Colorful jewelry, elegant yet simple containers, and masterfully crafted headrests, stools, walking sticks, and other personal items are just some of the objects featured in Arts of Kenya: Beauty in Traditional Forms on display in the Special Exhibitions Gallery and the Judi and Milt Stewart Hexagon Gallery from March 5 through May 8, 2016. Designed to introduce visitors to both the traditional visual arts of Kenya and to an important recent acquisition by the IU Art Museum, the exhibition is drawn from a collection of over 200 objects from Kenya acquired by the IU Art Museum in 2014.
The exhibition includes objects from over a dozen ethnic groups in Kenya, but, reflecting the collection as a whole, it focuses on the arts of pastoral peoples, such as the Turkana and the Maasai as well as peoples less well known in the United States, such as the Pokot and the Boran. At least in former times, most of these peoples moved from place to place throughout the year to ensure food and water for their herds, encouraging the creation of light, portable household objects such as gourd and basketry containers. For many of these peoples, too, personal adornment has traditionally been a way not only to show individual and ethnic style but also to indicate one's position in society, such as whether a male has been initiated into adulthood or a woman has married. In this exhibition, visitors will be able to compare a variety of similar, sometimes very different objects created for everyday use as well as special occasions.
Collected in the field and documented in Kenya between 1973 and 1979 by Los Angeles collector and dealer Ernie Wolfe, the museum's recently acquired Kenya collection is especially significant because many of the objects are no longer being made or used. The acquisition was made possible thanks to the Raymond and Laura Wielgus Fund, which supports the arts of Africa, the South Pacific, and the Native and Pre-Columbian Americas at the IU Art Museum, and with generous support from IU's Office of the Provost and Executive Vice President and a gift from Wolfe and his family.
Recognizing that many people who would be interested in the collection will not be able to visit the museum to see it, the museum is also concurrently making the objects available via a collections web module that will be a part of the IU Art Museum's online presence.