The exhibition unveils the evocative power of one of the world’s most sophisticated forged iron traditions through some 230 exceptional works. A novel panorama of creations by these master blacksmiths from across Sub-Saharan Africa.
Very few places in the world have such a strong connection to iron as does Africa south of the Sahara. For over two millennia, the transformation of one of the planet’s most fundamental resources has revolutionized the continent and profoundly shaped its communities and cultures, from fields to homes and from battlefields to religious sites. Under the hammer of African blacksmiths, masters of fire and virtuosos of transformation, the ore is smelted, forged and metamorphosed into objects of utility, or in some cases objects vested with social and spiritual power, and made with incredible artistic sensitivity.
Led by American artist and blacksmith Tom Joyce and the members of the curatorial team, the exhibition Striking Iron: The Art of African Blacksmiths presents the vast diversity of forms and traditions involving iron in different regions of Africa. It looks at the invention of ironworking and the history of technical advances that resulted in its transformation by African blacksmiths. The Iron Age left a lasting mark on Africa and forever transformed civilisation, from practical, symbolic and cosmological viewpoints. The continent alone is home to an incredibly diverse and sophisticated set of forged iron tools and shapes. The production of blacksmiths and their role in community life are still essential today.
Around 230 pieces produced between the 17th century and the modern day, ranging from sculptures to currencies in a myriad of shapes and sizes, diverse musical instruments, weapons and objects of prestige, all attest to the talent and technical sophistication of African blacksmiths, individuals who are both venerated and feared. A unique compilation of works taken from public and private collections, originating in over fifteen countries including Mali, Benin, Nigeria and the Democratic Republic of Congo, are brought together at the musée du quai Branly – Jacques Chirac in one of the most comprehensive displays of the art of African blacksmiths ever presented.
"Striking Iron. The Art of African Blacksmiths" is organised by the Fowler Museum at UCLA, Los Angeles. The exhibition is made possible by major funding from the National Endowment for the Humanities and the National Endowment for the Arts. Generous support is also provided by the Martha and Avrum Bluming Exhibition Fund.