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Narodowe Muzeum Morskie w Gdańsku

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The museum complex on the Motława river

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From Mombassa to Dakar

09.06.2010 |

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From Mombassa to Dakar

The Fisheries Museum at Hel is presenting works of contemporary African artists, from Tanzania through Zambia to Senegal. The exhibition of sculptures, inspired by traditional African mythology and folklore, is mostly devoted to ujamaa and shetani types of sculptures, developed by the Makonde tribe from Tanzania. The Makonde are an ethnic group of Eastern Bantu family, living in south-eastern Tanzania and northern Mozambique. Their population is estimated at 1.4 million. Many of the Makonde make their living on sculpting and migrate to the areas where there is a demand for their output. That is why their works can be purchased in Uganda or southern Kenya.

Ujaama style sculptures reflect the traditional ancestor worship, taking shape of columns composed of human heads and figures symbolising the ancestors, often topped with a woman's head – the mother of the tribe, or her maternal uncle. The statues have a compact, massive form made from decorative, chunky figures. 'Ujaama' is Swahili for family community – traditionally extended family, which takes care of all its members. That is why the sculptures have been also called 'a tree of life' or 'a family tree'. They also symbolise the tightness of the ethnic group and the continuity of their ties with the ancestors. First carvings of this type appeared in the 1960s in Dar es Salaam, the capital of Tanzania.

Shetani style sculptures show semi-human and semi-animal figures. Shetani is Swahili for a being, combining features of a devil, a goblin, a demon, and a ghost. The Makonde mythology describes their numerous types; they can be friendly or mischievous. The carvings are grotesque, deformed, with absolutely arbitrary proportions. The sculptures are characterised by their elongated, openwork shape. The first shetani carvings were made in the mid 1950s in Dar es Salaam, quickly gaining recognition and popularity.

The sculptures were carved in mpingo wood (Dalbergia Melanoxylon from Papilonaceae family), described as Mozambique ebony wood because of the similarity of their botanic features. It is hard and durable. The black heart of the tree is surrounded by whitish-yellow wood, and dark-brown bark with a visible, irregular pattern. Dark-brown mpingo sculptures used to be polished with a special mixture of wax and ash, but currently the 'Kiwi' shoe-polish is in use. The exhibition is complemented with ritual and decorative masks, and contemporary paintings depicting life in traditional African villages.

The Makonde sculptures, acquired by Master Mariner Stefan Brąglewicz in Tanzania in 1960-70, are either the Museum's collection or a deposit of a private individual. The paintings from the Museum's own collection have been bought from rev. Witold Górski.


"From Mombassa to Dakar. Black Africa Contemporary Art from the Collections of the Polish Maritime Museum"
The Fisheries Museum 9.06.2010 – 26.09.2010


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