PRESS Harn Museum of Art
View Fashioning Kimono: Art Deco and Modernism in Japan before it closes May 17

Back to press releases

Sept. 4, 2013

Bookmark and Share

Harn Museum of Art Examines Cultural Legacy of Kongo Kingdom

Exhibition will Include New Archaeological Discoveries and Contemporary Works by Radcliffe Bailey, Steve Bandoma, José Bedia, Edouard Duval-Carrié, and Renée Stout

Harn to Unveil Bailey’s Returnal, Newly Restored After Hurricane Sandy Damage

GAINESVILLE, Fla.— This fall, the Harn Museum of Art at the University of Florida will open the first exhibition at an American museum to deeply explore the legacy of Kongo culture. Kongo across the Waters will present more than 160 works of historic and contemporary art and artifacts—including several previously never before exhibited archaeological discoveries—spanning more than six centuries from the 15th century when Kongo first emerged as a major Atlantic presence, to the present day.

On view from Oct. 22, 2013 to March 23, 2014, Kongo across the Waters will reveal new cultural connections across multiple centuries and continents, and trace the continuing and under-explored impact of Kongo art-making practices on African and African-diaspora artists in the 21st century. The exhibition will showcase recent works by Steve Bandoma, Edouard Duval-Carrié, José Bedia, Renée Stout, and Radcliffe Bailey, artists who draw from the Kongo artistic tradition. Among the recent works included in the show is Renée Stout’s Self Portrait #2 (Self-Portrait as Inkisi) and Radcliffe Bailey’s Returnal, a 2007 work that was damaged in New York during Hurricane Sandy. This will be the work’s first public viewing following a restoration that was overseen by the artist.

Co-organized by the Harn Museum of Art and the Royal Museum for Central Africa in Tervuren, Belgium, the exhibition will include a broad range of media including sculpture, drawings, engravings, paintings, baskets, textiles, and musical instruments to illuminate the rich heritage of the Kongo peoples and to trace the transformations of Kongo cultural production from the colonial and post-colonial periods through the modern era. “At its height, the Kongo kingdom occupied a pivotal position—geographically, geopolitically, and culturally—in the continent’s early interactions with Western colonial powers, creating a legacy that can still be felt today in the Diaspora communities of the American Southeast,” said Susan Cooksey, Curator of African Art at the Harn. “We’re especially pleased to include in this exhibition several artifacts from the Kongo Diaspora that have rarely been seen in a museum setting.”

The exhibition will showcase numerous historically significant archaeological finds, including colonoware pottery from a recent excavation at the Dean Hall plantation in South Carolina. The pottery is engraved with markings signifying the religious and cultural practices of enslaved Africans who lived and worked at the site during the 18th and 19th centuries. The exhibition will also include a medallion that has been discovered at Ft. Mose in Florida—the first legally sanctioned free black municipality in the United States—and an 18th-century burial ground in Louisiana that are thought to combine traditional Christian imagery with the visual language of Kongo culture.

“We look forward to enhancing scholarship and understanding of a society that has left a tremendous imprint on the African diaspora in the United States,” said Rebecca Nagy, Director of the Harn Museum of Art and a noted scholar of African art. “Appropriately for an exhibition that explores cultural exchange across continents, Kongo across the Waters will open exactly 500 years after the first African visitors to the Americas, traveling as free conquistadors with Juan Ponce de Leon, arrived in what is now Florida.”

The exhibition will be organized according to five main themes:

Kongo and the Atlantic World
Paintings, drawings, maps, and other materials will be used to examine the interactions between Kongo and European colonial powers starting with Portuguese contact in 1483. By the 16th century, Kongo had become integral in the establishment of a new “Atlantic world,” participating in transoceanic diplomacy and trade—including the slave trade—and adopting Christianity. This section will include a particularly diverse accumulation of Africanized Christian artifacts such as crucifixes and saint statues.

Kongo Across the Waters
Drawing from archaeological and archival records, as well as cultural artifacts, this section will illustrate the adaptation of Kongo cultural practices and aesthetics of Central African peoples who were forced to settle in the region that eventually became the American Southeast.

