Thursday, April 20, 2006

National Museum of African Art

The homepage for the National Museum of African Art (http://africa.si.edu/index1.html) presents the user with colorful, clear images representing various mediums of African art. These images are linked to information contained in the site that include art and programs, radio Africa, research, playtime, collections, a calendar of activities and museum information. The images roll onto the screen from the right side, giving the user an impression of activity and energy. Double clicking on an image presents an enlarged view with a menu of options or an overview of the selection.

The focus of this posting is the art and programs section, specifically the “Hats Off” virtual exhibit. The introduction states that the “most beautiful and creative objects of personal attire worn by African peoples are innumerable types of headwear fabricated from various materials.” The site goes on to explain that historically many African cultures consider the head to be the center of one's being and because of that everyday head adornment is an integral part of daily living. The various hats represent different types of work, levels of achievement and rank in socio-political groupings. The materials used to make the hats also have meaning for example: animal materials used to make the hats represent the power and strength associated with the animal providing the material and the use of shells and beads is indicative of wealth and prestige. This collection pops onto the screen if you use the Flash presentation. Each black outline of a hat turns into a word forming a “Hats Off” header. Selecting the outline of a hat launches a full color picture along with an informational piece including the African word for the hat, a description of the social hierarchy of the people who wear the hat, identification of the region in Africa where the hat comes from, the materials commonly used to make the hat and the age of the hat if known.

As a lifelong admirer of hats I thoroughly enjoyed this exhibit particularly the hat from the northern Congo region made of pangolin hide (see picture above). I discovered that a pangolin is a mammal with scale like skin that protects it from predators. This particular hat includes feathers, plant fiber and “encrustation” and the accompanying belief that the wearer of the hat has moved beyond the “everyday life of their village into the realm of wilderness”. Take a look at this site; you’re bound to discover something new.

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