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Royal Africa: Kings and Chiefs

3 August 2002 - 12 January 2003

National Gallery of Australia Children's Gallery

Africa still casts a spell over us. Just the name conjures up exotic people, animals, places, scents and sounds, even if we have never actually visited the continent.

Royal Africa: Kings and Chiefs is designed to appeal to the sense of wonder, mystery and discovery in all of us, not only children. Objects produced for rulers everywhere in the world are about the prestige and glory of the ruler. In Africa the relationship of king or chief with his people and the gods is often reflected in the art displayed on ceremonial occasions. The beauty and rarity of the objects in Royal Africa will fascinate everyone, adult or child.

This exhibition of 30 objects, drawn almost entirely from the National Gallery of Australia's collection, presents an aspect of Africa that very few know about - the wealthy and powerful kingdoms that existed long before colonial times and that, in some cases, still continue today.

The sculptures, textiles, metal objects and other royal regalia span a period of over 600 years and their ancient magical, mysterious presence evokes another world for both children and adults. The interactive activities, dramatic installation and child-centred information will fascinate the younger visitor, while adults will also be impressed by the amazing sophistication of the art of the African kingdoms.

Half the works in this exhibition come from the enormously wealthy and influential kingdoms of Benin on the west African coast and Kuba inland on the Congo river. The dazzling and intricate patterns on woven raffia Kuban textiles are a highlight of the exhibition, as are a number of Benin "bronzes" (more accurately made of brass). These famous shrine sculptures depict court officials and court ceremonies. One even shows a Portuguese mercenary who helped to train the large and powerful Benin army.

From the skilled ivory-carvers of Sierra Leone comes a superb 15th-century hunting horn. Known as the Drumond Castle Oliphant, this large elephant tusk bears the coats of arms of King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella of Spain along with that of King Manuel I of Portugal, and was probably a wedding gift from the Spanish rulers to their son-in-law to be, Manuel. The horn was apparently later given to Queen Elizabeth I of England as a present from Philip II of Spain as part of his attempt to win her hand in marriage. In the early 19th century, a gentleman in Yorkshire bequeathed it to Earl Spencer of Drumond Castle, an ancestor of Lady Diana.

For further information contact
Public Affairs, National Gallery of Australia Telephone +61 2 6240 643