Kongo in the Age of Empire
As the slave trade declined during the 19th century, new trading industries developed and boomed in West Central Africa. The Kongo traded local agricultural products and natural resources for European goods that they incorporated into local rituals, burial ceremonies and charms called minkisi. Traders and chiefs enriched by this trade distinguished themselves through fine garments and objects carved in wood or ivory. Their demand for prestige items lead to an artistic renaissance in 19th and early 20th century Kongo, as seen in the examples in this section.

Kongo in African-American Cultures
Acknowledging the hybrid and innovative characteristics of African-American Creole cultures, this section will trace the impressions left by immigrants from the Kongo on the ritual, spiritual, and domestic practices of southeastern African-American communities past and present. Face vessels, commemorative vessels, yard art, walking sticks, pottery and basketry, as well as contextual documents, photographs, and videos, will illustrate this enduring connection.

Contemporary Kongo
The exhibition will conclude with a survey of Kongo inspired artistic creation in the 21st century, offering a range of perspectives on the form and meaning of modern Kongo heritage in Africa and North America. Artists on view in this section will include: Steve Bandoma, Edouard Duval-Carrié, José Bedia, Renée Stout, and Radcliffe Bailey.

The exhibition is curated by Susan Cooksey, Curator of African Art at the Harn Museum of Art; Hein Vanhee, Curator of African Collections at the Royal Museum for Central Africa, Tervuren; and Robin Poynor, Professor of Art History, University of Florida. It will travel to additional venues, including the Carter Presidential Library and Museum in cooperation with the Georgia Institute of Technology from May 15, 2014 through September 21, 2014; Princeton University Art Museum from October 25, 2014 through January 25, 2015; and the New Orleans Museum of Art from February 27, 2015 through May 25, 2015. A fully illustrated publication will accompany the exhibition and will include essays by 31 scholars of Kongo art and culture in Africa and the Diaspora.

Kongo across the Waters is co-organized by the Harn Museum of Art at the University of Florida in Gainesville and the Royal Museum for Central Africa in Tervuren, Belgium and made possible by the AEC Trust, Dr. Madelyn M. Lockhart, Christie’s, UF Office of the Provost, UF International Center, UF Office of Research, UF School of Art and Art History, UF Center for African Studies, the C. Frederick and Aase B Thompson Foundation, Hyatt and Cici Brown, William and Hazel Hough, Robert and Janet Kemerait, Nella Taylor, Drs. Israel and Michaela Samuelly, Robert Haiman, Mary Kilgour, anonymous donors, and with additional support from the Harn Program Endowment and the Londono Family Endowment. This exhibition is supported by an indemnity from the Federal Council on the Arts and the Humanities.

This exhibition was developed to highlight a milestone in the history of African presence in North America and provide an important complement to Viva Florida 500, a program commemorating 500 years of European presence in Florida.

For more information visit the exhibition website at Images are available for download on the press area of the website.

The museum is offering a number of events for audiences of all ages.
Gallery Talks

Tuesday, October 22, 3:30 p.m.
“Kongo art and its significance in the history of West Central Africa”
Hein Vanhee, Curator of African Collections, Royal Museum for Central Africa, Tervuren, Belgium.

Sunday, November 3, 3 p.m.
“Seeing Kongo in America: Early and Contemporary African American Art”
Susan Cooksey, Curator of African Art, Harn Museum of Art
Sunday, January 26, 3 p.m.
“The Kongo Cross: A Motif over Time and Space”
Robin Poynor, Professor of African Art, School of Art + Art History, University of Florida

Sunday, March 16, 3 p.m.
Carlee Forbes, Curatorial Assistant, Harn Museum of Art and UF Doctoral Student

Thursday, November 14, 6 p.m.
John Thornton, Professor of African American Studies and History, Boston University
Thornton specializes in Africa and Atlantic History and is a co-author of “Central Africans, Atlantic Creoles, and the Foundation of the Americas” (Cambridge University Press, 2007), which won the Melville J. Herskovits Prize that year.
Member pARTy
Friday, November 15, 6 – 8:30 p.m.
Become a Harn member and join us in celebrating the opening of this new exhibition. There will be an opportunity to join at the door.

