpieces have been read and re-interpreted by Western culture, based on what Walter Benjamin called the aura of a work of art. The first two halls illustrate, in fact, how the so- called “savages” produced an art that was capable of speaking to the great masters of the avant- gardes and how African art was actually known and sought after for centuries becoming part of the collections of the main European courts ever since the 16th century.
On the other hand, instead, the artifacts displayed are placed in the complex system of beliefs and rules at the basis of African culture, in which the expressive sign is often an alternative and a valid substitute for the written word. A culture in which the art of living expresses itself in a rich and multiform way, transforming the works of art in symbols and significant traces of its own history and its own civilization.
Visitors will be able to travel inside the three fundamental moments of African religiousness: the world of spirits, the sacrifices that are necessary to placate the ineffable demons that threaten the lives of men and animals and the divination that interrogates the spirits of the earth and of the wind.
The exhibition itinerary continues by narrating the greatness of the ancient African kingdoms, the wealth and power of their kings, to then move on to tackle the theme of the objects of everyday use, which are also part of the ongoing story that binds the beings of nature.
Finally, the exhibition ends with a hall that is entirely dedicated to the theme of masks, the tools through which the individual comes into contact with the spirits and, through dancing, becomes all one with them.