Metal arts have been integral to the social, religious, economic, and political lives of African peoples for millennia. This publication and the exhibition it accompanies consider some of the many ways metal arts in sub-Saharan Africa have sustained and enhanced material and spiritual well-being. Further, they examine the wide diversity and nuanced intersections of roles metal objects and metal artists have played in building communities through supporting leadership, enhancing religious practices, and cultivating social discourse.
As a substance that is both malleable and strong, metal offers artists a means for creating dazzling forms with the power to last for centuries. Metal’s permanence conveys the steadfastness of power and authority and concomitant trust and respect between individuals and polities.
Some seventeen years ago, the Samuel P. Harn Museum of Art’s curator of African art, Dr. Susan Cooksey, identified works in metal as underrepresented in the collection and a priority for acquisitions going forward. With the current exhibition, Peace, Power, and Prestige: Metal Arts in Africa, she demonstrates how successfully this priority has been addressed at the Harn. At the same time, she includes outstanding metal objects from a private collection that represent the kinds of works the museum hopes to acquire in the future.