The exhibit also boasts items such as an empress's stunning robe, dating back to the 1830s, from China's Qing Dynasty, and a fierce 20th-century African Kuba Kingdom helmet-style mask representing an ancestral spirit and crafted from wood, glass beads, parrot feathers, cowrie shells, monkey hair, and leopard fur.

It is one of about a half-dozen attention-commanding African headdresses on display used by diverse cultures from across the continent to re-enact tribal myths of origin.

The imposing mask personifies Woot, a legendary king who founded Kuba society and established his realm between the Kasai and Sankuru rivers in what is today the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Bima Swarga's Bima in Underworld
Bima Swarga's Bima in Underworld

Location Info


University of Miami Lowe Art Museum

1301 Stanford Drive
Coral Gables, FL 33146

Category: Museums

Region: Coral Gables/South Miami


Through October 23 at the Lowe Art Museum, 1301 Stanford Dr., Coral Gables; 305-284-3535; Tuesday through Saturday 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., Sunday noon to 4 p.m.

Donned by subsequent royalty during initiation rites and public ceremonies, and buried with deceased kings, these masks often bear the somber appearance of a grizzly-bearded old man, representing the wisdom of tribal sages.

One of several representations of agricultural fertility and healthy crops can be found in an Aztec stone sculpture, circa 1350-1550, hewn from basalt and standing about the height of a garden gnome.

Chicomecoatl, the goddess of maize, was believed to embody the ripe maize plant and was worshipped as a symbol of fecundity and sustenance. In Nahuatl, her name means "seven serpents."

Among the more humorous works on view is Medusa Plate (1999), a porcelain dish created by Brazil's Vik Muniz. The contemporary artist's sly take on a famous 16th-century Caravaggio painting depicts the Gorgon who had snakes for hair and eyes that turned beholders to stone.

Muniz is known for upending artistic conventions by often employing weird materials — including Bosco chocolate syrup, sugar, peanut butter and jelly, and dirt — to re-create iconic images such as da Vinci's Mona Lisa and The Last Supper, which he then documents with photographs. Muniz's cramp-inducing piece of Limoges china was originally commissioned by a private collector and later donated to the Lowe.

In the piece, he gives Medusa the slapdash treatment, substituting pasta for writhing snakes and using tomato sauce for blood spewing from her severed noggin. The round white plate is meant to evoke Athena's shield, where the monster's head was mounted by the goddess after it was lopped off by the Greek hero Perseus.

The show presents an Ariadne's thread that you can follow from corner to corner while discovering new, compelling stories around every bend.

As fascinating today as when first told, these tales will inspire you to visit the Lowe again and again to discover fresh chapters, because there's way too much to digest here in one call.

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