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Particular Histories: Provenance Research in African Arts

Particular Histories: Provenance Research in African Arts

July 10–November 13, 2022

Provenance research (an investigation of an artwork’s past ownerships) traces the movement of a given object through different cultural, economic, and political contexts. Particular Histories presents five provenance case studies drawn from African material dating to the early 20th century that came to the Fowler Museum from the collection of Sir Henry Wellcome (1853–1936). The exhibition highlights recent findings—made through a combination of conservation, material science, archival research, and curatorial methods—that shed light on shifting perceptions of the objects’ value over time and offer some surprising revelations: from fictions concocted to assert certain works’ “authenticity” to new understanding of how some artists developed innovative designs tailored to local and foreign buyers.

This exhibition emerges from a three-year project, funded by the Mellon Foundation, which aims to unravel the histories of African works at the Fowler and begin reckoning with the legacy of European colonization and its influence on the objects’ use and perception. Multidisciplinary provenance research also lays the groundwork for building connections with communities of origin.

Particular Histories: Provenance Research in African Arts is organized by the Fowler Museum at UCLA and curated by Carlee S. Forbes, Mellon Curatorial Fellow. Fowler team members also engaged in this project include: Erica P. Jones, Marci J. Burton, Kate Anderson, Rachel Raynor, Gassia Armenian, Isabella Kelly-Ramirez, Jeanette Saunders, Christian de Brer, and Matthew H. Robb. For more on the Fowler’s Mellon African Art Initiative, please visit our online research page.

Image caption: Unidentified artist (Dahomey, Republic of Benin), figure group, before 1931; brass, wood; Fowler Museum at UCLA, X65.5793; Gift of the Wellcome Trust

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