Museum Nights

Thursday, November 14, 6 – 9 p.m.
Celebrate the recently opened exhibition KONGO across the WATERS. Music, performances, creative opportunities and other fun activities will be offered on this evening. Museum Nights is an ongoing program made possible by the generous support of the University of Florida Office of the Provost and Student Government.

Thursday, February 13, 6 – 9 p.m.
Join us for a celebration of art and culture from throughout Africa, with a special focus on KONGO across the Waters. Music, performances, creative opportunities and other fun activities will be offered on this evening. Special activities surrounding UF’s Common Reading Program and the book, “A School for My Village: A Promise to the Orphans of Nyaka” will also take place. Museum Nights is an ongoing program made possible by the generous support of the
University of Florida Office of the Provost and Student Government. This evening is also supported by the UF Center for African Studies.

Family Days
Saturday, November 16, 1 – 4 p.m.
Enjoy family friendly tours of Kongo Across the Waters during International Education Week. Guest Artist Sarah Hammond, a traditional basket maker from Charleston will demonstrate sweet grass baskets and instruct families on how to create one of their own. A donation of $5 per family or $2 per child is requested if you wish to participate in the art activity.
Saturday, February 15, 1 – 4 p.m.
In celebration of Black History Month participate in tours and an art activity surrounding the KONGO across the WATERS exhibition.

Basket-Making Class
Saturday, December 7, noon – 4 p.m.
$80 per person (Harn Member $70)
Learn traditional sweet grass basket making techniques from Charleston, South Carolina artist Sarah Hammond and create a small coiled basket of your own. Contact Lisa Stevens at 352-392-9826 x2113 or email

Gwedolen M. Carter Conference
Kongo Atlantic Dialogues: Kongo culture in Central Africa and in the Americas
February 21 – 22, 2014
Presented by the Center for African Studies, University of Florida
Hosted by the Harn Museum of Art
The symposium will focus on the artistic and cultural legacy of Bakongo in Africa and their impact in North America, the Caribbean and Brazil. Panelists will include scholars working in the disciplines of art history, history, anthropology, archaeology, sociology, religion and linguistics. Contemporary artists whose work is inspired by Kongo art, beliefs and practices will participate in a roundtable. Participating scholars will cover a broad range of topics, addressing arts of the ancient Kongo Kingdom, later permutations of Kongo systems, trans-Atlantic cultural exchanges and creolization, and the continuation of Kongo influence in contemporary artistic practice.

Admission to the museum is free. For more information, call 352-392-9826 or visit

About the Samuel P. Harn Museum of Art
Founded in 1990, the Harn Museum of Art is an integral part of the University of Florida. The Harn contributes to an interconnected, international community by integrating the arts and culture into curricula throughout the university’s system of colleges and centers. Its holdings include more than 9,000 works in five main collecting areas: Asian art, African art, photography, modern art of the Americas and Europe, and international contemporary art. In addition to rotating installations drawn from its permanent collection, the Harn organizes traveling exhibitions, public lectures, panel discussions, academic symposia and educational programs for adults, students and children.

The Harn Museum, at Southwest 34th Street and Hull Road in Gainesville, Fla., is part of the University of Florida’s Cultural Plaza, which is also home to the Florida Museum of Natural History and the Phillips Center for the Performing Arts. Admission is free.

Hours are 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Friday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday and 1 to 5 p.m. Sunday. The museum is open until 9 p.m. the second Thursday of every month for Museum Nights. The Camellia Court Café is open Tuesday through Saturday 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. For more information call 352-392-9826 or visit


Media contacts :
Tami Wroath
Harn Museum of Art
(352) 392-9826 x2116

E-NEWS University of Florida
OPEN Tues - Fri, 11 a.m. - 5 p.m. | Sat, 10 a.m. - 5 p.m. | Sun, 1 - 5 p.m.
VISIT 3259 Hull Road • Gainesville, Florida 32611-2700 MAP IT
PHONE 352.392.9826
site map

All Rights Reserved © 2008 Harn Museum of Art
site created by Big Media Studios