Exhibit of the week
The Power of Gold: Asante Royal Regalia From Ghana
Dallas Museum of Art, through Aug. 12
Put aside your tribal mentality, said Rick Brettell in The Dallas Morning News. “For those of you who think that ‘African’ art consists primarily of small, carved, wooden, stylized human figures and masks,” this collection of artifacts from the once mighty Asante kingdom “will forever change your mind.” The Asante, members of the Akan ethnic group, have flourished for centuries in what is now Ghana, and they owed their early-18th-century rise to gold, which they panned, traded, and cast into objects intended to inspire awe. A 250-piece sampling of their riches at the Dallas Museum of Art includes gleaming jewelry and royal finery, but also ornately sculpted counterweights used to measure precious metals, colorful swaths of kente cloth, and other examples of the splendor that such wealth allowed. “This is truly royal Africa,” and it is something to behold.
“This show glitters at every turn,” said Sebastian Smee in The Washington Post. “Gold weapons. Gold finials on umbrellas and staffs. Gold pectoral discs. Gold rings and necklaces.” Many of the animal figures reference Asante proverbs that reinforced the hierarchical status quo, such as “The mudfish grows fat for the benefit of the crocodile” and “The hen steps on her chicks not to hurt them, but to correct their behavior.” Gold was power in this kingdom. Asante rulers, based in the inland capital of Kumasi, gained dominance over the region when Muslim and European traders came seeking the precious metal, offering guns and other goods that the rulers used to expand their territory and force the conquered into slavery at home and overseas. Property rights passed along matrilineal lines, which is why a section of the show focuses on female power, manifested by several terra-cotta female heads and “spectacular” royal textiles.
This is not a vanished culture, said Susan Delson in The Wall Street Journal. Asante-controlled Ghana resisted British colonization until 1902, and though present-day Ghana officially is a multiethnic democracy, the dynasty survives and retains symbolic clout. The exhibition includes plenty of metalwork from the 20th and 21st centuries; the most recent, a 2017 gold ceremonial neckpiece created by Ghanaian metalsmith George Kofi Dokyi, was commissioned for the show. A delegation representing current king Otumfuo Osei Tutu II, the 16th ruler of the Asante, flew in to attend the exhibition’s opening. This is a people with a rich, living cultural tradition, and that culture is “artfully embodied” in The Power of Gold.