‘Inscribing Meaning: Writing and Graphic Systems in African Art’ Opens at the Fowler Museum at UCLA Oct. 14
Writing systems have
"Inscribing Meaning: Writing and Graphic Systems in African Art" — on display at the Fowler Museum from Oct. 14 through Feb. 17, 2008 — features more than 100 important and visually compelling works of art and explores the ways they creatively incorporate script and graphic symbols to communicate multiple messages and intentions.
"The intellectual complexity,
artistic beauty and historical uses of African scripts demand a wider, more
inclusive definition of writing," said exhibition co-curator Polly Nooter
Roberts, deputy director and chief curator of the
An introductory section of "Inscribing Meaning" focuses on the history
of particular African scripts, including ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs, Vai and Mende
The sections of the exhibition that follow contemplate themes of body inscription, sacred writing, power and politics, artists' books, and words in art.
Inscribing the Body
From early Egyptian works to the most contemporary art
forms, African artists have used the body as a primary "canvas" for
inscriptions — such as scarification or tattooing — and
as a site for displaying the graphically rich materials found on clothing or
jewelry. The first section of "Inscribing Meaning" explores body decoration with amuletic jewelry,
textiles used as garments, and representations of the inscribed body. An
intricate wooden headrest carved by the Luba peoples of the
Contemporary works by Berni Searle, Ghada Amer and Iké Udé explore the subject in a variety of ways: South African artist Searle works with henna dyes to consider the complex notion of the word "stain," Amer addresses text and the body through embroidered body suits and Udé's elegant photographs recall the practice of uli body and wall motifs of his Igbo heritage while simultaneously referencing high fashion.
traditions the world over, writing and graphic inscription are endowed with
sacred attributes, for they are considered both the embodiment of the divine and
a powerful means for conveying religious teachings. In
This section of the exhibition explores a wide range of religious objects that incorporate script, including an Egyptian inner coffin lid, a monumental talismanic healing cloth inscribed with Muslim prayers and magic squares, an Ethiopian Orthodox prayer scroll, and several contemporary works, including a painted board from Nigerian artist Victor Ekpuk's "Manuscript" series that combines the form of a Quranic tablet with Nsibidi signs from his Nigerian heritage.
In different African social, political and cultural contexts, works of art often incorporate scripts as a way to express how power is accrued through the acquisition of specialized knowledge and skills, such as healing with herbal medicines, communicating with the spirit world and writing. In creating works of art that serve those who guard and exercise power — such as warriors, leaders and members of religious or political associations — artists rely on the symbolic significance of specific materials, images and, at times, inscriptions to imbue objects with greater efficacy and visual potency.
In this section of
"Inscribing Meaning," an Asafo flag
Artists often use inscription to detail the discrepancies
and ironies of colonial narratives of conquest and to explore how writing has
dictated the telling of
Other works in this section, such as those by Durant Sihlali, evoke the practice of graffiti as a way to bring ideas into the public sphere. Among the most compelling examples of the use of word and image for political ends are several Congolese popular paintings that incorporate French, Lingala, Swahili and other languages into captions to support the works' visual narratives.
Words Unbound and Wordplay
While contemporary art is
interspersed throughout this exhibition, the two final sections are devoted
exclusively to the works of contemporary artists. "Words Unbound" features 10 contemporary artists' books, including those by South
African artist Sue Williamson and
"Inscribing Meaning" is a
collaboration between the
The Fowler is open Wednesdays
through Sundays from noon to 5 p.m. and on Thursdays from noon to 8 p.m. The
museum is closed Mondays and Tuesdays. The
Exhibition Opening Day
Galleries will be open from noon to 5 p.m. on Sunday, Oct. 14.
Word Into Art: Conversations on "Inscribing Meaning"
Curators Polly Nooter Roberts and Christine Kreamer engage three artists featured in the
exhibition — Wosene Kosrof, Victor Ekpuk and Sue Williamson — in conversations
exploring their work and the thematic underpinnings of this groundbreaking exhibition.
Fowler OutSpoken Panel
The Inscribed Environment: Public Space and Identity
2–4 p.m., Sunday, Oct. 28
The people and voices of a neighborhood can be found on the walls of its buildings, streets and other public spaces. A dialogue led by UCLA World Arts and Cultures lecturer Patrick Polk and including noted muralist and activist Judy Baca, photographer and author Steve Grody, and graffiti artist Toons, examines urban public spaces in Los Angeles as contested arenas for the articulation of power and identity and explores how muralists, graffiti artists and street artists play a role in this phenomenon.
Kids in the Courtyard: A Play on Words
1–4 p.m., Sunday, Nov. 18
At this drop-in workshop, guests
can explore the art of Islamic calligrams, poems for which the form is just as
important as the words, and play with writing words in artful ways that mimic
The two following two days are dedicated to artists' books:
Words Unbound: Exploring Artists' Books
2–5 p.m. Friday, Dec. 7
Noted scholar and book artist Johanna Drucker has said that "the artists' book is the quintessential 20th century art form." Examples abound from every major art and literature movement, but the medium has also developed as a field separate from mainstream art. UCLA librarians Cristina Favretto and Robert Gore explore breathtaking examples of artists' books from the special collections and arts libraries in a discussion and object study session highlighting collecting practices and the historical development of this unique genre. Selections from the biomedical library collections will further enhance this study program.
Cost: $10 for members; $15 for non-members.
World of Art Workshop: Artists' Books
1–4 p.m., Saturday, Dec. 8
Guest artists Karen Chu and Kim Lindley present an introduction to the world of handmade books. Participants will become acquainted with the artistry of bookbinding during this hands-on session, as the artists model a variety of different book structures and expand conventional understanding of what makes a book a book.
Cost: $15 for members; $20 for non-members.
Reservations are required for
both programs. To register, call (310) 825-8655. Register for both programs and
receive a discount — $20 members; $30 for non-members.
Fowler OutSpoken Lecture: The History of Writing
2 p.m., Sunday, Dec. 9
Konrad Tuchscherer, associate