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Saturday, June 2 • 4:00pm - 4:30pm
(Objects) Understanding the Form, Materials, and Meaning of Two Ritual Figures: Conservation and Curatorial Collaboration for the Analysis and Treatment of the Historic Arts of Africa

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This presentation will focus on the results of research and technical analysis, and describe the conservation treatment of two objects as examples of a large suite of technical analyses underway through a three year project funded by The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation: a 19th-20th century figure from the Idoma speaking communities in the Benue state of Nigeria and a twentieth century Adja Bocio figure collected in Togo.

The project goals are to generate in-depth material, cultural, and scholarly knowledge of the objects in the African collection at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts and contribute to scholarship on the historic arts of Africa at large.  The project is jointly administered and carried out by a conservation and curatorial team with collaborative exchange a hallmark of our process. The project also supports partnerships with specialist consultants, students, and source community members.

The Idoma figure is a religious object used for the veneration of the water spirit Anjenu and is comprised of multiple materials and mixtures that include wood, paints, dyes, coatings, plant fibers, and mineral rich pastes, as well as imbedded and hidden materials.  The Bocio is a religious Vodun object empowered by an accumulation of materials.  Multiple analytic methods were used to develop holistic understandings of the figures including x-radiography and UV imaging, pXRF, XRD, FTIR and Raman spectroscopy, microscopy, and SEM-EDS. Collaboration with scientists at the Virginia Commonwealth University provided access to more refined analytic methods and professional expertise in interpreting results. Identification of plant materials was aided by consultation with botanists and ethnobotanists at the Royal Museum for Central Africa in Belgium.

The knowledge and observations of curatorial partners informed the material investigations of the figures, while conservation discoveries about the materials and methods of manufacture informed scholarly investigations including curatorial interviews with members of the various Idoma speaking communities in central Nigeria including the Ortukpo, Otukpa, Igumale, and Igede, and with the collectors who acquired the Bocio in the field.

Changes in the perception and exhibition of historic arts of Africa may require reconstructing the histories and meanings of these objects that have been separated from their original context of manufacture and use. This is a complex process as objects may embody complex and secret cultural practices or they may have been altered to accommodate cultural shifts or market demands.  This presentation addresses the central importance of identifying the materials and methods of manufacture of historic arts of Africa through the investigation and treatment of ritual figurative sculptures and presents the discoveries about the structure, embellishments, and surface treatments that have resulted from collaborative investigation.  

avatar for Casey Mallinckrodt

Casey Mallinckrodt

Head Conservator, Denver Museum of Nature and Science
Casey Mallinckrodt received a MA in conservation at the UCLA/Getty Program in Conservation of Archaeological and Ethnographic Materials and previously received a MFA from Yale University. She has been a Kress Fellow in Object Conservation at the Museum of Fine Arts Boston and worked... Read More →

avatar for Ashley Duhrkoop

Ashley Duhrkoop

Curatorial Associate, African Art, Virginia Museum of Fine Arts
Ashley Duhrkoop is a PhD candidate in Art History, specializing in Twentieth Century and African art. Her research interests include power figures and associated divination systems, the colonial and post-Independence periods, provenance, and the historiography of the field of African... Read More →
avatar for Dr. Ndubuisi (Endy) Ezeluomba

Dr. Ndubuisi (Endy) Ezeluomba

Curatorial Research Specialist for African Art, Virginia Museum of Fine Arts
Endy Ezeluomba received a PhD from the University of Florida, and holds an MA from the University of Ibadan, Ibadan, Nigeria, and a BA and PGDE, from the University of Benin, Benin City, Nigeria. Endy has also participated in exhibition projects at the University of Florida’s Harn... Read More →

Saturday June 2, 2018 4:00pm - 4:30pm MDT
Texas Ballroom B Marriott Marquis Houston
  6. Specialty Session, Objects