Cosmic Connections

Top, Untitled, Garth Erasmus, South Africa, 1956; National Museum of African Art collection

Bottom, Beaded Tunic, Yoruba, Nigeria, early 20th century; National Museum of African Art collection

Top, Garth Erasmus, Untitled, South Africa, 1956

In this painting, the artist captures the primal yet timeless human response to the awe-inspiring power of the sun, upon which all life depends, and ponders the meaning of human life within the vastness of space. This work was inspired by the death of Erasmus’ father. The artist applied layers of color with acrylic onto a board, then added a final layer with black crayon. Scratching off the various layers created skulls, figures, and inscriptions.

Bottom, Beaded Tunic, Yoruba, Nigeria, early 20th century

Royal priests dedicated to Shango, the Yoruba god of thunder, wear beaded tunics during ceremonial occasions. The tunic’s zigzag and triangular patterns might evoke the jagged path of lightning across the sky as a celestial manifestation of Shango, or it may refer to the Gabon viper, an emblem of power. The beaded faces, two on each side, suggest a confrontation with divine authority.

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