Arts

Looking Up: Carlos Unveils New Exhibit ‘African Cosmos’

''Untitled'' by South African artist Gavin Jantjes is one of the paintings in the Carlos Museum's new exhibit ''African Cosmos.''
Credit Gabbie Watts / WABE
Audio version of this story here.

The Michael C. Carlos Museum has a new exhibit.  “African Cosmos: Stellar Arts” is one in a trilogy of traveling exhibits from the Smithsonian on Africa’s contribution to knowledge.

This exhibit takes a look at “cultural astronomy” on the African continent — how countries scientifically, religiously and culturally interact with the cosmos.

There are over 70 art pieces from traditional to contemporary, and several of the pieces have video and sound elements.

To get a sense of these more sonic works, producer Gabbie Watts took a tour with the Carlos’ African Art Curator Amanda Hellman. 

The sonic pieces include South African artist Marcus Neustetter’s “Chasing Light,” which is an audio recording of the Aurora Borealis’ electromagnetic spectrum.

When he went to Norway for an artist residency, he really wanted to see the great lights, but unfortunately, it was overcast the whole time. But artistic determination didn’t fail, so he and another artist audibly recorded the lights instead. He then took that recording, played it on a speaker with a tray of water on top, and projected light through the water.

The result: a mesmerizing green glow.

The next sonic piece, by South African artist William Kentridge, is two parts of a seven part series.

It pays tribute to filmmaker George Méliès. It takes a look at film noir and the artistic creative process as a journey into space. Of course, it’s a bit more conceptual than that with ants and muses flying about.

One piece has a fascinating video component. Kanaga masks are part of a funereal ritual performed by the Dogon people in the central plateau region of Mali. Every 12 years, dance, music and masks encourage the souls of deceased relatives to leave the village.

The Carlos Museum has several masks on display, one of which is over eight feet tall.

The final video piece is “Deep Survey,” a collaboration of artist Karel Nel, an astrophysicist and an illustrator. This piece moves through space toward and away from the beginning of time.

Of course, “African Cosmos” is not just these four pieces. The exhibit has over 70 pieces from the Carlos’ own collection, the Smithsonian and from individual artists. It will be open until June 21 of this year.