Last night saw the opening of Fragmentary Ancestors Figurines from Koma Land exhibition. Over the last few days, with excitement building and staff working feverishly to meet the deadline, there has been a quite a buzz around the Museum. With about an hour to go before the guests started arriving the last banner was hung, the final display case window was secured and the ‘deep’ cleaning carried out.
Alan Seabright the photographer from the Manchester Art Gallery took photographs of the exhibition space, which I have to say, though I have to declare an interest naturally, looks stunning. Peter Farmer’s palette of warm reds and terracotta orange gives the space a a sense of vibrancy that does a lot to dispel the stereotypical image of Africa as a ‘Dark Continent’.
But it is the figurines, so full of character, and it seems latent power, that dominate the gallery. Some people have compared them to gargoyles but this is to do them a disservice. There is a healthy vitality about them still. They really are spectacular and Alan the technician and Irit from the conservation team have created mounts that show them to best advantage. Personal favourites are the anencephalic head, the horse or camel rider and a piece I refer to fondly as ‘Fungus the Bogeyman’ .
They are not just inert exhibits they inspire in the viewer a desire to personalise them, to refer to them as people. The figurine with a Mohican is a dead ringer, in my opinion, for Robert de Niro in Taxi Driver! They invite these sorts of comparisons with popular culture and its going to be very interesting over the next six months to see what other comparisons are made.
At the opening Museum Director Dr Nick Merriman, Prof Tim Insoll, Prof Ben Kankpeyeng and Mr Ben Saibu gave short speeches. The latter’s speech was a barn-storming performance that managed to reference Martin Luther King, Olaudah Equiano and Wilfrid Owen.
Prof Kankpeyeng had warned the audience beforehand that the combination of lawyer and politician was a dangerous combination and if the audience’s response was anything to go by, Mr Saibu’s party would have won by a landslide had an election been held on the day of the opening.
There is a programme of events and activities with a tour of the gallery by Professor Insoll and Professor Kankpeyeng on Saturday and a lecture on Monday afternoon before our Ghanaian guests return home on Tuesday. Fragmentary Ancestors Figurines from Koma Land Ghana can be seen at Manchester Museum until 5th May 2014. This is the first time the figurines have been shown in the UK with the approval of the Ghanaian authorities.