Striking Iron: The Art of African Blacksmiths

June 3 – December 30, 2018

Striking Iron: The Art of African Blacksmiths, an international traveling exhibition that combines scholarship with objects of great aesthetic beauty to create the most comprehensive treatment of the blacksmith’s art in Africa to date. The exhibition will include over 225 artworks from across the African continent, focusing on the region south of the Sahara and covering a time period spanning early archaeological evidence to the present day. Borrowed from American and European public and private collections, it features wood sculptures studded with iron, blades, and currencies in a myriad of shapes and sizes, diverse musical instruments, body adornments, an array of ritual accoutrements, tools and weapons, and other important objects that enabled Africans to forage and hunt, till the soil, and assure their own protection and prosperity.

For more than two millennia, ironworking has shaped African cultures in the most fundamental ways. Striking Iron reveals the history of invention and technical sophistication that led African blacksmiths to transform one of Earth’s most basic natural resources into objects of life-changing utility, empowerment, prestige, spiritual potency, and astonishing artistry. The exhibition will examine how the smith’s virtuosic works can harness the powers of the natural and spiritual world, effect change and ensure protection, prestige, and status, 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 and the musée du quai Branly-Jacques Chirac in Paris.

A comprehensive illustrated publication will accompany the exhibition.

Exhibition Credits

The curatorial team for Striking Iron is headed by artist Tom Joyce, a MacArthur Fellow originally trained as a blacksmith, and includes Allen F. Roberts, UCLA Professor of World Arts and Cultures; Henry John Drewal, Evjue-Bascom Professor of Art History and Afro-American Studies at the University of Wisconsin-Madison; William J. Dewey, Associate Professor of African Art History at Pennsylvania State University; and Marla C. Berns, Shirley and Ralph Shapiro Director of the Fowler Museum at UCLA.

Caption: Artist Unknown, Ceremonial Adze, Luba peoples, Democratic Republic of the Congo. Wood, iron.
Collection Neuberger Museum of Art, Purchase College, State University of New York.