Striking Iron: The Art of African Blacksmiths

June 3 – December 30, 2018

Striking Iron: The Art of African Blacksmiths combines objects of extraordinary beauty with cutting-edge scholarship to offer the most comprehensive presentation of the blacksmith’s art in Africa to date. The exhibition will feature over 225 artworks from across the African continent, focusing on the region south of the Sahara and spanning a history of several millennia, up to the present day. They are borrowed from U.S. and European public and private collections and include stunning wood sculptures studded with iron, prestige blades and currencies in a myriad of shapes and sizes, diverse musical instruments, elaborate body adornments, and an array of ritual accoutrements.

The exhibition will examine how blacksmiths’ virtuosic works can harness the powers of the natural and spiritual worlds, effect change and ensure protection, communicate status and identity, assist with life’s challenges and transitions, and enhance the efficacies of sacred acts such as ancestor veneration, healing, fertility, and prophecy.

Following its presentation in Los Angeles the exhibition will travel to the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of African Art, Washington D.C. (April 17–October 14, 2019), and the musée du quai Branly-Jacques Chirac, Paris (November 19, 2019–March 29, 2020).

A comprehensive illustrated publication is available for purchase at University of Washington Press.

Object Images

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Installation Images


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All installation views, 2018. Fowler Museum at UCLA. Photo: Joshua White/JWPictures.com




Tom Joyce presents his artist talk Lingua-Ferrum as the closing lecture of the Interdisciplinary Symposium held at the Fowler between November 9-10, 2018 in conjunction with Striking Iron. 


Explore a 3D Exhibition Model

Walk through Striking Iron as if you were in the galleries. Move the blue cursor ring onto a white ring, then click. To adjust your view up or down, simply click, hold, and drag the screen in any direction. Note: you can also move through the exhibition using arrow keys instead of your cursor.

Exhibition Catalog

Striking Iron: The Art of African Blacksmiths combines interdisciplinary scholarship with vivid illustrations to offer the most comprehensive treatment of the blacksmith’s art in sub-Saharan Africa to date.
Click below to learn more:

Interactive, Grades 9-12

Resource designed for high school students of all backgrounds to explore African iron forging and its significance through the framework of five essential questions.

Exhibition Credits

Striking Iron: The Art of African Blacksmiths is organized by the Fowler Museum at UCLA and its curatorial team is led by artist Tom Joyce, a MacArthur Fellow originally trained as a blacksmith, with co-curators Allen F. Roberts, UCLA Professor of World Arts and Cultures/Dance; Marla C. Berns, Shirley & Ralph Shapiro Director, Fowler Museum; William J. Dewey, Director, African Studies Program and Associate Professor of African Art History at Pennsylvania State University; and Henry J. Drewal, Evjue-Bascom Professor of Art History and Afro-American Studies at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

The exhibition is made possible by major funding from the National Endowment for the Humanities* and in part by an award from the National Endowment for the Arts. Generous support is also provided by the Martha and Avrum Bluming Exhibition Fund with additional funding from the Fowler Exhibition Fund, Cindy Miscikowski, the Ethnic Arts Council of Los Angeles, Lee Bronson, Andrew Adelson, Richard Scheller and Susan McConnell, and Richard and Susan Ulevitch.

Lead sponsorship for the publication is provided by the Carl & Marilynn Thoma Art Foundation, with additional support from the Ahmanson Foundation on the recommendation of the late Foundation Trustee Emeritus, Lloyd E. Cotsen. Education programs are made possible in part by The Ralph M. Parsons Foundation.

*Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this {article, book, exhibition, film, program, database, report, Web resource}, do not necessarily represent those of the National Endowment for the Humanities.