News / Arts & Entertainment

African Art Show Offers Celestial Twist

"Starkid," by Owusu-Ankomah of Ghana, is part of the "African Cosmos: Stellar Arts" exhibition at the Smithsonian Institution’s African Art Museum in Washington. (Photograph by Jonathan Greet, image courtesy of October Gallery, London)
For thousands of years, Africans have looked to the heavens for inspiration. These traditions are celebrated in a new exhibition at the Smithsonian Institution’s African Art Museum in Washington.

Africans’ knowledge of the cosmos dates back further than many people realize.

One of the world’s earliest celestial calendars is found at a place called Nabta Playa on the edge of the Sahara desert. A millennium before Stonehenge was constructed in England, Nabta Playa’s stone array marked the summer solstice.

“Set your clock back 6,000, 7,000 years and the stones line up,” says Christine Mullen Kraemer, curator of "African Cosmos: Stellar Arts."

Related report by Susan Logue  


The exhibit covers a vast sweep of time and space. An ancient Egyptian tablet honors the star Sirius, whose yearly appearance meant the beginning of the rainy season vital for farming.

Modern stargazers

There is also art by a modern team of stargazers, working on the Cosmic Evolution Survey (COSMOS). For several years, the team has been mapping a patch of sky below the constellation Leo.

"In that very small square, we have been able to define over a million new galaxies as large as the galaxy that our solar system is in, if not larger," says Karel Nel, an artist-in-residence with the COSMOS team.

He’s helping the scientists share their findings with the public through art - including a video that appears to take viewers on a high-speed journey through space, whipping past these newfound galaxies.

"I think that scientists so often are focused on the minutiae of data," Nel says. "What I’ve found with the COSMOS team [is] that, as an outsider, I’m able to bring back some sense of the wonder of the project."

Star sounds

Sometimes that means simply adding touches to the exhibit, like the sound of crickets, to evoke the experience of stargazing under an African night sky.

"When I’m working in my studio in Africa at night, I have my big doors open and when I hear the crickets, they sound to me like the sounds of deep space," he says. "They go beep, beep, cheep, cheep."

You can also listen to the sounds of actual stars in this exhibit.

Just like musical instruments, stars vibrate and their electromagnetic pulses can be converted into sound waves. Depending on the speed or frequency of the vibrations, stars sound like drumming or horns.

Artful messages
 
There’s a lot of this kind of playful art in African Cosmos, but there's serious art as well.

At the heart of the exhibit stands a huge multi-colored sculpture of a serpent, created from recycled gasoline canisters. Its body curls into a circle and when you get close, you realize the serpent is swallowing its own tail. This rainbow serpent is a powerful symbol among the Fon and Yoruba peoples in Benin and Nigeria.

"It mean[s] prosperity. It mean[s] fertility. It mean[s] hope, too. It mean[s] one day it will come again. One day the good weather will come again. One day the good life will come again," says Beninese artist Romauld Hazoumem, who has created art with a political message since the 1980s.

His work often criticizes environmental pollution and the over-exploitation of Africa’s natural resources. Hazoume used gasoline canisters, which are central to an illegal petrol market in his region, to put a new twist on the rainbow serpent.

"You know I just make a rainbow serpent to show people how we live today in Africa," he says.

Star search

Major sponsorship for "African Cosmos" was provided by the South African government, which is trying to drum up excitement and funding for a huge new radio telescope now under construction in the country. It will be capable of picking up signals from the farthest and oldest regions of the cosmos.

"There’s a fine line that separates arts and science," says Derek Henekom, South Africa’s deputy minister of Science and Technology. "On the one hand, we’ve got folklore, legends, myths, stories…and the other hand there’s real science, work that probes a lot deeper. And that’s what we’re doing in South Africa, to construct the largest radio telescope that the world has ever seen."

The telescope will probe deep space for insights into dark matter and the creation of the universe, mysteries which evoke the same sense of awe and wonder at the heart of the "African Cosmos" exhibition.

You May Like

China’s Influence Grows With New Infrastructure Bank

Multibillion-dollar China-backed and BRICS-supported Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank seen as possible challenger to such lenders as IMF, World Bank More

Video Rabbi Hits Road to Heal Jewish-Muslim Relations in France

Rabbi Michel Serfaty makes the rounds in his friendship bus to encourage dialogue and break down barriers between the two groups More

Post-deal Iran Leaders Need 'Economic Momentum' to Solidify

Economists say deal could inject more than $100 billion into coffers - not enough to entirely rescue ailing economy - but maybe adequate to create 'economic momentum' More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
US Gay Marriage Ruling Yields Real-life Impacti
X
Michael Bowman
June 28, 2015 10:05 PM
Friday’s landmark Supreme Court decision legalizing same-sex marriage throughout the United States is an outcome few thought possible just years ago, and shows a nation that increasingly tolerates and even celebrates the hopes and aspirations of gay people. VOA’s Michael Bowman spoke to a same-sex couple that will benefit from the high court ruling, and to a Christian scholar who is apprehensive about its potential consequences for America’s faith community.
Video

