This panel explores what historical interpretations emerge when art and artefacts are joined to the records surrounding their acquisition. By reconnecting objects with their conditions of acquisition, this panel hopes to explore circuits of power, authority and meaning at the onset of colonialism
Western acquisition of African art and artefacts at the onset of the colonial period precipitated a radical disruption: an alienation of objects from their place of production and appreciation that subordinated them to new aesthetic and symbolic economies. This panel considers the political, economic, and cultural contexts of early colonial acquisition of African art and artefacts by using available manuscript collections and oral sources to enrich our interpretations of the processes of exchange and conquest that led to acquisition. How were objects were acquired, why, from whom, and in what circumstances? Prior to Western acquisition, masks, staffs, currencies, stools, divination tools, weaponry, ceremonial art, clothing, and spiritual power objects (for example, Kuba royal ceremonial objects, Luba staffs of power, memory devices and raffia, Katanga copper crosses, Kongo nkisi, Lunda-Chokwe thrones, Pende masks, and Bemba ilamfya), formed part of elaborate and extensive networks of exchange and patronage, involving artists, titleholders, prophets, warriors, and others who held aspects of military, political and spiritual power. The entry of missionaries, anthropologies and collectors into these circuits of patronage and exchange gave opportunity to African interlocutors to define meanings related to these objects and to manage their entry into the colonial era. This panel explores what historical interpretations emerge when art and artefacts are joined to the records surrounding their acquisition. By reconnecting art in museum collections with its conditions of acquisition, this panel hopes to better understand circuits of power, authority and meaning at the onset of colonialism.