The William Benton Museum of Art started off the school year with a bang with the opening of their new West African and Cuban exhibits. Last night, the main exhibition areas of the Benton were bustling with crowds to celebrate “Souvenirs D’Afrique: Arts of Africa from the Collection of Janine and Josef Gugler” and “The Lure of Cuba: Reginald Marsh’s Tropical Watercolors, 1924-1930.” Both exhibitions are on view through Oct. 13.
The opening reception was accompanied by live music from FELA aKUsTIc, a group of performers from the Broadway musical “Fela!” The musical is based on the music and life of the late Nigerian composer and activist Fela Kuti. A majority of the collection of “Souvenirs D’Afrique” was compiled in Nigeria in the 1960s, so the music helped maintain the cultural relevance of the exhibit.
“As a whole, it’s really nice,” Natalie Smith, a seventh-semester fine arts and illustration major who came to the opening with her advanced painting class, said. “Not just that, the environment is really nice. The music helps, as it’s more traditional and ties together the theme. I like the cultures showcased. The pieces are spaced out really well and I also like the videos they have playing. There’s a lot to look at.”
“Souvenirs D’Afrique” features African art and cultural pieces donated by UConn Professor Emeritus Josef Gugler and his wife Janine Gugler. Professor Gugler, who had conducted sociology field research in Nigeria, had collected and bought most of the pieces from artists between 1961 and the early 1970s. The exhibit features works like masks, statues, sculptures, tapestries, textiles and functional items that encompass the indigenous culture, authenticity and history of Africa. From gourds and vessels that you would normally think just serve as household items to spiritual divination tools, “Souvenirs” embodies the culture imbued in everyday life.
With pieces like carved wooden figures that “serve as a spiritual presence” and helmet masks worn by the Mende group for female initiation accompanied by videos depicting artists weaving cultural rugs, the exhibit immerses museumgoers into the traditions and cultural atmosphere of the continent.
“I like the African art exhibit,” Michelle Neitzey, a first-semester molecular and cell biology PhD student, said. “It brings a corner of the globe to campus and still be in Storrs, Connecticut. I like the fabric pieces and the masks [are] funny to look at.”
“The Lure of Cuba” features works from American modernist painter Reginald Marsh (1898-1954) that focus on the natural and urban landscape of Havana, Cuba. Marsh had rose to fame for his paintings of New York City in the 1930s, with a focus on the urban setting. After having visited the city of Havana several times, Marsh presents a contrasting focus on the more colorful and idyllic waterfront scenes compared to the gritty urban skyline of New York. Some of Marsh’s watercolors include an image of the George Washington Bridge in New York City (“Bridge”), beach houses (“Girl in Front of Victorian Houses”) and the sand dunes of Havana. The lush, yet contrasting tones of the watercolors, present the Cuban landscape as a traveler and tourist destination.
“I really like that this is free for students and I like the atmosphere of the opening,” Verena Aschbacher, a first-semester literature and languages PhD student, said. “More students should come and visit the museum.”
Hollie Lao is a staff writer for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.