Over 200 gleaming gold items of regalia, intricately woven silk kente cloth, and ceremonial furniture, alongside state swords, linguist staffs, and other significant objects related to Asante royals from the 19th through the 21st centuries grace the Dallas Museum of Art(DMA) for The Power of Gold: Asante Royal Regalia from Ghana, an exhibition dedicated to the royal regalia of the Asante kingdom.
Founded around 1701 with wealth derived from the gold trade with North Africa and Europe, the Asante Kingdom was a very powerful polity in West Africa. The Power of Gold: Asante Royal Regalia from Ghana, inspired by works in the DMA’s collection and featuring objects from public and private collections, reveals the splendor of Asante regalia, much of which is made of gold.
The exhibition is curated by Dr. Roslyn A. Walker, the DMA’s Senior Curator of the Arts of Africa, and The Margaret McDermott Curator of African Art. The Power of Gold provides insight on the Asante (also spelled Ashanti)—the largest and most prominent group of related Akan (Twi-speaking) peoples in southern Ghana, and the capital at Kumasi, which is adjacent to the Ivory Coast—brings a living people, their centuries-long history and their 21st-century monarch to the Dallas Museum of Art.
The DMA’s collection of Asante regalia, which inspired the exhibition, includes a cast gold state sword ornament in the form of a standing lion, an iron state sword with an elaborate handle, a gold-leafed linguist’s (spokesman’s) staff, an intricately cast gold T-shaped bead, and a large cast gold spider. The bead and the spider ornament were owned by Asantehene (King) Kwaku Dua II (who reigned briefly in 1884) and were acquired from a Texas private collection. The odyssey of these castings will be revealed in the exhibition.
Walker has curated the DMA’s nationally known collection of African art for more than a decade. While researching the collection and looking to enrich it, she steered the museum to acquire several major pieces of Asante gold as well as a gilded wood staff and a group of important “Kente” cloths made of silk and cotton. The exhibition has loans from the British Museum, the Cleveland Museum, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and the National Museum of African Art (Smithsonian), among others.
Located in modern Ghana with its own capital of Kumasi, inland from the fabled “Gold Coast” of Africa, the Asante derive their power and wealth from gold, which has been found in profusion in their territories for centuries and which was exploited by Europeans, Americans and Africans alike.
Attending a press reception 11 April was Daasebre Osei Bonsu II, Mamponghene, the second in command in the Asante traditional hierarchy, designated representative for His Majesty Otumfuo Osei Tutu II, Asantehene (King of the Asante people). The Mamponghene and his entourage traveled from Ghana to Dallas to participate in Dallas Museum of Art’s ceremonial events.
The exhibition explores the source of Asante wealth and the fascinating paraphernalia of gold trading. These include scales and a variety of counterweights made of stone, iron, brass and copper, and used for the measurement of gold dating all the way back to the dawn of the 15th century. These counterweights, which stand out in contrast to the standard, unadorned European-style counterweights in complex geometric designs, are accompanied by tiny spoons for gold dust and small containers to store gold, giving a clear picture of what was an international economy based on this precious metal.
“The DMA’s African art collection has grown tremendously in the past decade, and we are thrilled to shed new light on these exquisite objects, and on the history and culture of the Asante people, some of whom reside in our local community,” said the DMA’s Eugene McDermott Director Agustín Arteaga. “We look forward to welcoming audiences to experience this fascinating culture through the range of skill, symbolism and tradition infused in this incredible array of royal regalia.”
The exhibition also serves to challenge the single story of Africa, echoed by Rick Brettell, former director of the Dallas Museum of Art who wrote “For those of you who think that “African art” consists primarily of small, carved, wooden, stylized human figures and masks, “The Power of Gold” will forever change your mind about the cultural traditions of that immense and ancient continent.”
The Power of Gold: Asante Royal Regalia from Ghana exhibition is the first American museum exhibition dedicated to Asante regalia in over 30 years. The exhibition is on till 12 August at the Dallas Museum of Art, Texas.