The Cleveland Museum of Art recently unveiled its latest special exhibition, Senufo: Art and Identity in West Africa. Along with the exhibition came the debut of the museum’s first special exhibition app, CMA Senufo (now available for iPhones through the Apple iTunes App Store), as well as an accompanying “catalog” – a 272-page, full-color, hardcover book, entitled Senufo Unbound.
Senufo: Art and Identity in West Africa is the first presentation of Senufo art in the U.S. in the past 50 years and features more than 150 works. Many of the objects are from the museum’s permanent collection, but the exhibition also includes works borrowed from nearly 60 public and private collections in North America, Africa, Europe and Asia. A number of items have never before been exhibited publicly, and many of the objects are traditionally believed to have special, supernatural powers.
The exhibition explores both historical and contemporary scholarship on Senufo-speaking people. The exhibition includes works originating from three countries: Cote d’Ivoire, Mali and Burkina Faso. Drawing upon new research in Mali and Burkina Faso, it also includes sculptures not typically previously associated with the Senufo.
“Original scholarship has always been a defining aspect of the work of the Cleveland Museum of Art, and this important exhibition offers a new approach to the understanding, and presentation of African art” says William M. Griswold, director of the Cleveland Museum of Art. “While emphasizing the unique nature of every work of art, Senufo: Art and Identity in West Africa demonstrates there are often common formal and functional threads as culture groups influence each other’s arts.”
Senufo: Art and Identity in West Africa includes masks, figures and decorative arts traditionally associated with Senufo’s poro and sandogo societies. Additionally, the exhibition features a number of historical books and photos, as well as 14 gelatin silver prints by French photographer Agnes Pataux in Burkina Faso and Mali in 2006-8. The photos offer context to the objects’ functionality; which can be difficult to convey in a traditional, formal exhibition space.
Drawing upon the success of their award winning ArtLens mobile app, CMA has partnered with Cleveland-based DXY Solutions, LLC to develop the museum’s first special exhibition mobile app, CMA Senufo. "CMA has a unique vision for using technology to compliment its exceptional collection,” says Dan Young, CEO of DXY Solutions, LLC, “It's great to partner with such a forward-thinking institution.”
Once installed on your iPhone, the app features a preview video with the museum’s Curator of African Art Constantine Petridis. Upon entering the CMA’s “Art Lens” wifi network, the app will unlock exclusive content featuring a selection of works from the museum’s permanent collection, as well as items on loan from other public and private collections. The app allows for a closer examination of individual objects, with insight including stories about Senufo-speaking artists and patrons. The app also includes a multimedia tour featuring interviews with the curator, scholars and artists.
“The Cleveland Museum of Art takes the development of cutting-edge technologies and interpretive materials to the next level with this exhibition app,” adds Griswold. “The new technology behind our ‘CMA Senufo’ app provides visitors exclusive content, and allows visitors to experience this exhibition in ways not possible before.”
The exhibition is organized by the CMA and will eventually travel to the St. Louis Art Museum and the Musée Fabre in Montpellier, France. The CMA has created a beautiful, 272-page hardcover, full-color book, Senufo Unbound, written by Dr. Susan Elizabeth Gagliardi, assistant professor at Emory University in Atlanta. She received her PhD from the University of California, and has conducted more than 20 months of fieldwork in Senufo-speaking areas of Burkina Faso between 2004 and 2012.
“Though Senufo Unbound focuses on one region in West Africa, its thesis and arguments as conceived and developed by Dr. Gagliardi have broader merit and are applicable to many other parts of the continent,” explains Petridis. “As such, this case study can be used as a starting point for an in-depth examination and analysis of other African regions. It is to be expected that these parallel investigations will lead to similar conclusions and that, there like here, boundaries will be transcended and divisions dissolved.”
Tickets to Senufo: Art and Identity in West Africa are $8 for adults; seniors and students (with valid ID), $6; free for CMA Members; Member guests, $4; children are free (14 and under must be accompanied by an adult). Senufo: Art and Identity in West Africa runs through May 31 in the CMA’s Kelvin and Eleanor Smith Foundation Exhibition Hall.
(Cleveland Museum of Art) 11150 East Blvd., 216-421-7340, clevelandart.org