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African Art Collection

The University of Central Oklahoma (UCO) holds more than 1,300 African art objects primarily from the Sub-Sahara region. While many of the objects are owned by UCO, some of the pieces are on loan from private collections.

Much of UCO's African art was collected by the late William Hommel, Ph.D. former UCO Professor of Art and African Art expert. Nearly 300 pieces of art representing over 100 African cultures are displayed on the second and third floors of the UCO Max Chambers Library. This collection illustrates the complex visual language of the various Sub-Saharan societies represented. They give us clues about the social, religious, and political systems of these cultures. The expansive collection allows UCO students and campus visitors to study African Art within the framework of changing landscapes caused by migrations, colonization, wars, and shifting of borders.

Needless to say, the Library realizes the African objects on display were not created to be viewed in a gallery setting and have been taken out of cultural context. For example, an individual mask is only a fragment of an entire costume. Typically, the dancer wears a mask with full costume and dances to music creating a dynamic, complex and spiritual ritual. The Library acknowledges this paradox of displaying African regalia in an educational setting.

With this awareness the Library works to rewrite the Western narratives that have been applied to these non-Western objects. We seek the knowledge of experts on African culture to help us tell the true story of each society represented. The Library continues to pursue best practices in regards to the care and exhibition of all cultural materials to intentionally alter the traditional Western narrative in hopes of encouraging a more inclusive, diverse and multicultural dialog.

For a sampling of works included in the African Art Collection, view the gallery of slides below.

Namchi dolls - Cameroon, Central Africa

These 10-inch Namchi dolls are made of wood and covered with beads, cowrie shells, and metal attachments. The doll is associated with the fertility of the woman to whom it belongs. The woman treats the figure like a baby, feeding it and carrying it on her back. As in the traditional way African women carry their babies, women carry their Namchi dolls swaddled in the cloth that wraps around their backs.
(Permanent loan from Larry & Suzanne Keller)

Cache sexe (loincloth) - Chad, Central Africa 

This cache sexe is made with embossed leather, bronze and blue beads.
(Kirkpatrick Foundation, Gift of Mr. & Mrs. Harry Hughes)

Black wooden bowl - Chad, Central Africa

Carved wooden bowl with a small handle and incised design all over the outside.
(Kirkpatrick Foundation, Gift of Mr. & Mrs. Harry Hughes)

Yaka Nkisi (power figure) - Democratic Republic of Congo, Central Africa

Yaka power figures, or Nkisi, derive their strength through the ritual use of substances. Typical power ingredients include plants, special rocks, teeth or small animal bones. Some Yaka Nkisi hold its medicine outside of the body and others in abdominal cavities. Yaka power objects are made to protect one from misfortunes, to heal, or to bring success.
(Kirkpatrick Foundation, Gift of Dr. & Mrs. Olaseinde Sawyerr)

Funerary marker - Democratic Republic of Congo, Central Africa

Kuba cloth, or Kasai velvet - Democratic Republic of Congo, Central Africa

Kasai velvet is made by weaving a raffia cloth and then pulling raffia threads through the weaving and clipping off the ends. The designs are geometric with variations on the form throughout the design. These design variations relate to the variations also heard in this culture's music. The weaving technique is said to have been introduced by King Shamba Baalangong.
(Kirkpatrick Foundation, Gift of Dr. & Mrs. Olaseinde Sawyerr)

Pende Ivory Mask Pendant - Democratic Republic of Congo, Central Africa

In Pende cultures of Central Africa, miniature ivory pendants of Mbuyu masks were often given to new initiates as a symbol of their introduction into adult society. Pendants were either made from elephant ivory or hippopotamus bone.
(Permanent loan from Larry & Suzanne Keller)

Suku Kopa (double-mouthed vessel) - Democratic Republic of Congo, Central Africa

This prestige object connected with leadership among the Suku is the two-mouthed vessel used for the ritual of drinking palm wine. Known as a kopa, it is carved from a single piece of wood. It represented one of the objects presented to a new chief upon his investiture. No one else could touch it without proper authority. When the owner died, the kopa was presented to his successor while simultaneously reciting the names of its previous owners.
(Kirkpatrick Foundation, Gift of 
Ms. Jewel Beatty)

Neckrest - Swahili Coast, Southeast Africa

Wooden neckrests similar to this one are often found among nomadic people of eastern Africa. By sleeping with their heads elevated off the ground, they were less likely to get bitten by venomous creatures such as snakes and scorpions. This particular neckrest features a rectangular base which would be more stable and was, therefore, probably used by a woman. Neckrests with smaller, more unstable bases were used by men guarding the herds to prevent the user from falling into a deep sleep.
(Kirkpatrick Foundation, Gift of Ms. Jeanne M. Sales)

Chokwe Mask - Angola, South Africa

Chokwe masks were worn in honor of female ancestors depicted as beautiful young women with balanced features, filed teeth, and scarification. A female's (Pwo's) joint performance with her male counterpart (Cihongo) was thought to bring fertility and prosperity to the community. Chokwe masks were also worn at celebrations marking the completion of initiation into adulthood.
(UCO African Art Collection, Gift of Donald R. Simms)

Chokwe Whistle - Angola, South Africa

Carved out of ivory or wood in a variety of shapes, Chokwe whistles often depict miniature renderings of masks. Typically attached to a string and worn as a necklace or tied to a spear, whistles were sometimes used by men during a hunt to communicate. This particular example, shaped with a head and rounded body, is thought to have been used by a high-ranking Chokwe priest during royal ceremonies or parades.
(Kirkpatrick Foundation, Gift of Dr. & Mrs. Gilbert Jackson)

Zulu Spoon - South Africa

Spoons in the form of female figures were used to serve feasts. They are often presented to the family of the bride and are typically very large.
(Kirkpatrick Foundation, Gift of Dr. Lorna Langmore Curtis)

Ibibio Mfon Ekpo Mask - Nigeria, West Africa

Men of the Ibibio society, or Ekpo, in Nigeria wore masks to represent spirits from the underworld. Light-colored masks with soft features such as this example, called mfon ekpo, represent deceased persons who led a good, moral life. Dark, frightening masks, called idiok ekpo, represent evil persons who became ghosts. Usually mfon ekpo masks appear during the day, and idiok ekpo masks appear during the night.
(UCO African Art Collection, Gift of Dr. Mark R. Guillory)

Hausa Head Ring - Nigeria, West Africa

This head ring was used by people of the Hausa culture in Nigeria to help them balance jugs on their heads for carrying. There are ten rows of braided coils around large pieces of wrapped fiber. Brown strands of fiber were added for decoration.
(Kirkpatrick Foundation, Gift of Mrs. Logan Cary)

Hausa Spoons - Nigeria, West Africa

Two wooden spoons with carved handles and bowls that tapper to the end.
(Kirkpatrick Foundation, Gift of 
Ms. Sharlene Branham [Dick Rudolf collection])