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African masterpieces powerfully shape LAMCA exhibit: "Shaping Power"

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In conjunction with Bank of America’s Museums on Us program, admission is free this weekend at LAMCA to patrons who show their Bank of America qualifying card.

The enigma of power baffles the best of us.

Even dictionaries differ as to power’s primary definition.

Is power “The ability or capacity to perform or act effectively”?

Or rather, is power “the ability or right to control people or things”?

Because of the elusiveness of power, attempting to choose the right answer may be ludicrous.

Still, as our fascination with power persists, an LAMCA exhibit does shed some light on the topic.

“Shaping Power”, a collection of sculptures from the Luba people of the Democratic Republic of the Congo offers a rare opportunity into a distant culture…and a wealth of knowledge.

For as it’s been said before, “Knowledge is power.”

The exhibit, on loan from the Royal Museum for Central Africa, includes a vast array of artifacts, including ancestral figures, figurative thrones, stylish scepters, royal cups, and intricate headrests.

Explained curator and UCLA professor Mary (Polly) Nooter Roberts, in the Luba culture, the presentation of certain sculptures had the transformative power of turning an ordinary man into a semi-divine king. As well, Roberts, who actually spent two years living in Luba while working on her doctoral dissertation, points out that the predominance of women in Luban art is testament to women’s sacred powers and magnificence.

Also included in this important historical exhibit, is a thoroughly contemporary installation by artist Aimé Mpane, on loan from the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of African Art. Entitled "Congo: Shadow of the Shadow", the 2005 artwork was created in part by using 4,652 matchsticks to form the male figure!

“Shaping Power” is on exhibit in LACMA’s recently inaugurated permanent African art gallery located in the Hammer Building on Level 3.

Following this exhibit, the gallery will feature rotating temporary displays, including pieces from LACMA’s growing African collection, with works by El Anatsui, William Kentridge, Julie Mehretu, Zwelethu Mthethwa, and Magdalene Odundo.

Roberts’ enthusiasm for the museum’s commitment to African art is well-taken. After all, she’s spent a good deal of her life specializing in the arts of Africa, and it makes sense that she’s now eager to share that knowledge…and power.

(LACMA is located at 5905 Wilshire Boulevard (at Fairfax Avenue), Los Angeles 90036. For additional information call: (323) 857-6000. The museum is open: Monday, Tuesday, Thursday: 11 am–5 pm; Friday: 11 am–8 pm; Saturday, Sunday: 10 am-7 pm; closed Wednesday)

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