Symbols of Self: Art and Identity in Southern Africa

Figge Art Museum
225 West Second Street, Davenport

Arts across southern Africa have long been used to assert identity and status, and maintain visual markers of both the individual and the collective. While the idea of connecting specific cultural attribution to the visual arts carries with it a challenging political legacy, the presence of unique formal elements that assert specific cultural, social, and individual identities are nonetheless evident in the objects produced by artists across the region. Symbols of Self: Art and Identity in Southern Africa explores such visual markers through works from the University of Iowa Museum of Art’s permanent collection produced by Zulu, Xhosa, South Sotho, Ndebele, and Tsonga-Shangaan artists. From beer pots to beadwork, this exhibition highlights the role of the visual arts in expressing group identity and explores its role in promoting the personal and socio-political status of its owners in a climate of interaction and exchange.

David M. Riep is the guest curator for this UIMA exhibition.  He will present a lecture in conjunction with the exhibition on May 4 at the Figge Art Museum


N'wana (child figure)

South Africa; Tsonga-Shangaan artist

N'wana (child figure)

, c. 1950
Cotton sheeting, glass seed beads, sinew, wood, metal, Left: 18.4 x 20.3 x 18.4 cm (7 1/4 x 8 x 7 1/4 in.), Right: 19.1 x 25.4 x 22.9 cm (7 1/2 x 10 x 9 in.)
Museum purchase with funds from the Stanley-University of Iowa Foundation Support Organization, 2008.5 (left) and 2008.4 (right)