Collection of Lega figures
Art of the Lega: Meaning and Metaphor in Central Africa highlights the impressive collection of Lega art amassed by physicist Jay T. Last, who has generously donated these holdings to the Fowler Museum. When Dr. Last started collecting Lega art in 1962, his passion for aesthetics developed into a life-long pursuit of the meaning and history of the beautiful works he sought. In discussing his interests, Dr. Last has commented, “This linking of art with moral culture, the use of art objects to serve as a teaching and inspirational device during Lega ceremonies added a great deal of meaning to my collection.” By gifting his collection to the Fowler Museum, he ensures its access, study, and preservation for decades to come.
Most works date to the 19th century and were collected during the 20th century. All the works are in the permanent collection of the Fowler Museum at UCLA, gift of Dr. Jay T. Last.
The Lega: A Brief History
The Lega peoples live on the southeastern edge of the central African rainforests of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. From the mid to late 1800s, the Lega and adjacent peoples were raided for the Indian Ocean trade in slaves and ivory. In 1885, the Lega were brought into the Congo Free State, which became the Belgian Congo in 1908. Still, the Lega live in an isolated and mountainous region that has long resisted governmental control. Belgian administrators seeking to integrate the Lega into colonial society considered Bwami a “threat to tranquility and public order” because it represented forms of political organization outside colonial norms. Authorities outlawed Bwami in 1933 and again in 1948, causing radical change in Lega arts and ritual practices. Since Congolese independence in 1960, the Lega and other Congolese have suffered mightily from a tumultuous history of civil strife that continues today. Yet, as the brilliant objects of this exhibition suggest, profound wisdom and an acute sense of self and community characterize Lega life, and one can hope that such resourcefulness will carry the Lega through the trials they are currently experiencing.