Press release: Art Museum opens international exhibition of African art on June 28

By | June 15, 2015

ST. LOUIS, June 15—The Saint Louis Art Museum this summer presents Senufo: Art and Identity in West Africa, a rare selection of one of the most popular and best studied forms of African art from the West African countries of Côte d’Ivoire, Mali and Burkina Faso. The ticketed exhibition will be on view from June 28 through Sept. 27.

Organized by the Cleveland Museum of Art, the exhibition is the first presentation of art labeled as Senufo in the United States in the last 50 years and includes more than 170 works borrowed from nearly 60 public and private collections in Europe, Asia, Africa and North America. Senufo is the first African art exhibition at the Saint Louis Art Museum in more than 15 years. After its presentation here, the exhibition will be on view at the Musée Fabre in Montpellier, France.

Senufo offers an expanded view of the region’s dynamic arts and questions the application, since the late 1880s, of the term Senufo to peoples, languages, places and objects. Through this selection of masks, figures and decorative arts in diverse styles and mediums, the exhibition introduces visitors to the poro and sandogo societies, the primary settings for the production and use of works of art in the Senufo-speaking region of northern Côte d’Ivoire.

Drawing on recent research in Mali and Burkina Faso, the exhibition also includes sculptures not usually attributed to Senufo-speaking artists or patrons, thus shattering the boundaries of art typically identified as Senufo. “The exhibition illustrates the fluidity and fuzziness of cultural and ethnic borders while also revealing the constraints of labels and simple attributions,” said Constantine Petridis, curator of African art at the Cleveland Museum of Art and curator of the exhibition.

All tickets to Senufo are timed and dated. Admission is free for Members. For the general public, tickets are $12 for adults, $10 for seniors and students, $6 for children ages 6 to 12, and free for children age 5 and under. Tickets are available in person or through MetroTix. Tickets purchased through MetroTix incur a service charge.

The Museum will offer an array of exhibition-related programming, including performances for families, engaging lectures and gallery talks. Throughout September, the Museum’s popular Family Sunday series will introduce young visitors to the artistic traditions of Africa. Children can take special tours of the collection to explore sculptures, masks, and textiles made in Africa and make their own works of art based on what they see. The free program starts at 1:00 pm in Grigg Gallery. Afriky Lolo, a West African dance company based in St. Louis, will entertain visitors at special family performance in The Farrell Auditorium on Sept. 6 at 2 pm.

Susan Elizabeth Gagliardi, a curatorial advisor to the exhibition, will deliver the free lecture Senufo Unbound: Dynamics of Art and Identity in West Africa at 6:30 pm on Sept. 17 in The Farrell Auditorium. Gagliardi, an assistant professor of art history at Emory University, will discuss the historical foundations for the term Senufo. The author’s book will be available for purchase prior to the lecture; a book signing will follow.

Museum staff will be sharing their expertise in three free gallery talks related to the exhibition. Simon Kelly, curator of modern and contemporary art, will discuss The African Art Influence in Modern Art on July 16 at 11 am and July 17 at 6 pm. Sherri Williams, an Art Museum educator, will deliver the Senufo-related gallery talk, Women and West African Art, on July 23 at 11 am and July 24 at 6:00 pm. All the gallery talks will begin in Sculpture Hall. Nichole Bridges, the Saint Louis Art Museum’s associate curator of the Arts of Africa, Oceania, and the Americas, will talk about related works on view in a gallery talk titled Senufo and Beyond in the Permanent Collection on Aug. 20 at 11 am and Aug. 21 at 6 pm. Bridges curated the St. Louis presentation of the exhibition.

CONTACT: Matthew Hathaway, 314.655.5493,