Video US Gay Marriage Ruling Yields Real-life Impact

Friday’s landmark Supreme Court decision legalizing same-sex marriage throughout the United States is an outcome few thought possible just years ago, and shows a nation that increasingly tolerates and even celebrates the hopes and aspirations of gay people. VOA’s Michael Bowman spoke to a same-sex couple that will benefit from the high court ruling, and to a Christian scholar who is apprehensive about its potential consequences for America’s faith community.
Video

Video Syrians Flee IS Advance in Hasaka

The Syrian government said Monday it has taken back one of several districts in Hasaka overrun by Islamic State militants. But continued fighting elsewhere in the northern city has forced thousands of civilians from their homes. In this report narrated by Bill Rodgers, VOA Kurdish Service reporter Zana Omer describes the scene in Amouda, where some of the displaced are taking refuge.
Video

Video Rabbi Hits Road to Heal Jewish-Muslim Relations in France

France is on high alert after last week's terrorist attack near the city Lyon, just six months after deadly Paris shootings. The attack have added new tensions to relations between French Jews and Muslims. France’s Jewish and Muslim communities also share a common heritage, though, and as far as one French rabbi is concerned, they are destined to be friends. From the Paris suburb of La Courneuve, Lisa Bryant reports about Rabbi Michel Serfaty and his friendship bus.
Video

Video S. Korea Christians Protest Gay Rights Festival

The U.S. Supreme Court decision mandating marriage equality nationwide has energized gay rights supporters around the world. Gay rights remain a highly contentious issue in a key U.S. ally, South Korea, where police did a deft job Sunday of preventing potential clashes between Christian protesters and gay activists. Kurt Achin reports from Seoul.
Video

Video Saudi Leaks Expose ‘Checkbook Diplomacy’ In Battle With Iran

Saudi Arabia’s willingness to wield its oil money on the global diplomatic stage appears to have been laid bare, after the website WikiLeaks published tens of thousands of leaked cables from Riyadh’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video Nubians in Kenya Face Land Challenges

East Africa's ethnic Nubians have a rich cultural history that dates back thousands of years, but in Kenya they are facing hardships, including the loss of lands they have lived on for generations. They say the government has reneged on its pledge to award them title deeds for the plots. VOA's Lenny Ruvaga reports.
Video

Video Syrian Refugees Return to Tal Abyad

Syrian refugees in Turkey confirm they left their hometown of Tal Abyad because of intense fighting and coalition airstrikes, not because Kurdish fighters were engaged in ethnic cleansing, as some Turkish officials charged. VOA Kurdish Service reporter Zana Omer, in Tal Abyad, finds that civilians coming back to the town agree, as we hear in this report narrated by Roger Wilkison.
Video

Video Military Experts Question New Russian Tank Capabilities

Russia has been showing off its new tank design – the Armata T-14. Designers claim it is 20 years ahead of current Western designs - and driving it feels like playing a computer game. But military analysts question those assertions, and warn the cost could be too heavy a burden for Russia’s struggling economy. Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video In Kenya, Police Said to Shoot First, Ask Questions Later

An organization that documents torture and extrajudicial killings says Kenyan police were responsible for 1,252 shooting deaths in five cities, including Nairobi, between 2009 and 2014, representing 67 percent of all gun deaths in the areas reviewed. Gabe Joselow has more from Nairobi.
Video

Video In Syrian Crisis, Social Media Offer Small Comforts

Za’atari, a makeshift city in Jordan, may be the only Syrian refugee camp to tweet its activities, in an effort to keep donors motivated as the war in Syria intensifies and the humanitarian crisis deepens. Inside the camp, families say mobile phone applications help hold together families that are physically torn apart. VOA’s Heather Murdock reports.
Video

Video Chemical-Sniffing Technology Fights Australia's Graffiti Vandals

Cities and towns all over the world spend huge amounts of resources battling graffiti writers who deface buildings, public transport vehicles and even monuments. Authorities in Sydney, Australia, hope a new chemical-sniffing technology finally will stop vandals from scribbling on walls in the passenger areas of commuter trains. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Cambodia Struggling to Curb Child Labor

Earlier this year a United Nations report found 10 percent of Cambodian children aged 7-14 are working – one of the highest rates in the region – and said one in four children in that age bracket are forced to quit school to help their families. Although the child labor rate has dropped over the past decade, Cambodia has a lot more to do – including keeping more children in school. Robert Carmichael reports for VOA from Phnom Penh.

VOA Blogs

New in Music Alley

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Harry Wayne Casey – “KC” of KC and the Sunshine Band – comes to VOA’s Studio 4 to talk with "Border Crossings" host Larry London and perform songs from his new album, “Feeling You! The 60s.”