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MELA-9, is an ongoing study of African expressions of form and functionality through craft and design. The series stems from the artist's understanding of archiving as a tool, from which to extract knowledge and imagined realities. Responding to objects extracted from Museum archives, where context, function or even spirituality are often erased; Southgate-Smith engages with these objects through instinct and play. Whilst treating each as a vessel guiding her/them through a pre-colonial landscape whilst, projecting us towards multiple futures.

I SEARCH (2023) 

Items from home displayed alongside Past, is mourning (2023)

 

# At the Bottom of the River, Jamaica Kincaid (1983)

# Voices from twentieth-century Africa: Griots and Towncriers. Chinweizu (1989) 

# TEETH KISSIN’ Where Elephants Reside. Divine Southgate-Smith (2022)

# Oware, a traditional game played in West Africa and the Caribbean known to be over 15,000 years old. 

# Kissing cup, Ceramic made and gifted by Japanese Ceramicist Sharlen Nowaza (2022)

# Mask of Tengu (Demi-God) accompanied by a letter from Japanese Ceramicist Sharlen Nowaza (2022) 

# Hosho, part of the percussion family in traditional Zimbabwean music, can also be found in Ghana. 

# Bronze Banga Nut, wax print on Ankara cotton fabric. 

# Communications regarding the loan of the Suku cups (object refs. 257 and 258) from the Sainsbury Centre of Visual Arts. 

# Excel file detailing the artist's attempt at accessing images from various archives in the UK and Europe. (2022)

# Rejected letter for copyright usage from The British Museum (2022)

1. SUKU, SUKU #257 #258 (2023)

 

Title/Description: Cup
Born: 1900 - 1999
Object Type: Cup
Materials: Wood
Measurements: h. 114 x w. 120 x d. 100 mm Accession Number: 257

Historic Period: 20th-century
Production Place: Africa, Democratic Republic of Congo Cultural Group: Pende, Yaka

 

Credit Line: Donated by Robert and Lisa Sainsbury, 1973 Provenance: Formerly in the Evan Thomas Collection (no. 748). Gift from K. J. Hewett to Robert and Lisa Sainsbury in 1972. Donated to the Sainsbury Centre, University of East Anglia in 1973 as part of the original gift.

Life Story: This is a wooden copy of a small cup (Suka, kopa; Yaka, kyopa or mbaasa made from a pumpkin-shaped gourd, halved vertically. The cavity within is not divided and in use the drinker would not hold one end of the cup in the hollow of his palm, with index finger and thumb in the middle recesses. On both sides is a face representing a hemba nkisi, a northern Suku charm and initiation mask, intended to ward off unauthorised touching of the cup.

 

Margret Carey, 1997

Entry taken from Robert and Lisa Sainsbury Collection, Vol. 2: Pacific, African and Native North American Art, edited by Steven Hooper (Yale University Press, 1997)

p. 190.

Courtesy of Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts

 

Title/Description: Cup
Born: 1850 - 1950
Object Type: Cup
Materials: Wood
Measurements: h. 98 x w. 96 x d. 68 mm Accession Number: 258

Historic Period: 19th-century-Late, 20th-century-Early Production Place: Africa, Democratic Republic of Congo Cultural Group: Suku, Yaka

 

Credit Line: Donated by Robert and Lisa Sainsbury, 1973 Provenance: Gift from K. J. Hewett to Robert and Lisa Sainsbury in 1972. Donated to the Sainsbury Centre, University of East Anglia in 1973 as part of the original gift.

Life Story: This is a wooden copy of a small cup made from a pumpkin-shaped gourd, halved vertically. The cavity within is not divided and in use, the drinker would not hold one end of the cup in the hollow of his palm, with index finger and thumb in the middle recesses. On both sides is a face representing a hemba nkisi, a northern Suku charm and initiation mask, intended to ward off unauthorised touching of the cup.

 

 

 

Margret Carey, 1997

Entry taken from Robert and Lisa Sainsbury Collection, Vol. 2: Pacific, African and Native North American Art, edited by Steven Hooper (Yale University Press, 1997)

p. 182.

Courtesy of Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts

Artist’s Notes:

 

1. The Suku people or Basuku (plural) are an ethnic group of Bantu origin who traditionally inhabit the south-western Democratic Republic of the Congo and north-western Angola. Suku society is matrilineal, and they speak the Suku language.

At the Feast of the Ancestors*

 

Behold the things, ancestors,
Displayed for your feast.
You said: we have not had a decent burial,
But you have listened to what I have said.
Our raising of domestic animals has succeeded,

The women and the young people too are well.

For this reason, I have come
To show you these animals.
Rise all, and dwell always in these animals!

May the leopard coming from the forest
Have his teeth on edge for these animals.

 

May the weasel coming from the forest

Be unable to take these fowls.
May the witch who twists his belongings

Fail to fascinate our goats.

May the thief on the look-out

Sprain his feet in his course.

Let all these animals prosper

And multiply,

Then the feast will be beautiful.

 

As for us, we shall return to the village,

To the village to dwell and prosper.
I have held out my hands to you in prayer,

And he who holds out his hands dies not.

I have shown you the animals of the feast,

And have brought you no other presents,

Except palm wine,

That you may favour the procreation of human wealth.

And here are the cola nuts I brought for you.

Bakongo** (Zaïre*** and Angola)

* Chinweizu (1989) Voices from twentieth-century Africa: Griots and Towncriers. Published by Faber and Faber Ltd.

** The Kongo people are a Bantu ethnic group primarily defined as the speakers of Kikongo. They have lived along the Atlantic coast of Central Africa, in a region that by the 15th century was a centralized and well-organized Kingdom of Kongo, but is now a part of three countries. The Kongo people were among the earliest indigenous Africans to welcome Portuguese traders in 1483 CE and began converting to Catholicism in the late 15th century. They were among the first to protest unauthorized slavery in letters to the King of Portugal in the 1510s and 1520s, then succumbed to the demands for slaves from the Portuguese through the 16th century. The Kongo people were a part of the major slave raiding, capture, and export trade of African slaves to the European colonial interests in the 17th and 18th centuries. The slave raids, colonial wars, and the 19th-century Scramble for Africa split the Kongo people into Portuguese, Belgian, and French parts. In the early 20th century, they became one of the most active ethnic groups in the efforts to decolonize Africa, helping liberate the three nations to self-governance.

*** République du Zaïre (1971 to 1997) was a Congolese state in Central Africa, now known as the Democratic Republic of the Congo.